Dezeen Magazine

Actors on set at The Changeling

Ane Crabtree designs The Changeling costumes as a "respectful nod to Black history"

Costume designer Ane Crabtree drew on the style of New York City's Washington Heights neighbourhood and created a coat to function as "a house that you wear on the street" for Apple TV+ series The Changeling, she tells Dezeen in this interview.

The eight-part series, which is based on a novel of the same name by author Victor LaValle, follows the lives of librarian Emma, played by Clark Backo, and used-book dealer Apollo, played by LaKeith Stanfield.

Spanning different timelines, it is set in an alternative version of New York that veers into a dark fairytale.

Clark Backo in The Changeling
Clark Backo plays Emma in The Changeling

The city of New York and the specific neighbourhood in which much of the story takes place helped to inform Crabtree's choice when designing costumes for the character of Apollo.

"I thought about how beautifully men dress in New York City, throughout time, and certainly in Washington Heights where they live," Crabtree told Dezeen.

"There's something to the way that New York men dress that has a bit of flash and a bit of nostalgia that I really think translates to an individual."

Sketch by Ane Crabtree for The Changeling
Ane Crabtree created a number of coats for the show

"Imagine these two people, very well-read, surrounded by the ghost of all their favourite writers from Harlem, all of the jazz greats," she added.

"Who are their heroes? It's James Baldwin; for Apollo, I talked about dark academia, a fashion term but it has its roots in the celebration of all things literary."

Crabtree also chose a material palette that would work across the story's various timelines, with the costumes in the part of the show set in the present having a retro feel that nods to earlier periods.

LaKeith Stanfield in The Changeling
Apollo, a book seller, is played by LaKeith Stanfield

"I did a lot of tweeds and checks and plaids because it's rich fabrics that could have existed all the way back to the 1800s and every time in between, in different ways," she said.

For Apollo, she also sourced a rare New York Yankees cap from a time in history when the baseball team had a Black league, creating a more contemporary look that still functions as a historical reference.

"The New York Yankees cap at first glance could be like 'a guy on the street, who looks really cute and he's wearing a New York cap because it's reality' – however, there's history to that as well," she said. "And a respectful nod to Black history that should be [seen] throughout the whole of the show."

Apollo in baseball cap in The Changeling
Apollo wears a rare New York Yankees cap

For the character of Emma, Crabtree thought about how clothes could be used as a form of protection.

"Sometimes you're just looking for intimate personal space and you have your coat closed around you," she said.

"I always think of these carapaces that surround a person for protection, and it's almost a house that you wear on the street. So that was the ideology behind Emma's cape and cloak."

Actor wearing a voluminous coat
Emma's coat "has a life of its own"

Cloaks are also rare to see in real life, Crabtree added.

"It's just fashionable on someone and you don't see it very often," she said. "That turns into a kind of bedraggled protective armour and it has a life of its own, it becomes its own character."

Most of the costumes were designed by Crabtree and made from scratch to suit her specific vision, though the designer also used vintage clothes.

"There were some vintage pieces of Emma's and Apollo's but it's hard – you can't always use vintage because you need so many as so much happens to them," she said.

The designer also drew on older films to get the right feel for The Changeling costumes.

"Colour is really important and colour is always emotional, it's all psychological," Crabtree said. "[It is] harkening back, nostalgia-wise, to many films that had a certain palette in the 1960s or the warm tones of the '70s."

The Changeling TV series characters on New York subway
The city of New York informed many of the costume designs

"You started to see more Black film in the '70s," she added. "I wanted some warm, golden, nostalgic colours that would give us an empathetic approach, a connection to every character's history. But also on a very base note, beautiful, warm tones look fantastic on Black skin."

To Crabtree, who was born in Kentucky to Japanese parents, it was important to create costumes that would celebrate the history and background of the characters in The Changeling.

Her own background and a longing for more diverse representation in media also informed her decision to work on the TV series.

Sketch by Ane Crabtree
Crabtree used materials that could have come from any era

"Most of my best friends are Black Americans, and I do want to get it right," she said. "What led me to this is the opportunity to tell a story, as a person of colour myself."

"I'm 59 and there's not been a lot of stories about people of colour with me growing up that I was able to see. If I am able to help tell that story and inspire other people, I'm going to be really proud of that at 100 years old."

Crabtree has previously designed the costumes for TV series The Handmaid's Tale and created outfits for the imaginary future inhabitants of Planet City.

The photography is courtesy of Apple TV+.