Lady Gaga inspires the costumes of The Serpent Queen

As published on UNIVERSA

Karen Muller Serreau has a filmography of more than 20 films and series, having signed period and modern productions. Detailed, fun, and daring, she is responsible for the breathtaking costumes of the series The Serpent Queen (from the current Lionsgate Plus, ex-Starz).

The biographical series about Catherine de Medici, a French queen (of Italian origin), who terrified her enemies by using poisons to eliminate them, features a spectacular Samantha Morton in the lead role. It’s historically accurate but has room for a women’s punk rock soundtrack and a cynical, clever narrative. Given this description, would it be surprising that the fashion reference for the queen would be Lady Gaga? Well, Karen stopped her work on a film, in Italy, to talk exclusively with Universa about the works of the series.

UNIVERSA: The story of Catherine de Medici is fascinating and has been told in a deliciously mischievous way. And the costumes! It’s curious to know that the inspiration came from Lady Gaga, a woman with such an opposite attitude to the Serpent Queen!
Karen: (laughing) Yeah. When they contacted me for the project, they told me a little bit about the narrative and in this conversation, Lady Gaga was mentioned as a reference. I accepted and decided: OK, if that’s the case, let’s go for it!

UNIVERSA: But did they match? Lady Gaga is daring and the images we have of Catarina are the widow always in black…
Karen: Exactly, since at that time there were only a few portraits of royals, there isn’t a lot of documentation to use as a basis, but it gave me the freedom to interpret as I wanted. Diane de Poitiers was known to wear white and black and white, but Catherine did not wear black until she became a widow. It was very challenging for me to think of a Catherine de Medici with colors, but when I read the script, which would show her coming from Italy, I decided that she would come with strong colors.


UNIVERSA: Without images or documents, how was the creation?
Karen: I used the current fashion culture and transposed it to the period. I looked at all the fashion designers who had runway shows with references to the Renaissance and from there I went back in time.

UNIVERSA: Well, Catarina brings her costume designer from Italy…
Karen: Yes, an up-to-date young lady (laughs).

UNIVERSA: Does he represent you?
Karen: (still laughing) Yes, just a little! (SPOILER: The costume designer’s fate is tragic)

UNIVERSA: Now we have an adult Catarina, played by Samantha Morton. How was the transition?
Karen: When we get to an older Catarina, the costume becomes a little more historically correct. I mean in the most conventional sense because she’s still adapting to being Queen of France.

UNIVERSA: The production value is undeniable and the clothes of the time were very expensive, right?
Karen: In real life, one of Catherine’s dresses cost the price of a castle. You can’t compete with that in a series! (laughs) so I decided that I would just play with textures. At the same time, I used some color models that had absolutely nothing to do with those of the time, just to try to bring it to life. For example, her first dress when she arrives in France is completely over the top. It’s full of jewelry, and lace. That’s because they’re selling it (literally) and needed to communicate opulence.

UNIVERSA: And the black and white of Diane de Poitiers, wasn’t it restrictive? You managed to dare even with this limitation!
Karen: Yes, at Henry 2nd’s coronation, Catarina notices that he is wearing Diane’s colors. I’ve always liked black and white, but I thought, what am I going to do now to really stand out? That’s when I used a zebra print (laughs). Yes, to be strong and really the colors of Diane de Poitiers.

UNIVERSA: And what other moments have you been able to have fun like that?
Karen: With Mary, Queen of Scots. She always has her four ladies-in-waiting and they are all called “Mary”. This is historically correct. And I came up with the idea of ​​making Chanel tweed-renaissance dresses. All the “Marys” have their white dresses, which was the color of mourning back then for a queen, but they all have little Chanel embellishments on them. I also wanted to play with Henry II’s clothes when he was young, wearing three straps up his sleeve, thinking about Adidas, but we didn’t get permission and I had to take one of them off. The proposal was to see how far I could modernize it, play around a little, looking historically correct, but without being.

UNIVERSA: Catherine de Medici entered History as a villain, with bad references, and came to be known as “The Serpent Queen”. Was the snake element then inevitable?
Karen: Yes. The first thing I thought of her was her hair, it has kind of snakes in it, which is always there. And we made the dress that was called the “serpent dress”, which appears in the series credits and on the posters.

UNIVERSA: Was dressing the men harder, easier, or the same?
Karen: It was challenging, the Bourbons are always in black and the Guises in dark red, to give you an idea of ​​the opposition between them. And of course, all Protestants wear only black. On the other hand, Catherine’s astronomer was a traveler, always wearing old leather pants.



UNIVERSA: And is there an exchange of ideas with the actors to decide on the clothes?
Karen: Yeah, I had a lot of conversations with Samantha [Morton] about what things meant. For example, her coronation dress is kind of blue, with gold embroidery, but the embroidery looks a lot like the sky and the stars, representing her mystical side. We worked on colors to reflect Catarina’s moods, and we talked a lot about what those colors meant. But it was quite difficult because there was a pandemic at the time we were shooting and the actors went through two weeks of isolation when they came to France to shoot, so the changeover time was very limited. A lot of my conversations with Samantha were on Zoom, but she was fantastic.

UNIVERSA: How many dresses, how many outfits, in large numbers, did you create for the series?
Karen: Oh God, hundreds! We had a lot of extras, I don’t know the exact number. Diane de Poitiers has over 25 dresses (all in black and white) and had an entire trailer just to store Samantha Morton’s dresses. Yes, dresses take up a lot of space and are very heavy!

UNIVERSA: What is the tip for doing a job as rich in detail as yours?
Karen: I do a lot of documentation. I read a lot about the characters because I need to know who they are. I talk to the directors, I want to know where they come from, who they are and work from there.

UNIVERSA: And what can we expect from The Serpent Queen?
Karen: That we will have a second season (laughs)

UNIVERSA: What good news! And give me all of Catarina’s wardrobe, which dress do you think Lady Gaga would choose?
Karen: Probably our “Queen Serpent” dress, which has huge sleeves and I think it would probably look great on her.

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