Most vagabonds use a GPS to direct their travel, but for television costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack, clothes are her compass. Her sense of direction has taken her to New York, where she was the assistant costume designer to Eric Damon on Gossip Girl, led her right into the Hart of Dixie (for which she was costume designer) and even plunged her into the Renaissance.
Yes, Markworth-Pollack is the former costume designer for CW’s hit TV show Reign, which follows the history of Mary Queen of Scots (played by Adelaide Kane) with some alterations to both the traditional dress and storyline of the royal for good measure.
In the midst of thrilling plot lines lined with opulent gowns and bohemian twists, Markworth-Pollack’s clothing concoctions on Reign have played their own role in keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. To satisfy both our curiosity and yours, we chatted with the award-winning costume designer on her creative process, what led her to costume design and what’s next in her thriving career.
“I would take a painting of someone from that time period, whether it was Mary or Elizabeth or Catherine de Medici, and go ‘how am I going to ‘Reignify’ this?” Markworth-Pollack explained about her design process on Reign. “So that would be, for an example, ‘I’m going to get a really crazy modern fabric that obviously didn’t exist at that time, but get a dress that’s the same shape with a modern fabric.’ Or ‘I’m going to buy this McQueen gown online and then hack it up and just use the bodice and add a skirt that I make.”
Between growing up with an interior designer mother and being the granddaughter of a fashion designer, you could say such an aesthetically-creative mind was in Markworth-Pollack’s genes. Books of fabrics were always around the house.
“My mother started giving me some of my grandmother’s pieces, whether they were pieces she made or some of her own vintage favorites,” she said. “I always appreciated things and held my grandmother and her style on a really high pedestal.”
Though she grew up traipsing vintage stores on the “super shady” main street of Ventura (much to her mother’s dismay), it wasn’t until Markworth-Pollack left her fabric-padded nest for UC Santa Barbara that she adopted the ways of her pedigree. While watching Robert Altman’s Nashville in one of her classes, then film student Markworth-Pollack discovered she could marry her loves of film and fashion through the art of costume design.
“That was the first time it really dawned on me: what the volume of costume design is and what an array it is. Because you see these epic films and someone’s creating these, but I don’t really think people are necessarily paying attention to the details that go into these costumes,” Markworth-Pollack said.
Attention to detail became evident in her own work on Hart of Dixie and, most prominently, Reign. While Mary Queen of Scots and her quite fashionable reign may have come to an end with the show’s series finale last June, Markworth-Pollack has been crowned costume designer of a new monarchal CW series: Dynasty. The classic ‘80s soap opera has been updated for a modern audience, while keeping the integrity and extravagance of the original show’s style by costume designer Nolan Miller.
“He [Miller] is also a fashion designer and has his own collection of gowns and jewelry,” Markworth-Pollack said. “So we felt that going into this, the only way to make this work is to acknowledge the elephant in the room, which is: what the original dynasty was all about…iconic eighties silhouettes of shoulder-pads, metallics, turbans, kaftan gowns, you name it — all things glamorous and eighties.”
Between Hart of Dixie, Reign and Dynasty, Markworth-Pollack has dressed many strong female heroines. When asked if clothing plays a role in that empowered persona of the shows’ characters, she said:
“Costumes are the purest form of self-expression. It’s so relatable, straight to the psyche. The choices we make within our fashion, within our clothing not only reflects our social stance, but also our personal intellectual stance on what kind of a person we want to be seen as.”
For example, as the pressures of power deepened for Mary Queen of Scots on Reign, so did the tightness of Mary’s corset. Clothing can juxtapose power, or lack thereof, Markworth-Pollack said.
Similarly, Markworth-Pollack expressed her vast admiration for one of the show’s directors, Megan Follows — who also plays the quick-witted, cunning Queen Catherine Medici. She explained how Follows owned her queenly costume — shoulder pads and capes included.
“I would watch her every fitting, every time she would go on a camera. She would transform into Catherine as soon as she put those clothes on,” Markworth-Pollack said, “She’s always keeping you on your toes. You never know what her next move is going to be because she’s always a step ahead.”
There is no shortage of strength in style on Dynasty, either. Take lead character Fallon Carrington (played by Elizabeth Gillies), for an example.
“She [Fallon] is one of those women that has such a big closet and does not care what anyone thinks. She can just do one look one day and the next day have a totally different look that is so strong and so different,” Markworth-Pollack said. “Whereas I think other characters, you can say, ‘she’s the bohemian one, she’s the preppy one. Fallon’s a little bit of everything. She can do whatever she wants. She can be whomever she wants.”
World building and character development through needle and thread may appear seamless, but it requires hard work — at times thirteen to fourteen hour workdays that consist of running around set, many meetings, costume planning and building in a “crammed warehouse.” You’re not just “standing around in this beautiful atelier throwing gowns on people,” Meredith-Pollack said.
For anyone wanting to break into television costume design, Markworth-Pollack advises: “You have to want it, you have to be ready for it, you have to be ready for the sacrifices. You’re not going to be able to meet your friends for dinner Friday night. It’s not an option. You’re going to be working.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to put your entire life on hold. Markworth-Pollack throughout her travels for work takes her daughter and husband along with her. Another pro-tip from the costume designer: you are not required to travel for work, “but if you’re open to it, it’s going to open up a lot more opportunities,” she said.
And you never know what adventures traveling for work can lead to — like running into your “top peeps” in the industry.
“We’re working in different places and different studios, but sometimes your paths cross,” Markworth-Pollack said. “I got to meet [costume designer] Ane Crabtree because she was shooting Handmaid’s Tale the same time we were shooting Reign [in Canada] and that was surreal.”
But most importantly amidst the long hours, gorgeous garments and meeting your heroes, what really stands out to Markworth-Pollack is getting to work with people she admires every day.
“There is such a camaraderie and there’s such a unity for each project. You always become so close with these people. You spend the majority of your time with them, so there’s really beautiful friendships that are made,” Markworth-Pollack said.
“Costume designers get all the credit and then behind-the-scenes I’ve had four, I’ve had nine, I’ve had 26 people working on the project with me. It’s about relationships and surrounding yourself around people who are also passionate. It’s also respecting each other and whether that’s me to my crew, producers to me or actors to the set crew. It’s all tied together.”