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Threads of History
Since Terrence Malick's quest for historical accuracy extended into every department, costume designer Jacqueline West found herself faced with the daunting task of authentically clothing the colonists and Natives. It was a challenge the veteran designed was eager to accept. 

"As soon as I learned that I would be meeting with Terry, who I so admire, I started doing research and drawings,” West recalls. "So when I went to the meeting, I put some sketches and vivid references down on the table for him for Native costumes. They had a dark, mysterious quality, which was in alignment with what Terry had in mind.”

For inspiration, West buried herself in pre-production research, much of it from her own extensive library of books on American Indians. 

"Designing the costumes for the English was mainly research and then getting the clothes of the period to look like they'd been through what they had to have gone through getting from Britain to Virginia,” says West. "But I wanted the Natives to have a feeling that we haven't seen before.” 

In designing the costumes, West paid special attention to the nature of the materials used in the era. 

"Of course, everything they used came from the natural world, and we felt that it would have been both unrealistic and spiritually insulting to use mass produced, artificial materials,” she says. "We started ordering skins and furs, but only of what already existed. Of course, no animals were killed for our purposes. I also relied on the generosity of strangers, such as Chief Robert Two Eagles Green of the Patawomeck Indians of Virginia. He became a great friend and benefactor, giving us a great many deer antlers, turkey feathers and other materials. Chief Green and also Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy would later say, after appearing in scenes for the film, that they felt like they had gone back to the time of their ancestors and really felt that we tried to portray how animals were respectfully used, and how nothing was wasted. If we accomplished that, even part way, I feel we were successful.”

West and her department found other natural materials, including shells at the seashore and freshwater pearls, which were used as adornments by a people who lived by and with the waters that surrounded them. The wardrobe department was to turn out some 500 costumes with a staff that only numbered 15 from the start of pre-production, many of them from Virginia. 

"I was able to find the most talented, hardworking and creative people,” West says. "We had 15 fabricators, a mask maker, a headdress maker, two jewelry makers, a wonderful leather maker, all from the area.”

For the English costumes, West teamed with her longtime collaborator Suzi TurnbulI. "I've done three movies with her and I call her my secret weapon,” says West. "Suzi did research in England while I was doing research in the U.S., and we put it all together. The period of James I is not one you often see on film. After exchanging drawings that I would sketch and pre-approve with Terry, Suzi went on a search of all the costume houses of Europe, including England, Spain, France and Italy, to find enough wardrobe for this movie. Then we had two agers working with us full time to make them look worn and used. We've built a lot of the English shirts, and made lots of britches as well. I insisted that we prep these clothes in England, where we could obtain homespun fabrics. There's still a great deal of handmade work being done, and you've got to go to the source.”

West's costumes for the protagonists of the film were carefully designed as extensions of their characters and personalities. 

"Captain John Smith was tricky, because men in tights can be scary,” says West. "I got my inspiration for his costumes from the swashbuckling adventures, but with authentic period feeling.


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