Fans of the hit time-travel TV show Outlander know that the costumes are almost as important to the show as the plot itself. (Just take a look at Claire’s show-stopping red dress. You know, the red dress.) And while even casual fans of the show know that the show’s relocation to France has the cast in increasingly luxe and lavish attire, only die-hard readers will be prepared for the shocking “Swan Dress” about to grace their screens.
Ed Miller / Starz
In season 2 of Outlander (which is based on Diana Gabaldon’s second installment, Dragonfly In Amber, in the book series) Claire, played by Caitriona Balfe, and Jamie, played by Sam Heughan, embark on a new life in 18th century Paris, where they swap out their Highlander wool for high-fashion couture and a life of luxury alongside King Louis XV (played by Lionel Lingelser). And it’s in this new life that the couple encounter daring (and ultra-revealing) styles that border between the lines of scandal and couture, like the nipple-baring, swan-piercing gown worn by the King’s mistress Madame Nesle de la Tourelle (played by Kimberly Smart).
“We call it ‘The Nipple Dress.’ That’s what we call it in-house,” the show’s costume designer Terry Dresbach told
(which has the uncensored image) of the fully breast-baring costume. “In the book it’s described as, her nipples are pierced with swan jewelry. So that’s what that’s about.”
For an actress, there must be few sensations quite like steeling yourself to bare your breasts in a gown designed to look like they’re being attacked by swans — it requires a lot of confidence, willpower and uh, strength. But Dresbach says the actress was up for the challenge from the beginning.
“[Smart] was game. She knew that this was the point,” Dresbach told Vanity Fair. “She was an amazingly good sport because, trust me, fitting nipple rings is not the most delicate of tasks. I took photos throughout the process and I have one of this poor woman with three pairs of hands on her breasts as we tried to figure out the best placement of the swans. I took the clay and molded it to her to figure out the best part for the piercing to go through, and I just kept checking in with her going, ‘Are you all right with this? Are you good?’ And she was fine.”
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Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the intricate design, complete with those house-made, swan-shaped jewels, was actually made of gold. (Yep, gold brocade.)
“What’s fascinating about the nipple dress is that is one of the most intricate costumes in season 2,” the costume designer said. “When people get over looking at the nipples — our fans watch each episode three or four times — they’ll see that gown is very ornate, very couture as would be appropriate for the king’s mistress. That dress would have cost a fortune to make and the detailing on it is really quite exquisite.”
Dresbach added: “We designed the dress to play off what he was wearing so they both came in cloaked in gold. That is an incredibly expensive gold brocade and the furbelows — the pillows that are attached on the dress — are very, very of that time. The amount of time it takes to make those in the various sizes and attach them and the jewels and the pearls were very painstaking details that we thought were essential to the dress.
“It couldn’t be just about the pierced nipples. She’s not a whore, she’s his mistress, which means she would have been a lady of the court and very wealthy in her own right. So we needed to establish that wealth and status in the detailing of the dress.”
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