Throughout all three Lord of the Rings movies, the flowing dresses, medieval capes, exceptional beauty, and wise presence of the Elves make them one of the most mesmerizing elements in the movie series. These ethereal costumes were created by costume designer Ngila Dickson, who designed all the Lord of the Ring costumes. More about the Elven costumes first, followed by some behind the scenes information on the costume production overall. Photo Below: Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.
The Elven Identity and their Medieval Capes
This press release (below) explains Dickson’s costume design concept for the elves as well as their culture, innate powers, and place in the Tolkien world.
Elves… are noble, elegant, magical beings whose time is running out and who seem to possess a bittersweet sense that they are now about to pass into myth. Although they could be slain or die of grief, Elves are immortal in that they are not subject to age or disease.
For the Elves, Dickson went for sheer elegance, mossy greens, tree-bark browns, autumn scarlets, an androgynous quality and a touch of antiquity. “They invoke their environment,” she notes, “and they’re very light on the earth, so we searched for very, very fine layers of fabrics for them.” Their costumes were forged from Indian silk brocade, which Dickson washed, bleached, dyed and sandpapered to give the costumes a shimmering metallic gleam that looks organic.
The Elves also wear silk-velvet acid-etched with Art Nouveau leaf designs. Even their sleeves are made in leaf shapes, coiling around the actors’ arms. On their feet are knee-high leather boots that add to their willowy appearance. … They have a floating image to their costumes, using colors and fabric that are light and semi-shimmery.”
– from NLC Press Release, Dec 2001
The Fellowship of the Rings Receive Elven Medieval Capes
Galadriel and Lord Celeborn give a personal gift and an Elven cape to each of the remaining members of The Fellowship. The grey Elven medieval capes were handwoven by Galadriel and her maidens and intended to hide them on their journey to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron. Additionally, each cloak is closed with a distinctive green-leafed brooch delicately veined with silver.
I say remaining members above, because at this point in the film, Gandalf is not with the others and is presumed dead. Gandalf appears later in Fangorn with a green-leaf brooch on his cloak that implies that he traveled to Lorien before re-joining the Fellowship. Photo Below: Elijah Woods as Frodo Baggins and Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee wearing their Elven cloaks.
About the Lord of the Ring Costumes Overall
Ngila Dickson was working on Xena: Warrior Princess when she was invited to work on The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies. She says it was a difficult decision to leave Xena but finally her Xena director told her she should take the LOTR costume designer job.
As you might know, the three LOTR movies were shot simultaneously over several years. Each costume design had 40 versions because of the length of production and the need for costumes for the main actors, stunt doubles and scale doubles! Ms. Dickson and her 40 seamstresses worked on over 19,000 costumes total! Crazy numbers, right?! Photo Below: IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf in New Line CinemaÌs and MGM’s fantasy adventure THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Another interesting fact about the Lord of the Rings costumes and capes is that Director Jackson wanted every detail to look real. The costumers made the costumes look “lived in”, by wearing away color, stuffing pockets and dirtying costumes for some of the actors, especially Gandalf and Aragorn who spent a long time on the road. A few other details of interest, Ms. Dickson decided that as the Hobbits were barefooted, she’d dress them in shorts. To increase the grace of the Elves and make them look like they are gliding, she gave them particularly long sleeves. Photo Below: Liv Tyler as Arwen in her Elven medieval cape
Costuming Awards for Lord of the Rings
Ms. Dickson and Richard Taylor won numerous awards for LOTR’s, starting with the Academy Award for Costume Design for the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004). Other Academy Award nominations were for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2002).
She received British Film and Television Award nominations for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2002) and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004).
She and Richard Taylor won a BAFTA for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2003). She won the Costume Designers Guild Award for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004)
Photo: Legolas played by Orlando Bloom, Gandalf played by Ian McKellen and Aragorn played by Viggo Mortensen