Women Behind Canadian TV: Trysha Bakker

Getty Images
Getty Images

 

How do you dress the coolest space bounty hunter around? That’s a question Killjoys costume designer Trysha Bakker routinely had to ask herself when trying to figure out Dutch’s (Hannah John-Kamen) fashion choices. Having been with the series since the beginning, Bakker knew Dutch and the rest of the Killjoys characters inside and out by the time the show wrapped filming last year on its fifth and final season, airing on SYFY and Space in 2019. A veteran designer for many other TV series and films, including Imposters, Damien and Covert Affairs, the drama about three space bounty hunters marked Bakker’s first time dressing characters that lived in a future world.

A two-time Canadian Screen Award Winner for Best Achievement in Costume Design, most recently for Maudie in 2018, Bakker joined The TV Junkies’ Women Behind Canadian TV series to discuss her career. She shared with us how she became interested in costume design and how she developed Killjoys’ unique and playful sense of style. Bakker lets us in on what it was like to dress John-Kamen’s Dutch and some of her favorite looks. Finally, she shares her advice for those looking to get into costume design and what projects she’s up to now that Killjoys has wrapped.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: How did you become interested in costume design? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

Trysha Bakker: From around the age of four, I had a massive trunk and played dress up all the time when I was a kid. I also sewed my whole life. I got my first sewing machine and made my first outfit when I was eight. I loved to make things and I’d take things and chop off an arm or add something to it. My grandmother and mother both always sewed so it was part of my life growing up.

I went to school for fashion design and took costume design during that time, but I wasn’t really interested because it wasn’t an in depth course. After finishing school, I thought ‘I don’t want to go in the fashion industry,’ so I went back to Banff where I was living and worked as a waitress. I was still always sewing and making outfits for different restaurants in town. Then I got called to be in the background of a movie and got to meet all the people making it.

I got this idea then that I could work in that industry as a costume designer. It would be fashion, historical costumes and just a little bit of everything. So I packed everything up a month later and moved to Toronto to get into the industry. I started working at a costume house, Lynda Kemp hired me and she was my mentor. She took me to sets and let me do all sorts of things.

TTVJ: You have such a vast and varied resume and have worked on such a variety of projects, but how did you become involved with Killjoys?

TB: I was called in for an interview and this series was set in the future. I had never done anything in the future so was a little nervous about that, but started to research online, watch futuristic movies and you find they borrow from a particular period. So for me, that was perfect and I know a lot of periods from working so many years in the business. I put together a 10 page Powerpoint presentation of each character and pitched it in a boardroom with four ladies there. I got a warm reception from them and they were excited, pitched in and I felt it was already a collaborative thing with them.

As we got going, Michelle [Lovretta, creator] had a character bible and there was a very clear description of these characters. So I started slowly with the characters and right at the top with my lead, Hannah [John-Kamen] who plays Dutch. Her first outfit had to be a dress. She had to be able to kick above her head, though, so we designed a dress that had shorts underneath that matched. That dress was very hard to define and it was the opener of the show, but once we got through that then it became her character’s style — everything was form-fitting and her colors were bright purples, blues and ruby red. We started making rules for each character and tried to stay with that for the entire five seasons.

Bell Media / SYFY
Bell Media / SYFY

TTVJ: I remember hearing you say once that you came up with a bunch of rules for the show, like no zippers and only buckles, that you tried to follow and ended up making a ton of custom buckles for pieces.

TB: We did that for awhile and then kind of slid out of it. [laughs] We’d say things like ‘let’s say this is a featured zipper,’ because we just couldn’t do it forever. So we left that one go, but we rarely did buttons. Everything I bought I would deconstruct. We’d often buy like three jackets just so I could take off the front and put the same fabric back on, but change it, or change the sleeve. We did so much of that patchwork stuff. We’d add a skirt on something or make it different by adding a bigger collar.

All the characters came out of the fittings. I remember I had a fitting with Thom Allison that was six hours. It was tricky to find a look for him that worked. We ended up with sarongs on him, really bright colors, vests, lots of mesh and tons of jewelry around his neck. He and Khlyen (Rob Stewart) both ended up wearing skirts as characters. He was all dark and grey as this assassin and tutor so he was monochromatic. We just had to really think outside of the box.

TTVJ: As a viewer, you could really tell how the styles reflected the characters’ personalities. Did you meet regularly with showrunners Michelle Lovretta and Adam Barken to help accomplish that?

TB: Every episode we would meet and that’s what was really great. There’d be a concept meeting that was very broad, and I’d not speak up much there. Then we’d have a meeting just with me and Michelle, Adam, Stefan [Pleszczynski] or Karen [Troubetkoy] and that’s where I’d ask all my specific wardrobe questions. ‘You just saw her in this, but now you’ve got her going outside? How did she get from here to here? You may need to think about this.’ Those are the things I may bring up in a script meeting, but for the most part, we’d meet every episode and I’d pitch them what I want on everybody.

We’d then do mood boards for all the bit players and that’s where my assistant designer Donna [Butt] was great at digging up images on the internet. We found a lot of great images on the internet and it’s where we did most of our research. I’d look at different designers like McQueen or Versace, or we’d look at people’s really great fantasy drawings. We would use some element and bring it all together. After the wardrobe meeting we’d be off and running and have our fittings right away. We had to turn everything around in seven days.

TTVJ: I know you’re not the only person involved in making costumes at Killjoys. Were you in charge of putting that staff together, and if so, how did you go about doing that?

TB: I wanted a really good cutter, a really good seamstress and a really good decorator to sew all the buckles and all that. Those were really important and we could do things like build a leather coat in a day. The people who worked in my department were truly skilled and that makes everything so much easier. By Season 4, we had such a big stock of items that we could take things and re-purpose them by dying them another color or cutting them differently.

Bell Media / SYFY
Bell Media / SYFY

TTVJ: It’s not often an actress like Hannah John-Kamen comes along. How much fun did you have finding outfits for her over the years? Do you have a favorite Dutch look?

TB: Dutch often had to go undercover and that’s what’s fun about her. She’d dress differently in many situations and I loved all her badass jackets. I tried to make her a new jacket every couple of episodes. One I really loved was a green suede jacket that had fur all around the face — that was my favorite. It was used in a winter scene and we are often in the studio, so to have to make a functional jacket that worked with the elements and the scene was fun.

I really loved Aneela and came up with her look at the end of the season. All of the sudden I thought ‘oh no! What are we going to do about this very important character that is going to remain with us throughout the series?’ Dutch is always in these bright colors — reds, blues, blacks — and I thought ‘Aneela is evil, but let’s put her in white.’ She had such a clean look with that long braid and the long jacket.

Since Hannah’s on the ship often too we could have her with bare arms. I had so many favorites. I loved making the tops that she wore on the ship, just using those bright greens, purples, and red and trying to figure out the shapes. You just try to make something original.

TTVJ: Killjoys is a show that spends a lot of time on a ship, but it never feels claustrophobic. I feel like all those bright colors really help in that feeling and just the show’s overall fun vibe.

TB: Because it’s a little bit campy too, right? You think of it almost as a comic book. Dutch, in my brain, was always kind of Wonder Woman, and I loved in the last season that we do something different for her. We just try to make things different because you aren’t really moving with our fashion nowadays. How did Dutch change over the years? She went to war, lost people she loved and all these things happened to her that make her change as a character. We went into a dark period where she wore a lot of black, but she came out of it and we decided maybe she wears a skirt for a few episodes. It’s nice though because Hannah can just rock any look. Her fittings were so wonderful because she was so great in those. She’d say ‘I love it’ and do a twirl or leg kick. They were all so fun and I loved dressing them all.

Bell Media / SYFY
Bell Media / SYFY

TTVJ: Do you have any advice for others looking to get into costume design?

TB: It’s important to study. If somebody wants to be a costume designer then I think you need to understand patterns, grafting, and construction. There may be costume designers out there that never did that and are great illustrators. That can work too, but if you can’t work with a cutter and a sewer and know what you’re talking about then it takes a lot longer. You have to understand which fabrics will work and knowing what fabrics will shine best.

It’s a learning curve and you’re always learning these things so you need to study a lot. You can’t just be a person who shops. It’s important to understand clothing construction, dyeing and hopefully you can do a little sketching to get your idea across. There’s a lot of positions in the industry where you can be brilliant, like a breakdown artist of assistant designer. If you aspire to be a costume designer, then work with the best and watch what they do.

It’s not just putting costumes on people’s back, but also understanding the characters. You have to be a psychologist and understand that some actors really need a lot of help to get to the character. Some actors will tell me ‘I didn’t know who this character was until I finished my fitting and put on my costume.’ That is really satisfying.

TTVJ: What projects are you working on now that Killjoys has wrapped?

TB: I am working on Run, a pilot for HBO starring Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson. We just finished shooting it. It is executive produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and written by Vicky Jones with a lot of other women involved from director to all different positions.

 

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Killjoys Season 5 will air in 2019 on SYFY and Space. Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.