Force of Fashion focuses on all things wearable in a galaxy far, far away — and right here at home! — with behind-the-scenes studies on some of the most iconic costumes of the saga, and the biggest highlights in Star Wars fashion today.
When the Star Wars prequels were first announced, one of my strongest memories of the marketing campaign for The Phantom Menace (as someone who was not old enough to realize what a marketing campaign actually was) are the images of Darth Maul and Queen Amidala. Maul, with multiple horns and a glare that could give someone nightmares, a new kind of Sith. But it was Amidala’s face, adorned with the traditional makeup of her planet and framed by a massive hairpiece, that stood out the most. The gorgeous red, gold, and black ensemble she wore in her debut of the saga may not have seen much wear beyond those initial scenes, but it remains one of the most interesting of Queen Amidala’s gigantic wardrobe. Within the story and in real life, the dress is easily one of the most complex, but it also represents Naboo tradition strongly — and gives us a glimpse at the fire behind Padmé’s eyes right from the start.
From top to bottom, Amidala’s throne room ensemble is a masterpiece. But for Padmé, it represents much more than just aesthetics. When creating the ensemble, costume designer Trisha Biggar aimed to give it a “sort of Chinese Imperial feel,” taking the influence of the culture’s intricate designs and beefing it up with the broad reach of the outfit’s shoulder piece, on the headdress where bright gold lines up with blood red lace on its “blade,” and its heavy, regal bell shape. All of this was intended to make Padmé seem as though she’s larger than she is; not a child queen, but a freedom fighter, and a leader who commanded authority in her quest for justice. Tradition shines through the costume, transforming real-life inspirations into a rich backstory for the people of Naboo that reflects in the jewel embedded in Amidala’s headpiece. Chinese and Korean influence echoed throughout Padmé’s wardrobe (or Sabé’s, her decoy, if you’re counting), especially in The Phantom Menace. Its design borrows the striking reds of traditional Chinese regality and mixes it with the complex, beautiful golden designs of Korean and Mongolian wedding dresses, which are reflected most prominently on Amidala’s front panel and throughout the outfit’s design. Later in the film, this theme reflects strongly with the golds, maroons, and reds of the outfit she wears to address the Galactic Senate; its massive headdress strongly recalls that of a traditional Mongolian wedding.
That same sense of tradition can be seen in her make-up, a style that continued in variation with future queens like Jamillia, Apailana, Neeyutnee, and Sosha Saruna. On Naboo, child queens were viewed as having a sense of wisdom in their innocence that adults lacked — most of them used some version of the traditional makeup, including the Scar of Remembrance; a red streak on their lower lips. Here in this galaxy, the white make-up and red dotted accents on Amidala’s cheeks resemble the Yeonjigonji, a style of make-up used by brides in traditional Korean weddings.
Overall, Amidala’s throne room costume took eight weeks to make and cost a staggering $60,000 in materials and labor. While Amidala’s style may have been considered traditional within the story, the actual making of the costume crossed the line and utilized the creativity of Biggar and the film’s design team. It started with the manufacturing of an undergarment that resembled an upside-down ice cream cone. According to Dressing a Galaxy, “The shape of this undergarment was constructed specifically to fit Natalie Portman, using many narrow panels of canvas reinforced with rings of crinoline steel around the hem to keep the shape rigid and support the weight of the fabric, allowing it to skim the floor, creating a floating, gliding effect.” The costume’s conception came from a suggestion by concept artist Iain McCaig, who wanted to design a dress with lanterns — those lanterns, six in total, later became the gigantic bulbs at the bottom of the multi-paneled dress, which were contained in a vac-formed Perspex, color-washed with French enamel varnish, and their wires were padded by several layers of canvas. The dress was originally intended to be made from velvet, but due to the outfit’s cross-section overlapping and looking bad under film lighting, Biggar ultimately went with several layers of silk.
The dress may have been a huge part of our first look at one of the major players behind the story of Star Wars, but it also introduced the first inklings of an aesthetic that fans could expect, hinting at the intricacies of new planets and wild new character designs that we had never seen before. For this writer, the iconic throne room costume was a first look at the wonders of Naboo, a complex new world in unexamined territory that only the pages of Legends stories had begun to imagine at the time. The bold red and gold of the costume are celebrated in real-life Chinese culture as a hue that represents good luck, joy, vitality, and recognition; that translated to a new kind of hope in the galaxy for the 10-year-old who first laid her eyes on Queen Amidala at a Scholastic book fair in 1999. Watching her gaze at the rooftops of Theed in one of the early TV spots, the bulbs of her dress gleaming in the sunlight, made her look exactly as Leia had once described her — kind, but sad.
Regal, gorgeous, and as complex as the young woman who wore it, Amidala’s throne room gown represents tradition, royalty, and determination that only she could command. It acts as armor while reminding Amidala of her respect for her home world’s origins. On behalf of its designers, it represents what happens when incredible real-life fashion influences the most imaginative of creators. If you’re in town, the costume is a must-see in person for anyone visiting the Smithsonian’s traveling Star Wars and the Power of the Costume exhibition (currently in Discovery’s Times Square location).
SOURCES: Star Wars: Episode 1 Visual Dictionary; Star Wars: Dressing A Galaxy; Vogue, 1999; Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, Dressing a Galaxy, the Smithsonian’s Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit
Catrina Dennis is a writer and Star Wars die-hard. In her spare time, she tells stories, yells very loudly about soccer, and hosts a few very cool podcasts. Catch up with her on Twitter @ohcatrina.