Fashion in film: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Here at Humanity Hallows, we are taking a look at the most iconic style moments to hit the big screen, whether this be from the swinging 60s or the present day. Next up is Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.

By Sara Haywood

The magic of film lies in the fact that directors can use many techniques to tell a story, whether it be the use of camera angles, cinematography or sound design. However, often it seems that the best films are the ones that place their focus on costume design, because an elaborate ball gown or three-piece suit can speak volumes for the characters wearing them and make a bold statement about the film itself.


Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula rejuvenated the vampire genre, but also stayed true to the gothic theatricality that Bram Stoker wrote in the original novel. To reflect this mood, Coppola hired Japanese designer and art director Eiko Ishioka to create the costumes. Prior to Dracula, Ishioka had previously worked with Coppola on creating a poster for the Japanese release of Apocalypse Now and worked with Paul Schrader as a production designer on his film, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Dracula, however, was Ishioka’s time to flourish and create her own unique look.

Ishioka uses bold colours such as red, white and green to contrast against the often dark and candlelit setting. Red in particular is the standout colour throughout the film, not only reflecting the obvious vampiric bloodlust but to represent other themes and moods, such as strength, love, and eroticism.


Perhaps the most interesting of all is how Ishioka uses colour to reflect female sexuality, and the erotic transition in both Lucy and Mina. At the beginning of the film, both women wear green and white gowns with leaf motifs printed on them to symbolize virginity, fidelity and love. Mina dresses very modestly, whereas the flirtatious Lucy wears dresses that reveal her shoulders and wears her long hair down. In a later scene with the two women, Lucy wears a peppermint green dress with a motif resembling swirling snakes, foreshadowing her later seduction into evil.


When Mina meets the charming title character and has dinner with him, we see a transformation from the demure girl she once was to a provocative young woman who has fully realised her own sexuality. Gone are the mint green gowns, replaced instead with a beautiful ruffled blood red dress that gorgeously reveals skin we hadn’t previously seen before. Dracula, going under his proper title of Prince Vlad, also wears a black suit embroidered with gold leaves to reflect his royal background.


Ishioka also draws fashion inspiration from famous art works, as well as her own native homeland, for the film. For example, for the ancient Dracula, Ishioka designed a red ‘kabuki’ robe, drawing from the classical Japanese theatre style to reflect the bizarre world Jonathan Harker has stepped into and the theatrical nature of the film itself. Also, in a much later scene, Dracula wears a golden cloak reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’. Klimt’s painting portrays a couple embracing one another enshrouded in gold, and here Dracula wears a golden cloak embellished with mosaic and spiral patterns, as well as jewels.


Ishioka went on to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design in Dracula, and would later begin a long term collaboration with director Tarsem Singh starting with 2000’s The Cell (and would re-use the famous ‘muscle armor’ for Singh’s directorial debut). She died of pancreatic cancer aged 73 and was posthumously nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the 2012 fantasy film, Mirror Mirror.

Sarah Haywood is a third year English and Creative Writing student. Follow her blog at www.verbalvitriol.wordpress.com

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