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Interview: Emmy-Nominated Costume Designer Dominique Dawson Discusses ‘Swarm’

If you haven’t checked out Prime Video’s Swarm, stop what you’re doing and watch it immediately. Not only is it one of the most riveting limited series of the year, consistently surprising audiences with changes in its story structure and aesthetics, but it also contains one of the very best performances of the year in Dominique Fishback’s Dre, which received a well-deserved Emmy nomination for her work on the show this past July. 

Throughout the show, Dre adopts different identities, represented by stark changes in her fashion and aesthetic choices. Awards Radar spoke with Emmy-nominated Costume Designer Dominique Dawson, on Zoom, on how she brought those changes to life. This started with her collaboration with showrunners Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, where they spent time in building what looks the characters would inhabit throughout the show: 

“We got to sit down and spend the time to look at so many images. It brought me back to my college days when we had time to sit down and do the work and do that process. On many shows I’ve been on, a lot of it was rushed, but once we sat down and figured out the tone of this, which we wanted, this very familiar but jarring tone. We wanted to keep the audience on their toes. Once we figured it out, then that allowed us to make our choices for each department.”

Dawson also described her collaboration with Fishback on the show: “Dominique is so committed as an actor. She does all her homework and is just into breaking down the journey of Dre. She makes so many transitions that are really bold and daring and, at times, don’t make a lot of sense, but then it’s up to us to make that throughline. Dominique and I would have much back and forth about Dre’s arc. Sometimes, she would say, “Even though I’m being physical, I still want to be dressed, I spent all my life not having access to the fashions and the things I wanted. And now that I’m stepping into myself, I can steal and get whatever I want.” I wanted to showcase her playing with these different identities.”

Regarding representing Dre’s multiple identities, Dawson said that these elements of the designing process came “easily because she is like a chameleon. The character travels around the country, enters each new state, observes the people she works with and who live there, and adapts and becomes one of them. We studied extensively, pulling references from the locations she visits, like Seattle, Houston, Tennessee, and Atlanta.”

During our audio conversation, seen below, we also discussed Dawson’s collaboration with the hair and makeup department, the challenges of designing episode six’s costumes, which flips the show’s aesthetics to its head and becomes a true crime documentary, and her reaction to her Creative Arts Emmy nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. 

You can listen to the audio conversation below and stream all episodes of Swarm on Prime Video.

[Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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