Interview with the Vampire Q&A — Costume Designer Carol Cutshall on Suiting & Silhouettes in Storyville

Based on Anne Rice's iconic novel, Interview with the Vampire follows Louis de Pointe du Lac's (Jacob Anderson) epic tale of love, blood, and the perils of immortality. Visually we’ve seen several iterations of vampires, but in this reimagining the vampires are equal parts vicious and elegant. In this interview with we speak with costume designer Carol Cutshall about creating the vintage wardrobe necessary to bring Storyville to life, mapping out Claudia’s fashion journey, and the real-life love story that inspired the fashion we see on Louis and Lestat.  
Q: What was your connection to New Orleans before starting to work on the show? 
A: I was born and raised in Louisiana. I grew up in the middle of the state, but after college I moved to New Orleans. It was the mid-'90's right when Anne Rice was just absolutely everything in this city. They had just finished making the film. She was doing a lot of really important preservation work architecturally. She was hosting big extravagant balls and parties. She just was like the queen of New Orleans, and everyone absolutely adored her. I ended up getting a master's in costume design at Tulane in New Orleans and then I moved to Los Angeles, so there were a few years away from New Orleans. A few years ago, I'd moved back and bought a house.
I have this very long history with New Orleans and with Anne Rice. You couldn’t be in New Orleans in the '90's without being completely wrapped up in the fun that she was creating in this city and also the romantic love of the city. That was huge. The other thing that I remember really discovering when I first moved to New Orleans was the mystery and allure of that period of time of Storyville. The Bellocq photos, those few photos, were so famous in New Orleans and they were dramatized in all sorts of different ways. Those first brothels that Louis's in – those were beautifully documented by Bellocq the photographer at that time. It’s been pretty amazing to have all of these things come together and collide in this one project.
Q: As a fan of the source material, were you pleased at the timeline tweak that Rolin [Jones] made for the series? Jumping ahead into the teens, the 20s and then the 30s gave you the opportunity to explore some fashion-forward decades that were quite decadent and iconic.
A: Yes! I also think setting our story in this time period, there are so many parallels with what we are living in today, with lightning-speed technology advances. I was tasked with really showing time move almost out from under our vampires, so we start within that first decade of the 1900's. There were just an unbelievable number of technological advances and there was a large part of society that was still holding onto the past. Women were still wearing these giant hats and these lace up to the neck, long, big dresses and having to get on public transportation! And navigate those sorts of things. Life was changing very dramatically. The light bulb changed everything of course, but in the first part of the 1900's there were developments that made them stronger, last longer, and able to be used outside. So, it was like all of a sudden nightlife was a more vibrant and bigger part of life. What better time for vampires, right? Everyone's out! It's festive. So those were things that as I did my research, I got so excited about like, "Oh my gosh, this is amazing!" "Oh my gosh, this is going in! This works. It fits. It all fits." Then there’s the 1920s and what was going on with women. It was a big liberation. Women's wear was becoming comfortable and easy. They were throwing off the corset and throwing off these binding garments that were prohibitive in every way and embracing a more radical female life. For that to coincide with Claudia experimenting with who she is and finding her freedom, you can't ask for a better time to place the story.
Q: Since there are large time jumps that happen within Season 1, did you earmark certain decade specific fashion statements that you just had to include?
A: Yeah, for sure. One of the ways that I approached the vampires was looking at what was going on across the board during that period. New Orleans was a very different slice of life than the rest of the United States. Fashion was coming out of Paris, then even New York was just a step behind Paris, but down in New Orleans they were a few steps behind New York as far as being fashion-forward. One of my concepts for the background actors was to create this feeling that they're all on the menu, they're all basically mammals. So, I cultivated this look for them that, no matter what time period they were in, they always kind of felt like livestock. They always had a very pedestrian look of the day that showed that it was hard living in New Orleans. Their clothes were well-worn. They were kind of sweaty and their life was gritty. There was a very warm and textured reality to them. That allowed our vampires to kind of dance across the top of them as the stars, as the movie stars, as the most elegant.
For Louis starting out, he had several iconic looks. His fashion showed how he was struggling between two sides of himself when Lestat found him. He had a Booker T. Washington look, a look that showcases the entrepreneurial spirit and celebration of education and Black business owners, and it was a more austere look. Then for his nightlife look, I was inspired by Black vaudeville. Not what the men were wearing on stage, but what the men were wearing in their lives, which Louis would have been aware of. They were extremely dapper men, and they had a celebrity air to them. In order to survive, Louis has to be impeccable. He has to have a showmanship about him that serves as a layer within his defense mechanisms. There were so many pieces to the puzzle that got us to where we were visually with both of Louis and Lestat. 
For Lestat, he's coming from the mid-to-late 1700s and that was during a real explosion of dandy fashion for men. It's like Beau Brummel, the most widely known male dandy fashion plate. As we move forward with Lestat, I looked at icons like Rudolph Valentino. We have to remember that Lestat is coming from a time when clothing was a lot more restrictive. He wears modern clothes, but they almost fit him like corsetry, even his suits.
I loved the whole flapper 1920s looks and watching the hemline move up. When building our research boards for our background actors and just setting the whole tone of the whole piece, we started with women's hems on the floor and then moved them to right at the ankle and then just watched them come up and up the leg in the '20s until they’re just right below the knee. I was just messaging back and forth with Bailey [Bass] last night about some of these very things and how both of us felt that no matter how close we were to this work, watching it we’re swept away. I was saying that even though I am so completely entwined in this project, when I watch an episode, I'm still totally swept away by it! And Bailey said the exact same thing. She said, "I feel the same! I don't feel like I'm the person who played Claudia." It's so intoxicating!
Q: One of the most fascinating uses of costuming in the show is with Claudia and how her style evolution stands in for her physical development from child to teen, to young lady. Her fashion choices speak volumes and really highlight the growth of her confidence. How did you map out this journey for Claudia and what were some of your favorite looks of hers this season? 
A: I just remembered how many times Anne Rice writes that Claudia’s a doll when we first meet her. A magnificent doll. So of course, the first place I looked for inspiration was Edwardian dolls. I was specifically thinking about the type of doll that Claudia probably never owned, but the type of doll that was definitely in Louis's house and that his sister owned. We first see her in this beautiful nightgown with fine lace and ruffles to the wrist, long to the floor, this beautiful white nightgown. That was one of my faves. Then there’s her sailor suit. It's absolutely iconic children's wear, for both boys and girls. So, I started her in those doll clothes. You could very much tell that it was Louis that was dressing her and that it was his dapper style sense at work. He also was the first one to pull Lestat into current fashion with his makeover and taking him in from menswear. When the 1920's start to hit Claudia’s getting very restless and starting to branch out on her own and get a mind of her own. Like I said, that beautifully coincided with what she was going through as a young woman and her bid for independence.
She’s trying to find herself and find love. When Claudia leaves and goes to college, her young, collegiate, Depression-era look – when Bailey put those clothes on, we just squealed. We just screamed. We just loved those looks, those late '20's, early '30's looks. And what's coming in the 1930's for her are some of my favorites, I'll say that. She gets very focused, and she becomes a little businesswoman. So that was hugely satisfying and fun to do. To see women start to wear pants and start to wear casual silk – they called them beach pajamas – but they would be like playsets, lounge sets. So darn cute! And I made some beautiful ones for her. A number of them I was able to find to rent or to purchase, but we also had several pairs made that are just so phenomenal, so beautiful.
Q: How much of the wardrobe is created from scratch versus vintage pieces that you found?
A: It's a mix. With Claudia, for one thing, she destroys so much of her clothing! She is a messy eater! In order to get the fit of her clothes right to tell the story, there was a certain fit that we had to get to straighten out her natural figure. I had so much made. I mean, there were a few just magnificent vintage pieces that we could use. Coats, her red cape – that is a just magnificent vintage piece. So, there was a lot of that. And I did have some shoes made for her, some beautiful flat Edwardian shoes. But for the most part, we made, gosh, really almost all of it.
I've just started to post my process on my Instagram and it's crazy. There's so much and I am going to try to catch up with the episodes as they air. But it's going to be a lot of that, just posting the process, posting where it came from and where I pulled the research and the looks and how we arrived at it with the characters and our place in history and the source material and everything.
I do always try to design with consumption and with waste in mind. When at all possible, we rent. In Los Angeles and New York, all over the country, there are amazing costume houses and vintage dealers where we can get the real thing. We can buy the real thing and we can buy fabric and lace. Oh, I came across this treasure trove of real Edwardian lace that had been handed down and handed down and had been in an attic in a family house. I mean, big boxes of Edwardian lace! And it's all over the Fair Play girls. We embellished all their dresses. It's all over Claudia. And it's the real thing. We had so many moments like that where what we were looking for just came to us.
Q: There are many moments throughout the season when Louis and Lestat’s outfits complement each other beautifully — and of course this was not just by coincidence! What was it like styling these complementary ensembles? You tackled everything from suiting to loungewear and undergarments, so it must have been satisfying to create these multi-dimensional synced looks.  
A: It was. As we got to know these characters, as the work progressed with Sam [Reid] and Jacob [Anderson], we would present them with different styles that I felt "this could be Louis," "this could be Lestat." We reached a point where in fittings it was like we instinctively knew "in this time period this is how Louis would actually wear it" and "this is how Lestat would wear it." So just in working with the actors, so much presented itself in what direction to go with each of the men.
There was some really fun stuff of course, like when they first meet. They have very distinct looks and then Louis pulls Lestat into the present day, right? They have this moment – it's like their first honeymoon moment – of their friendship where Lestat is very influenced by Louis's fashion and he's going to Louis's tailor. They really feel in sync and that moment is largely illustrated by a very famous menswear illustrator, J.C. Leyendecker. He made famous the Arrow Shirt Man and he was the male standard of beauty. He became such a big thing that he sold millions of shirts just because everyone wanted to be that man in his illustrations. And the whole first two episodes, their style sense in many ways is a love letter to Leyendecker. Some things are just perfectly pulled from – like their formalwear, their tuxedos that they wear to the opera in 1917, and the black pinstripe suit with the green tie and the white boutonniere that Lestat wears to the du Lac family home for dinner – those are from a Leyendecker illustration.
The thing that was so amazing about Leyendecker himself, was that the Arrow Shirt Man, his model, they fell in love and it was just a beautiful love story between these two men that they could not be public with. So, to throw in very pointed Leyendecker references in places of great struggle for Louis and Lestat was amazing. What I always think of as their second honeymoon is in the '20's when Claudia is running wild, and you see them and they’re like these two fabulous bachelor dads. That was a lot of fun! There's this one image – and there's been a fair amount of fan art – with Lestat in the cardigan sweater. That was so tongue-in-cheek! They're the perfect two dads with their little wild child. Putting those looks together was amazing. It was all about following the story and ripping them apart, and then putting them back together, and then ripping them apart and putting them back together again.
Q: There's one more episode before Season 1 ends, but we’re already so excited for Season 2. What are you most excited for viewers to experience visually as the season concludes, and what can you tease out about the fashion we’ll encounter in Season 2? 
A: I will say our grand finale is so grand. It's so grand! There are a few looks in particular that have been teased in trailers. There are a few looks in particular that were made up of so many, many, many pieces, so much custom work. You know, vampires make a mess. There were so many amazing, intricate, custom-made pieces that just feels insanely iconic and beautiful and tie in so many references in the Anne Rice world. They’re beautiful.
I would say for Season 2 that if you haven’t already, now’s the time to read the book so you can digest it. I think the most brilliant thing to do, waiting for Season 2, is to read the books, read The Vampire Lestat. And also, by reading Part 2 of Interview with the Vampire, you’ll be so excited at how it's going to be handled. It’s very thrilling and very exciting.

New episodes of Interview with the Vampire air on Sundays at 10/9c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.