British fashion and costume designer Colleen Morris recently discussed the inspiration for the clothes in the period musical drama Bolden, about the nearly unknown cornetist and bandleader Buddy Bolden, who is credited as the inventor of jazz music.
Morris began her career in London and earned a master’s degree in fashion design before moving to New York City, where she worked as a stylist. She later worked as a tailor on several hit series, including The Sopranos and Netflix’s Friends From College. More recently, she was the assistant costume designer on Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and HBO’s The Deuce.
Bolden is the first film project on which Morris wore the lead costume designer hat. Since the film is set in early 1900s New Orleans, it pushed her to merge her knowledge of colors and fabrics to convey the racial and sociopolitical climate of the time. To do that, she used African influences for pivotal scenes.
“The costumes were designed around that jewelry piece,” she said in reference to a necklace worn by the Bernadette character. “I wanted it to be of the African diaspora because it’s New Orleans . . . [which] for me was the only place in America, especially at that time, that really had a significant African/Creole look.”
Morris also used clothing to highlight racial disparity during the battle royale scene, based on the 19th-century combat fights that groups of African-American men were forced to participate in as a form of entertainment for White people.
“That is a photo of the scene from the battle royale, which is a part of history that no one wants to talk about because it was so despicable, violent and I’m very glad it was featured in the film,” the costume designer explained. “You had different tiers of dress. You had the wealthy White men and women dressed in tux. The almost-affluent Black women very well dressed, then you had the poor Black people dressed in normal clothing.”
Morris added, “I had ... the poor Blacks in very drab colors because it was not a very fun time, and I don’t think any of them wanted to be there. The colors the Whites [wear] are vibrant because they were happy to see what was happening. It was sport, which is frightening to think, but we were sport.”
Bolden opens in theaters on May 3. You can get your tickets at boldenmovietickets.com.