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The style secrets of Suranne Jones’s Vigil costumes

Rose Leslie in a Claudie Pierlot coat and Suranne Jones in a Barbour x Margaret Howell parka, in costume for Vigil
Rose Leslie in a Claudie Pierlot coat and Suranne Jones in a Barbour x Margaret Howell parka, in costume for Vigil CREDIT: BBC

If you, a civilian, were going to spend three days on a nuclear submarine, what would you pack in your holdall? It’s a sort-of desert island fashion question that Rhona Russell, costume designer on the new BBC murder mystery Vigil, had to ask herself when approaching the project.

The answer she settled on was warm comfort clothes - Suranne Jones’s character DCI Amy Silva can be spotted in merino wool rollnecks and cashmere knits as she rattles around the Vigil decks interrogating one busy naval officer after another.

“Amy joins Vigil for three days with one bag, so has limited changes of clothes,” says Russell. “Jumpers felt practical and added texture among all the naval uniforms. They were from Folk, Finisterre and Me+Em.”

Suranne Jones in character for Vigil, wearing a cashmere hoodie
Suranne Jones in character for Vigil, wearing a cashmere hoodie CREDIT: BBC

While dressing a glitzy show like a period drama may be fun, it is the rendering of seemingly normal characters that gives costume design teams a kick these days.

From Nine Perfect Strangers to And Just Like That, considering who that character is, where they might shop and what they might spend on clothes, is all part of the puzzle when making up a convincing personality on screen.

Imagining the workwear worn by plain clothes police officers in Britain has become a subject of great fascination. Line of Duty’s costume designer Maggie Donnelly told The Telegraph earlier this year about the planning that went into DI Kate Flemming and DI Jo Davidson’s wardrobes, as well as DS Steve Arnott’s Southgate-worthy waistcoats (from Ted Baker, in case you’re asking).

'Their clothes have to be believable,' says costume designer Rhona Russell
"Their clothes have to be believable," says costume designer Rhona Russell CREDIT: BBC

“Their clothes have to be believable,” says Russell “and tell us something about that character but also work with the entire look of the show. With contemporary drama there's a need to avoid any fashion that's going to date quickly or distract from the scene.”

Sourcing for Vigil took place, Russell says, during last summer’s sales period, meaning she was able to buy pieces from brands that she thought the characters might really have shopped with, while on a BBC wardrobe budget.

“The coat Amy wore in episode one was Barbour for Margaret Howell,” she explains. “The rest of Amy's workwear comprised of classic modern tailoring from Theory, Me+Em and Reiss. Her glasses are from Oliver Peoples, and jewellery from Alex Monroe and Laura Lee.”

Rosie Leslie in character, wearing a Claudie Pierlot coat and Sessun shirt
Rosie Leslie in character, wearing a Claudie Pierlot coat and Sessun shirt CREDIT: BBC

When it came to dressing her subordinate DC Kirsten Longacre, played by Rose Leslie, Russell explains that she chose to use a different colour palette to contrast with the intense action on board the submarine.

“The colours on the submarine are blues, greys and red, so when back on land we used warmer earth tones,” she says. “Kirsten's workwear is a bit more relaxed and casual, so I used more print. Her green coat was Claudie Pierlot which I found on The Outnet, along with pieces from APC, Rag and Bone and Sessun for her shirts. We had H&M and Topshop in the mix too.”

Vigil BBC
The colour palette for scenes on land is deliberately warmer than used in those on the submarine. CREDIT: BBC

Russell worked with a Glasgow-based team - costume supervisor April McTavish, standby designers Sophie Barlow and Jenni Thomson, and trainees Siiri Korhonen and Callum Miller - to deliver a full spectrum of naval uniforms for the wider cast.

“The first task on Vigil was to create our version of the Royal Navy,” she explains. “For legal reasons we were unable to use any of their real badges.”

Russell created uniforms for naval officers of all ranks.
Russell created uniforms for naval officers of all ranks. CREDIT: BBC

This meant getting creative, and consulting the production’s naval advisor Feargal Dalton to come up with solutions for a squadron of ranked officers. The results are convincing - it's an escapist drama rather than a documentary, after all.

“We put together all the various jobs involved on a submarine, then our graphic designer helped create similar badges for all the uniforms,” Russell adds. “Our aim was always to be as authentic as possible.”