Quasi Costume Designer Kelly Kwon Talks Popes, Humps & A Hidden Phallus

Close-Up Culture chat to costume designer Kelly Kwon about her work on the Hulu movie, Quasi.

In the newest adaptation of this classic story, Quasimodo, a hapless hunchback who yearns for love, finds himself in the middle of a murderous feud between the Pope and the King of France when each orders the hunchback to kill the other. 

Hi Kelly, welcome to Close-Up Culture. What excited you about this opportunity to work on Quasi?

The most exciting part about it is that working on this film was my dream career-wise. I was also excited about working with close family and friends, which gives one a sense of family on set that drives a passion and helps create a great final product. Our creator and director Kevin Heffernan is my brother-in-law, so I’ve known the cast personally for years, which really allowed me to transform their characters on the page into what we can now see on screen. Making it the most exciting part of the process for me.

The story takes place in 13th-century France. What research did you do for the show?

My research process was very short and quick due to scheduling, as the film came together quicker than I initially anticipated. I went back to the old-fashioned way of researching and getting references from paintings, especially Jean Malouel’s work. My goal was to create a period fantasy environment while staying true to the clothing of that particular time in history.

In the late Middle Ages, most lower-class people didn’t have many clothing options, and the ones they had were reused significantly. Also, the colors were very dark, but I wanted to use a little more splash of colors and texture in the big crowd scenes. I wanted the viewer to recognize the class distinction of each character.

Kevin Heffernan, Erik Stolhanske, and Paul Soter in QUASI. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

You had to create costumes for peasants and a Pope for this project. What challenges did you face putting these costumes together?

In the beginning, my guess was that Pope’s character would be the easiest to create. I just have to look up historical books and art references, I thought. I was very wrong!!! 

I had to learn the new terminology of every single piece, sash, and garment. Trying to find somewhat very decorative religious fabric in a short period of time and on a small budget was almost impossible. After two weeks of asking everywhere, from fabric stores to online stores, I somehow found it in Ukraine; this was before the war. The fabric was shipped to Turkey and then to us. So, we only had a few days to create three sets for each look, making it very challenging.

Big crowd scenes were fun in terms of creating costumes for peasants. I had a giant room full of options for these big crowd days. We just started putting looks together for our fitting days, but it felt like playing with paper dolls with real medieval-period costumes. It was one of my fun memories of Quasi with my costume team.

The lead character, Quasi, has a hunchback. What was it like putting together costumes for this character?

Creating costumes for Quasi was challenging because of his hump and overall looks. Despite his work at a torture chamber, I wanted to make his character likable. I layered him with heavy fabric and textures at first, but his prosthetic hump disappeared due to the weight of the fabric. Our actor Steve started having shoulder, back, and hip pain as well. So we ended up making a few changes to make it lighter and more comfortable.

Adrianne Palicki in QUASI. Photo by Kevin Estrada. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Which character did you most enjoy putting together costumes for? And why?

Beyond our main characters, I enjoyed putting together torturers’ costumes. When I first started, I designed them to reassemble medieval executioner style. When I met with my shopper, I was supposed to make a list of fabrics and trims I needed; instead, I made my shopper try on all the background filler stock from rental houses. Our shopper had to stay in the office to be our model. He was happy to do it because he is a huge fantasy cosplay fan. During this process fell in love with more mad-max-style medieval fantasy. Torture chambers are usually dark inside, so I tried to use more variety of texture, trim, and different types of metals. Also, few torture devices as their accessories.

Are there any costume details or notes that audiences should keep an eye out for?

When I was designing King’s looks, I found this medieval pin but I couldn’t feature it because there was a hidden phallus in it. So instead I used a decorative pin for his tunic under his necklace. You can spot it on screen if you look closely!

What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?

I hope to keep working on ambitious and creative projects in the future, like Quasi. Every project is a new challenge for me. I find great fulfillment in my job and hope to continue to push myself beyond my limits.

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