An actor needs to feel good in their costume

29 April 2024

Publications Introducing

An actor needs to feel good in their costume

Publications Introducing

An actor needs to feel good in their costume


Costume designer Vladimíra Pachl Fomínová (b. 1977) came to the profession in a roundabout way, learning the craft herself. She got her start in film with Martin Krejčí’s Fricasse, then went on to work with Petr Zelenka, Jan Hřebejk, and her husband, Jan Pachl. This year she won a Czech Lion for her work on the retro TV series Volga, which spanned the entire 1970s and 1980s.

written by Vojtěch Rynda for CZECH FILM / Summer 2024

What do the annual Best Costume Awards celebrate most? Reflection of the characters? Resonance with the art direction? Consistency with the historical period?

All the above, I suppose. Costumes for films set in the present day tend not to win too many awards. Usually it’s either period pieces or fairy tales that pick up the trophies. Costumes aren’t supposed to stand out, they’re meant to complement the art direction and the makeup—all of these together create the image of a character while at the same time fitting in with the story and the other characters. In Volga, we had to cover two decades, from the ’70s almost all the way to the ’90s, it was quite a challenge. The costumes had to be artistic as well as historically accurate, since some moviegoers like to nitpick: “They didn’t have shirts like that in those days!”

Have you ever been accused of historical inaccuracy?

It happens. What matters, though, is what are you trying to say? In The Markovic Method: Hojer series, which is set in the 1980s, we took a different route. The director Pavel Soukup was born in 1990, so he grew up after the fall of communism. He tried to work with books and other sources from that period, but, as he himself said, his aim was to engage the younger generation. So I wasn’t so much concerned with making the costumes historically accurate as with making sure they fit the color scheme. I’ve heard my 20-year-old daughter’s peers say this styling helped to make the era more real for them.

What did you enjoy most about your work on Volga?

Keeping a consistent line through the cross section of eras, though it was tricky, posed an interesting challenge. Not to mention it gave us a chance to make porn! We needed a scene from a period porn film, but it would have been too hard to get the copyright to actual films from the era, so we decided to shoot one ourselves. Which is a totally different genre from what I’ve done before. We had real porn actors who were totally professional and very modest. Plus, since it wasn’t a real porn movie, just a fake, they were grateful for the chance to relax a bit.

Is there any decade of the twentieth century that appeals to you in particular?

Definitely the ’40s. But I’ve only had the chance to try it out in theater so far, in David Ondříček’s play 39 Degrees, and on TV, in the short story series Beer Barrel Polka/Škoda lásky, with my husband, the director Jan Pachl. I really enjoyed that.

In addition to several period pieces, you’ve worked on several contemporary comedies: The Sweet Life, Adored, A Late Dinner. Which do you enjoy more?

It’s hard to say. Even the present can be stylized in an interesting way, if the director and the other crew members are open to it. For example, the summer comedy Only for Tereza is set in the present, but artistically it’s inspired by the 1950s and ’60s. I enjoy that more than films that are just about making people laugh.

Do you believe costumes are meant to be purely functional, or can you go wild and have them draw attention to themselves?

It depends what the project needs. In general, though, I think costumes are meant to functional, and I certainly don’t insist on actors wearing what I like. I’m in favor of compromise, collaboration—not only with the director and the cinematographer, but also, say, with the sound engineer, so the costume doesn’t rustle. And of course with the actors: if an actor doesn’t feel comfortable in their costume, they’re going to have a hard time acting and blame it on the clothes. I’ve seen it happen.

Where do you find costumes and fabrics for retro projects?

Czech Television is a good source: they advertise that they’re looking for costumes and accessories from a certain period, and people just bring them in. It’s a wonderful way to replenish Czech Television’s costume stock, and it’s great that it includes glasses, jewelry, gloves, and hats, which may seem like a minor detail, but these are the elements that complete a costume. Plus it’s rare to find a whole bolt of period fabric. Fabrics often end up getting replaced, since some materials are unusable—because of the sound they make, for instance.

Czech tailors and seamstresses are among the craftspeople in this country who have a great reputation abroad. How do you feel about this tradition?

My sister is also a costume designer, and our grandmother made clothes for us when we were little. Even when we were designing for a living, we turned to her for advice. So yes, we have some really skilled people here, but they’re dying out. And it’s not just about knowing how to make a skirt, it’s knowing Rococo, Empire, the 1940s. The question is whether the public is still interested. Kids today don’t distinguish as much between historical styles. In shows on Netflix, for instance, the distinctions are often blurred.

How did you become a costume designer?

By chance. I studied exhibition design at the Secondary School of Applied Art in Prague. Then, together with Vojtěch Mašek, who studied set design there and later made films like Arved, I applied to the film school in Zlín. I only lasted a year in the department of cinematography there, but later I started helping my friends who got into FAMU with sets, masks, costumes. Then I made theater costumes for the stage designer Martin Chocholoušek. I had to learn everything on my own.

Vojtěch Mašek wrote the script for Fricasse, which you also had a hand in. What are your memories of that?

I loved it. That was a student film by Martin Krejčí, who I actually started my career with as a costume designer. What I loved about Fricasse was the combination of the artistic and the absurd.

You were already nominated for a Czech Lion once with Lost in Munich, directed by Petr Zelenka, who you also worked with on the Dubbing Street series. What is it like working with him? And what are you planning next?

Peter is great to work with. I especially enjoy his scripts. Even reading them several times, which is common in our profession, I don’t get bored. Right now we’re preparing an eight-part series for Czech Television called Limits, about environmental activists. It’s a topic I haven’t done before, so I’m looking forward to it.

You’re also working on Jan Hřebejk’s comedy State of Emergency, right?

That’s right. I already did the comedy crime series The Mills of God (2021) with him, which we stylized a lot in terms of costumes, and I enjoyed. In State of Emergency, he doesn’t want the costumes to be so stylized, but for Tatiana Dyková’s character, for instance, I still indulged in a lot of bold collars. I’m curious to see how it turns out.

Which genre would you like to try next?

I’d really like to work on a comics adaptation, like the Marvel stuff. But no one has the resources for that here in Czechia. Then a fantasy or a fairy tale—that’s probably more realistic.

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division of the Czech Film Fund promoting Czech cinema worldwide



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