Reign, the CW’s new prime time soap opera, is billed as an historical drama about Mary Queen of Scots’ 16th century rise to power. The plot follows Mary (Adelaide Kane) as she leaves the French convent and enters the scandal-riddled, politically charged French court where information is delivered in whispers rather than on cell phones and in wax-sealed handwritten notes instead of texts.
Take away the historical facts and you’ve got the plot of Gossip Girl, with gorgeous BFF ladies in waiting, a sexy young queen, hot leather-clad studs, lusty illicit liasons, backstabbing, bitchiness and more designer gowns than you can shake a scepter at.
Critics initially wondered if the CW was dipping into History Channel waters, but they need not worry. Showtime, HBO, and BBC America? You can also relax. Your costume design Emmys are totally safe. Even visitors on the Reign Facebook site are already expressing dismay over the inauthentic costumes.
Tara Chevrestt-Hightower commented: “Did they run around with bare arms back then? Some of the dresses are way too modern looking.” Niki Sears wrote: “Give this poor girl some sleeves before she’s punished for indecency!”
Yet another potential fan, Jennifer Brace Stewart, had deeper concerns: “Clothing style is inaccurate and I can just tell it won’t be historically accurate.”
We can’t yet speak to the accuracy of the plot lines, but from a costume design point of view, it’s obvious from the trailer and publicity stills that the show is aimed directly at fashionista fans of Gossip Girl, 90210, and Vampire Diaries.
That’s no doubt why Meredith Markworth-Pollack, Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman’s assistant for six years, was hired to create a more updated take on the 16thcentury. She’s created modern Boho styles, many inspired by the present-day regal elegance seen on the runways of Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabanna. Don’t forget that Gossip Girl set major fashion trends during its six year run and was a sought after product placement for designers couture, ready-to-wear, accessories, and shoes.
Most of the ladies in waiting wear flower crowns resembling those popularized by singer Lana Del Rey. And, it’s common for the costume designer to take a contemporary designer dress and simply add chiffon and ruffles to make it more romantic and flowing. Think of it like a high school play. Now you’ve got the idea.
“They by no means wanted or envisioned it to be a strictly historical costume show,” Markworth- Pollack has admitted, which is good. Because it definitely isn’t.
Reign is full of very pretty people who look ripped from a Hollywood casting binder: lusty corseted maidens with long tousled hair wearing lacy, sheer gowns, alongside randy, rockstar stubbled and tousle-haired noblemen in puffy shirts, tight leather pants, and jackets.
But none of the characters bear the slightest resemblance to the real people they portray. From her portraits, Mary was a rather homely, pale, dour-looking lady who always wore those lice proof neck-ruffles. Her bumpy long nose looks like a ‘before’ on a Beverly Hills surgeon’s website.
By contrast, Reign’s Queen Mary looks more like Kim Kardashian with the same plumped up pout, Chiclet white teeth, long flowing dark hair, and heaving bosom. Trust us, women did not go sleeveless in that era. They’d have been sent to the Tower or the whore house.
Let’s hope CW’s Reign gives Mary’s true story the care it deserves. She was sent to a nunnery in France as an infant. Her first husband died after two years of marriage; her second was murdered. Her third ran off with her, then abandoned her. The Scots rejected her. The English locked her up for 19 years and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, had her beheaded for treason in 1587 at age 45.
To turn Mary Queen of Scots into a mere 16th century version of Serena, Manhattan’s young society queen, is a serious crime of fashion. But, given the costume designer’s track record, Reign’s floral and lace headbands, jewel tones, velvet capes, beaded satin bustiers, and brocade gowns with fitted sleeves will soon turn up in contemporary areas of major chains and smaller boutiques.
Watch the series premiere of Reign October 18, 10 p.m. on the CW.