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Behind the Scenes: Discovery Costumes

Behind the Scenes: Discovery Costumes continues our immersive visit to the sets of Star Trek: Discovery by chronicling our time with Gersha Phillips, the show’s uber-busy costume designer. Phillips was in her natural habitat… or habitats. The costume department is spread across several rooms in Discovery’s production facility. One smallish, cramped room is hodgepodge of costumes, patterns, design books, and more, and on the walls are sketches of current and in-the-works costumes. It’s here that Phillips – whose credits include Walking Tall, A Raisin in the Sun, Falling Skies, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 – introducing herself to the small group of journalists checking out her workspace.

“This is sort of where we started with our uniforms,” Phillips explained as she stood in front of a rack of uniforms from Discovery… and uniforms that inspired what viewers will see on Discovery. “We started with our colors. We were trying to honor, I guess, in a way, TOS, The Original Series. So, we had our gold, which is command, and we're going with this is our red, which is our operations, and blue is science. Then, we went from that direction into a little deeper color. And we also created these panels, which we used as sort of a body-monitoring device. And we started making them out of a corded ribbon inside, and then it's made with a neoprene material on the outside.

“Then we went on to what we do now, which is they’re printed,” continued Phillips, who proudly showed off her team’s handiwork.

“So, it's printed with a puff paint. Then we foil them, and then that's how we get over there to what we have now, which are the foiled versions. And then our foiled colors are… Our copper is operations, and our silver is science and gold is command. Those are our three colors. Then we have the medical. I don't know if you can see it there, the white one, behind, over on that side.”

And there was more.

“These are some of our Vulcan costumes,” the designer said. “This is one of Sarek's first outfits that he wears in the first episode.”

It took several months to come up with the final colors, Phillips said, as the design department and producers contemplated assorted shades and brightness /darkness levels, conducted dye tests, and ventured to Switzerland seeking fabric. Ultimately, a Swiss fabric company called Schoeller was tapped. “The fabric is a four-way stretch (material),” Phillips noted. “It has wicking capabilities. It's very durable. And it's a nod to a futuristic fabric. It's something that we'll all be wearing shortly.”

Our group then moved into other connected rooms where we glimpsed fitting rooms, a wall of actor photos (all of whom will need to be measured and fitted for costumes), additional racks of costumes, and more. Then it was into a separate, entirely different area, a much larger, more-open space that served as both a storage section and a workplace for Phillips’ cadre of artisans. Here, at a variety of stations, costumes were being sewn together or fixed or having ornamentation added to them. To one side was a seemingly endless – endlessly long, high and wide – costume collection, including Starfleet, Vulcan and Klingon costumes, with a wide selection of Klingon costumes representing the multiple houses viewers will see represented on the show.

So, how big a Trek fan was Phillips heading into Discovery? And helpful was it to be or not to be? “I think definitely helpful,” she replied. “It was interesting, because when I started on the show, my brothers were super-excited, more than I was in the beginning. I wouldn't say I was a fan, but I definitely watched the show growing up. So, I definitely was conscious of Star Trek. I've seen quite a few of the shows and the movies. I've seen all the movies.”

Phillips went on to describe Discovery as a creative playground. “It’s the best playground you could ever have to design and create in,” she raved. “I think this is my biggest opportunity that I've had to design and be creative. It's been amazing.” But does she ever feel constrained by franchise’s long history and all the many costumes that preceded her creations? “Well, definitely, because you're always looking to what's happened in the past and what has been established in the other shows,” Phillips replied. “But I think the mandate from the showrunner was to go boldly where no one's gone before. Did I just say that? So, yeah, I feel like it was definitely a push to do something great and something different. I think, especially with the Klingons and with the Vulcans, we've been a little bit more limitless and done stuff that I feel like nobody else has done so far. Hopefully. And, hopefully, they'll be well-received and everybody will love them.”

At this point, Phillips pulled out a Klingon costume, actually a stunt version of the costume. It’s made of rubber, making it far easier for the actor or stunt person to maneuver in, yet the camera and the audience at home won’t notice the difference. Little red gems protrude from it. “The Klingons are in a full-prosthetic, and then they have their hands covered, so we had to do a lot of different maneuvering and different techniques to put them together,” Phillips noted. “So, you can see inside… This one opens to the back. Now, you are seeing all the skeletons. It’s quite a lot to figure out how to get them together. It’s great for me to come up with a great design, but then this team has to put it together. It takes a lot of us prototyping, playing with different design ideas and different ways of putting them together, building them.”

Star Trek fans are legendary for making and/or purchasing costumes to cosplay in at events and conventions. In fact, a few fans at Comic-Con and Star Trek Las Vegas this past summer sported Discovery-inspired costumes. Phillips sounded very familiar with the phenomenon of people wearing costumes from a project that hadn’t even debuted yet.

“I did a movie called The Mortal Instruments, and it happened on that,” she recounted. “But, never to this extent. I have to say, this is completely a whole different experience. It's quite something to see the fans take it on the way they have. It's very cool, very cool, very exciting, I have to say.”

Star Trek: Discovery will debut September 24 on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Space Channel in Canada. The series will premiere on Netflix in the rest of the world on September 25.