Posted by

Mina’s Red Gown returns to Whitby

Mina’s Red Gown returns to Whitby

There is no doubt that Mina Harker’s red bustle dress that splashes its colour onto the screen during the Absinthe scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, has become as iconic as the story itself. Designed by Eiko Ishioka (as were all the costumes in the film – which won her an Academy Award) she predominately designs in line with the mid to late Victorian era within which the film is set, but adds embellishments to provide new and interesting twists.

The gown lends its style from the polonaise revival in the 1800s with the fullness bunched up at the back supported by a bustle with accentuated drapes on the hips. These floor-length gowns then often had ornately pleated trains which were part of an exposed underskirt. Eiko did not cut corners on the costuming, with Mina’s outfits made from imported silk taffeta and finished and embellished to the highest standard possible. Owing to this, many of the costumes were one-off pieces rather than the duplicates usually required on feature film sets.

The sleeves are perhaps one of the more unusual features of the dress. Victorian dresses were either short sleeves draped off the shoulder in the décolleté style, or high collared mutton-leg style – which became increasingly puffy as the era wore on. But Mina’s dress has sleeves cut off at just below her elbow with pointed drapes. Looking at Eiko’s preliminary drawing of the outfit you can see slight parallels between this dress and Dracula’s Armour. The colour even gives this away. While the colour associated with Mina in the beginning of the film was green to convey her intelligence, sexual naïveté, sense, and strong will, we see in this scene that she will soon be turned as she wears the red associated with her predator.

There is little doubt every goth girl lusts over this gown, and never one to deny my fantasies, I got a replica made and retraced Mina’s footsteps along the majestic Whitby cliffs…

High above the old Yorkshire town of Whitby looms the sightless arches of the Abbey ruins on the East Cliff which then falls sharply to the sea. Beneath its commanding presence run a maze of alleyways, narrow streets and houses seemingly untouched by time. It has an air of holiday whimsy but a dark quaintness which hints at shadowy secrets. It’s no wonder that when Bram Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 he was moved to make this sleepy coastal town the setting for Dracula…

It’s on these shores that Dracula’s ship , the Demeter, runs aground, and on these shores Lucy and Mina had chosen to holiday. Of the 124 pages that comprise Stoker’s notes for Dracula, about 20 are details about Whitby. The Church, graveyard and Abby perched high upon the cliff-top feature heavily within these. It is Mina’s favourite place and, after climbing the 199 steps, this is where Mina first meets Dracula. In her own words, “right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes and which is a scene of part of ‘Marmion’, where the girl is built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows. Between it and the town there is another church, the parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbour and all up the bay, to where the headland called Kettleness stretches out into the sea.”

Photos by Taya Uddin

  1. Hi, I’m in love with this dress, would you be so kind as to let me know who could make me one? Warmest Regards, Angelica

    • have sent you an email :)

    • It’s true that they’re all plot bunnies, ecxept for Dracula, but I think actually this is the rare book where the author *intends* no one to be as interesting as the villain. He set out to write a book in which the villain is the protagonist. (There are precedents: Lovelace is way more interesting than the milksop Clarissa; not to mention the cad Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park.)I think he succeeded, in the sense that the goodguys are made less interesting by the fact that Dracula is so compelling. In any other book they’d probably be fairly engaging people. In other words, Dracula seduces the book in the same way he seduces people. He just walks in and pwns the narrative. Which is an interesting thing. This is one of those books where I just don’t care about the continuity errors. I can’t be arsed any more than Stoker was. For that matter, I don’t care about the clunky prose either, which is rare for me. Though the novel convention of having foreigners talk like backward children is not nearly so funny as those authors thought it was. (Foreigners and people of color, actually.) It lasted an awfully long time, too.I’ve read Dracula several times, but I don’t think I’ve ever read every word. There are indigestible chunks that just aren’t worth it. Some of the paid-by-the-word serial novelists, like Trollope, also have big chunks of dead text. But then, so does Stephen King.