The following are excerpts from a web chat with Robert Blackman, who was Start Trek costume designer from Year 3 of Next Generation through Enterprise. I have edited the interview as it is quite long, highlighting parts that I think are relevant to collecting and the current It’s a Wrap auctions. Note the answer to one question that foreshadows the Christie’s and IAW auctions; and this was 1999!
The full chat transcript is on Star Trek.com here:
Bob Blackman is here with us today to answer your questions about costume design and wardrobe on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Mr. Blackman has been designing “other-worldly” garb since the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation back in 1990.
Q: Of all the costumes that you designed for star trek, which one was your favorite?
BB: It is impossible to decide which child you love best. They’re all my favorites.
Q: I was impressed with the variety of Garak’s wardrobe, which was in keeping with his role as tailor. Was it difficult to keep coming up with interesting ideas for his costumes?
BB: No it was not difficult. Those particular kinds of items are the most fun and the easiest to come up with. The more difficult part is convincing the actor they’ll look good in it. All of his clothes were lined with neoprene (wetsuit fabric)… not very comfortable to wear. Andy’s a really good sport.
Q: I am just wondering how you think up the strange clothes that Neelix has to wear? Some of the fabrics look very cool!!
BB: Neelix comes from the same spot in my brain that Garak, Quark, Moogie and Zek. The fabrics are obviously exotic, and it takes some searching to find. There are many bald sofas around town.
Q: I would like to know what all the costumes are made out of, meaning Cardassian, Borg, and Klingon, Jem Hadar, etc. They always look a lot like armor.
BB: Well… They are like armor. The Cardassians breast plates are made out of blown rubber. They weigh about 30 lbs each. The Borg, as we know them now are also made out of blown rubber and are a two piece jumpsuit. The Klingons are made out of jumbo spandex and leather. And lots of fake fur. The Jem H’adar out of neoprene covered in leather and stretch lycra.
Q: Is there anywhere a fan could just browse and buy some set costumes?
BB: There are rumors that some items from the original series, the movies, TNG and DS9 will be up for auction at yet undisclosed auction houses in LA and NY. Probably on EBay as well. That’s about the only place you can get an authentic one.
Q: Was it you that changed the uniforms of Starfleet from the old span-dex type to the collared relaxed type?
BB: Yes. I was brought on for the 3rd season of TNG to do just that.
Q: What type of fabric are the uniforms made of? What do you normally use for alien clothing? Also, where on earth did you come up with the weird clothing for Neelix and the Cardassians?
BB: The uniforms are made out of wool gabardine. Light weight. The t-shirts are made out of cotton-lycra… The greys and the colors are specially dyed and that’s it.
Q: Good Evening Mr. Blackman! Did The TNG cast complain about the new uniforms because they were made of wool? Are they really very hot to work in?
BB: No, they did not complain about the fact that the uniforms were made of wool. They were complaining that the uniforms before me were made of spandex which doesn’t breathe like wool, retains body odor unlike wool, and allows you never to eat again.
Q: Did you design the Borg costumes?
BB: No. The original Borg were designed by Durinda Wood and the First Contact Borg were designed by Deborah Everton. The only Borg I have designed is Seven of Nine. And the Drone.
Q: Do you get the final say on what the costumes are to look like or do they have to be authorised by Rick Berman etc?
BB: Yes and yes. Rick Berman and I confer on the final product. His hand reaches everywere and touches everything. And he has an extraordinary design sense.
Q: Do you have a personal gallery with some of the Star Trek costumes you have designed?
BB: No. All garments produced in the Star Trek workroom are sole property of Paramount Pictures.
Q: How long does it normally take for a Starfleet uniform to be constructed?
BB: The SF uniforms are deceptive. At least to me. They appear to be very simple. Kind of a 24th century version of a NASA jumpsuit. But in reality they are anything but simple. The simpler things look, for the most part, the harder they are to do. For the shirts and the uniforms to rest as smoothly as they do on the actors’ bodies requires considerable inner structure. So now, we can still do a turnaround on these in about 48 hours, but it is a real push.
Q: Its gone 3am here in England so i will make this quick….do you have a budget to consider when desighning a new costume????
BB: Yes I do. Depending on many different things… One, is it a recurring character? Two, how big are the other budgets for the other areas on this episode? Three, and the number that are to be produced. If there is one, or if there is 20, the cost per character is the same. It’s just how much they want to come up with.
Q: Okay, so what’s the deal w/ the jackets that Capt. Picard and some other sr. staff kept having to pull down all the time?
BB: That pulling down is referred to as “The Picard Maneuver”. It started actually with the spandex suits. Patrick has a keen sense of close-up. He would grab the middle of his spandex suit as he sat in order to give it a tug so that as he was seated and they were pushing in for a close-up… so he would look picture-perfect. When the uniforms became two piece uniforms for comfort, he just naturally continued. And hence, the Picard Maneuver.
Q: Mr. Blackman, I wanted to ask you if you designed Kate Mulgrew’s nightgown on Voyager, or, if you bought it from a lingere store. I am trying to find one just like it, but to no avail.
BB: Actually, I can’t remember. If we bought it, we mucked around with it. If we made it, we made it. All purchases have our stamp on them.
Q: is Seven of nines costume as tight as it seems?
BB: Yes. The understructure takes about 20 minutes to get into. The jumpsuit another 20.
Q: I was wondering whether your job is relatively easy, considering the regular crew where the same uniform every week?
BB: During the season we make 4-6 uniforms for each actor. So although it seems like we do nothing… we do a lot.
Q: How was Q’s judge costume made? Was it hot for the actor to wear? Where did you get the necklace? Also, what did you do if either of the actresses playing the Borg Queen had to use the restroom?
fan from Austin, TX
BB: Q’s judge outfit and necklace were rented by Bill Theiss. The Borg Queens are encouraged not to drink. Or eat. All else failing, we stop and take them out of it. Not an easy chore. But we are humane.
Q: What material is seven of nines costume?
BB: It is made out of a 4 way stretch lycra with a metallic thread that runs through. We buy it off-white and dye it.
Q: Does Paramount allow actors and guest actors to keep their uniforms?
Thank you very much, Bob, for taking the time to chat with us today. We’re all looking forward to the upcoming season of Star Trek: Voyager.
BB: Thanks for having me. Keep watching and buy everything they advertise.
Thanks a lot. – Bob.