In any production, costumes are essential for creating a character, and it was no different for Rome. As with all other aspects of the production, authenticity and attention to detail were critical from the raw fabrics dyed and aged by the production, to the handmade armor, leather and metalwork, to the props, weapons and fighting techniques. This task fell to costume designer April Ferry (Oscar®-nominated for "Maverick") and prop master Arthur Wicks.
Ferry began breaking down the first three scripts for costume requirements. "We've done a lot of research in books and museums to see what people actually wore at the time, because a lot of what youve seen before in films of this period is wrong," she says. "Rome had people from all over the known world at the time, and they didn't all dress alike. So we're going after the ethnic differences and all the color and vibrancy that was there."
The series required over 4,000 pieces of wardrobe, 2,500 being used in the first three episodes alone. All of the fabrics are authentic to the times, with only cotton, linen, wool and silk employed. They were purchased in their natural state, and hand-dyed on set. Much of the material came from India, as well as Prato, Italy, Tunisia and Morocco.
Approximately 1,250 pairs of shoes and sandals were made in Bulgaria, and 250 chain mail tunics, each weighing 36 pounds, were made in India. The prototype for the detailed leather cuirass worn by army officers was handmade at Cinecitta, and 40 were replicated in India. Prototypes for all of the metalwork helmets, buckles, belts and insignia, were handmade on set and replicated in India as well.
"One of the benefits to shooting in Rome is that some of the finest craftsmen in the world are here when it comes to leather, metal and painted fabric work," says Ferry. Among them are leathermasters Augusto and Giampaolo Grassi, and metal maker Luca Giampaoli. The Grassis are the sons of legendary leathermaster Alvaro Grassi, who created the body armor for Cinecittas golden-age epics, including "Cleopatra" and "Ben-Hur." The quality is such that many of those costumes are still in use decades later, rented throughout the world for other productions.
The Grassis began learning their craft as children, playing in their father's workshop. For Rome, they created the prototype for the legionary cuirass to be duplicated in India, and handmade all of the leather wardrobe pieces for the principal actors. One cuirass takes about a week to complete, and is made using traditional techniques, with no modern plastics or glues. The leather is all from Italy, and dyed on set.
Luca Giampaoli takes a similar pride in his accomplishments in metal. His background is in mint engraving, but he began his film wardrobe career with "Gladiator." "I've done everything for the main actors myself, from armour to helmets, to jewelry, using both ancient and modern techniques," he says.
Prop master Arthur Wicks creates everything the actors aren't wearing, including weapons, games, tools, coins and food for the banquets. "A lot of our research comes from books and museums, especially," he says. "For example, there's a musical instrument called a water organ in one scene, and you can't get one anywhere, so we went to the museum, photographed and measured it, and built an exact copy here. Same for the weaving looms Servilia and Octavia use fully practical, and we built them from ancient designs.
"The coins are all made for us at the Vatican, and have the likeness of our Caesar, Ciaran Hinds, stamped on them. All of the banquet food is edible, and is what they would have eaten at the time. There isn't anything that wasn't available in the Roman markets, but since they traded all over the world, it's a good variety.
"One of the biggest challenges is to anticipate things that aren't specifically called for in the script but that you would have needed it takes a lot of reading between the lines. The slave Strabo follows Caesar around and is always writing letters for him, so I gave him a portable writing surface of wax that he can carry with him, kind of like an ancient laptop, that sort of thing.
"It's been an enormous amount of work, but its been a lot of fun, imagining the small things, the luxuries they would have had around the home and recreating the ancient games, researching their rules. And weve done it all with six people."