What We Do in the Shadows: Interview with costume designer Laura Montogomery

Laura Montgomery headshot - Courtesy of Jordan von Netzer
Laura Montgomery headshot - Courtesy of Jordan von Netzer /

Known for her work on the FX series What We Do in the Shadows (2019), Darren Lynn Bousman’s Spiral (2021), and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016).  With What We Do in the Shadows showcasing some captivating vampire fashions,  it was a treat to interview the series’ costume designer, Laura Montgomery.

Interview with What We Do in the Shadows costume designer Laura Montgomery

Show Snob: Costumes help define characters, and What We Do in the Shadows sure has interesting ones.  Which one is your favorite and why?

Laura Montogomery: That’s like asking me to choose my favorite child! Every character has something unique about them, from Nandor’s 15th century Persian armor to Guillermo’s multi-colored wool sweaters. Nadja is the only woman in the main cast so it’s a real treat to design her Victorian meets 1980’s gothic confections.

What We Do In The Shadows also has a lot of cool monsters and creatures and Season 3 is no exception. I don’t think I can divulge the details yet but let’s just say that it’s a rare and exciting design opportunity when Amy Winehouse and “dirty chicken butt” are visual references for the same character.

Show Snob: The character of Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) seems to be less extravagant in style.  How does that impact our perception of the character?

 Laura Montogomery: Colin Robinson feeds on his victims by draining their energy with boring conversation. His color palette of beiges, browns, and taupes is equally banal. His costumes are designed to be very unassuming and timeless.

This season, now that we know Colin Robinson is turning 100 years old I took inspiration from 1950’s tailoring – Carey Grant and The Duke of Windsor in particular. One conceit of the show is that the vampires get stuck style-wise in the period in which they were human. Although I’m not sure that Colin Robinson was ever a human, I wanted to root him in the period in which he would have been a young man.

What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows – Courtesy FX /

What We Do in the Shadows interview: A matter of training?

Show Snob: To what extent can someone be trained in costume design?

 Laura Montogomery:  Many aspects of costume design require experience and training. Post-secondary school programs help a designer to develop a creative process, learn research techniques and gain knowledge of clothing construction and period fashion.

Other skills, such as how to set up a costume office, run a workroom, conduct fittings, on-set etiquette, and how costumes perform on camera must be learned on the job. I believe two things that can be honed but not trained are a sense of taste and a point of view. I think a person is born with those things and they are unique to each individual.

Show Snob: This may sound like a few silly questions but how much crossover can exist between costume design and other prop artists?  Are there ever any conflicting ideas that need to be resolved?

Laura Montogomery: There is a lot of crossover between all the departments. On our show, although the props department is officially responsible for personals such as watches, eyeglasses, and purses, we often assist in choosing these accessories as they tie in so closely with a character’s costume. When prosthetics are used, there is a lot of dialogue and collaboration between our two departments.

For Gail the werewolf in episode 303, we sourced a bra that would fit over the wolf
suit in a bright color that would read against the fur. Prosthetics provided us with fur samples
and measurements. The bra also needed to come in multiple sizes so that it could be worn by
Aida Turturro plays Gail in her human form.

Another key area of collaboration is with the production designer and set decorator. A beautiful costume is one thing but it’s essential to know what the set will look like to ensure that everything works well together.

The production designer Shayne Fox and I are really on the same wavelength, so much so that we narrowly avoided a Garden State situation when I discovered that beautiful green paisley jacquard I was planning to use for a Nandor costume was about to be used for drapery. You will have to watch Season 4 to see which one of us ultimately gets to use the fabric.

What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows – Courtesy FX /

What We Do in the Shadows: Professional advice, mockumentaries, and what makes vampires great

Show Snob: I’ve seen episodes of Syfy’s Face Off, where people compete against each other under time and conceptual constraints.  Do you have any advice for people to work under such pressures?

Laura Montogomery: Working in film you are always facing such constraints. My advice is to be flexible, hire a great team who can support you, stay focused, and don’t take things personally.

Show Snob: Do you have any favorite mockumentary series and movies?

Laura Montogomery Spinal Tap is a classic. I also love Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show. I guess I’m just a Christopher Guest superfan.

Show Snob:  Aside from the vampires on What We Do in the Shadows, what are some of your favorite supernatural characters and beings?

Laura Montogomery: Honestly, I have always been fascinated by vampires. From The Hunger, to Lost Boys, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to Interview With a Vampire, to Buffy, to Only Lovers Left Alive, they just can’t be beat in my books. Vampires are sexy and mysterious, and the concept of
immortality is so appealing!

Show Snob: You’ve worked on plenty of different projects.  Are there any surprising similarities between something like Spiral and What We Do in the Shadows (either from the show or in general)?

Laura Montogomery: The comedy! Obviously, the writing on Shadows is hilarious and the cast are fantastic performers and improvisers. The Saw franchise isn’t known for being funny but Chris Rock is so naturally comedic that he brought levity and humor on set to some of the darkest, goriest scenes.

What We Do in the Shadows interview: Mistakes and myths in costume design

Show Snob:  What are the biggest mistakes one could make in costume design?

Laura Montogomery: The biggest mistakes one could make are not collaborating with other departments and not being able to walk away from a concept when it’s not working.

Show Snob: What are some myths about working on TV shows and movies?

Laura Montogomery: That it’s glamourous! When someone tells me how great it must be to shop for a living I smile politely and secretly wish they could be witness to the moments when I’m hot-gluing sequins, bleary-eyed at 4 am, or schlepping heavy coats and gear in the middle of a snowstorm. Shopping and sourcing are definitely fun but there is so much more to the job than that.

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We want to thank Laura Montogomery for providing insight into the world of costume design and the universe of What We Do in the Shadows!