Barbara Gregusova put Vanessa Hudgens in those spectacular trousers in “The Knight Before Christmas” because she knew Brooke Winters was too trendy of a gal to wear skirts and dresses while being courted by a 14th century knight.
The costume designer, who has also worked on the Hallmark Channel’s “When Calls the Heart” since season 3, described how she went shopping for style ideas for her first Netflix job and worked directly with Hudgens to find the right Christmas chic balance.
“I talked to Vanessa about the look and discussed what she imagined this character to wear, and she mentioned the pants, the dressier style,” she shared with me. “I didn’t want her to wear jeans during the whole movie, and having her in dresses and skirts didn’t really make sense for the character.”
This idea is what made Hudgens’ lacy red gown toward the end of the film, part of Netflix’s 2019 holiday bibliography, such a standout. A superb call, in my opinion.
As a costume designer, Gregusova has one of the coolest gigs in the industry: She gets to take herself shopping on the job.
“Especially for a contemporary show, I find that it’s easier for me to see what’s actually in the store and out there, rather than imagining something in my head which basically doesn’t exist until I decide to build it,” she said, describing how, after receiving a script and speaking directly to cast members to work out the finer details, she ends up with so much more than what ends up on screen.
Gregusova’s job has a lot to do with give and take, trial and error, making things work; while styling Josh Whiteshouse as a knight, for example, certain liberties had to be taken, including a special-occasion fitting at Angels in London via Skype while she was in Vancouver.
“In the original script, there was a scene where [Whitehouse] would actually wear a helmet, but that ended up being very difficult, so the helmet didn’t really work, which is how we ended up going with the chainmail hood,” she said. “It was a very collaborative process. You have to figure out what works, and you want your actor to be as comfortable as possible in his outfit.”
Coming from a family of fashion designers, Gregusova paid her dues and then some -- she volunteered within the industry for about seven years before landing paid jobs, she guesses -- to start her career. Now, she has a Netflix film and a handful of seasons of “When Calls the Heart” (along with an impending seventh and Christmas special) under her belt. Like anything else, hard work and people-pleasing are top priorities to get where you want to be.
“Usually when I go to stores and people find out that I’m shopping for a movie, they always think it’s very glamorous and it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a lot of hard work!” she explained. “I think it’s like any other job, in a way -- you have to deal with people, and people have different opinions, so you have to always find the middle ground and make people happy.”
Part of that in the costume design world, Gregusova told me, is figuring out how to sell your vision, noting how she had to convince Hallmark to visualize a dress that was plenty sizes too big for actress Candace Cameron Bure.
“I do lots of alterations, so sometimes you have to explain what the plan is for a certain piece, because it might look like a little Frankenstein [in a picture], but in the end it looks really pretty!” she promised.
But her favorite part of the process? Building.
“For ‘The Knight Before Christmas,’ there’s the crone costume, and we had to build that one from scratch, and that was a lot of fun,” she said. “If there’s always at least, on any show, a costume that I can build, that’s something that brings me joy. It’s something I can imagine and bring to the table.”
“When Calls the Heart Christmas” premieres on Christmas Day, and you can cozy up to watch “The Knight Before Christmas” now on Netflix.