Anatomy of a Scene Interview Series: Dominique Dawson on DMZ

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Multi talented costume designer and creative, Dominique Dawson, recently showcased her talent in her field by costume-designing Roberto Patino's DMZ. Originally a DC universe graphic novel, HBO MAX is bringing the comic to life with acclaimed actress Rosario Dawson.

The series, produced by Ava DuVernay, premiered on HBO Max on March 17th.

PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in DMZ?

Dominique Dawson: One of my favorite scenes to work on was when Alma traveled up to the Cloisters in Manhattan to visit the women’s colony led by Una, the controller of the city's water supply. Upon arrival Alma sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the very free form organic aesthetic of the Daughters of Lilith. I really worked to establish an iconic look for these women. We began with the elders who were monk like in their day to day so we constructed one of a kind blush colored robes that were easily identifiable all throughout the women's colony, and paid respect. The idea being that all the fabrics worn in the colony were hand made and hand dyed with beets and other flower extracts. 

Many of the younger women worked in the gardens tending to their crops and the colony’s food supply.  Here we utilized tougher fabrics in tones like olive, khaki, and rust that were heavily distressed to show the heavy workload they have to navigate each day. Simultaneously there was a group of women who were known as the Centuries to Uno their leader, these women were highly skilled in combat and precision shooting. With our Centuries we were able to establish a strong famine motif for these soldiers, their unconventional uniforms were utilitarian yet light and easy to move in.  Their custom cross body straps that held their artillery were made out of the same blush fabric the robes of the elders were made out of.  Being able to assemble this wide range of female identities in this space was incredibly empowering and inspiring for me as a designer as well as many of the talented women who helped bring these scenes to life.


PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the series.

Dominique Dawson: The significance of this scene lies in the fact that the aggressive violent nature of the two prominent male leaders of the DMZ was not working and was most definitely not sustainable. However by the second eps it became clear that the organized, much more democratic belief system of the women’s colony was the true key to allowing for a truly healthy and strong DMZ.  With the chaotic state of our global politics I think we should all take example from these Daughters of Lilith and realize that violence gets us nowhere.

PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?

Dominique Dawson: In order to achieve the one of a kind signature look for our fabrics we purchased bolts and bolts of fabric and hand dyed them using a tie-dye technique to reach an amazing balance between both the light blush and deeper Burgundy and enhance the rich dimension of the fabric.

PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?

Dominique Dawson: Upon Alma’s arrival to the DMZ, played by Rosario Dawson, she quickly discovers that there is a massive struggle for power between two forces: Parco Delgado of the Latin Kings and Wilson Lynn of Chinatown.  She is thrust into the middle of this epic election, and it is only through being able to truly identify the real motivations and ill intentions of either side that she’s able to find the courage to step up and become the new leader of the DMZ.

One of the challenges I faced was New York’s lack of resources amidst the war. For our huge battle scene between the two sides we were operating off of the notion that people were pulling from the remains that surrounded them in the DMZ. So we had to be creative in making their armor and protective gear, and really identify what would be left over in the city that was durable enough for them to protect themselves with. We ended up using a lot of motorcycle gear, a bunch of soda cans and industrial tin flats that were reworked with nuts and bolts to create these one of a kind chest pieces. We also utilized tricked out baseball bats and even protective sports gear like baseball and hockey helmets.  This impromptu style of battle gear really embodied the true ruthless yet innovative spirit of the DMZ and furthered the citizens' ingenuity despite the scarcity of supplies throughout the city.

PH: What was the dialogue like between you and DMZ’s director or showrunner regarding this scene?

Dominique Dawson: Roberto Patino, who is the writer of the graphic novel DMZ, was our showrunner. Being able to work so closely with him was truly a godsend.  He knew all of the in’s and outs of the world of the DMZ and thoroughly enjoyed flushing out how these characters came to life through costumes. This project was such a massive undertaking, but I utilized his brilliant writing as the road map when dissecting each scene and identifying our character objectives. Having him on set every day helped me to make clear-cut decisions on character looks. When you’re creating a unique world like the DMZ there are rules to how that society and its citizens operate and all of that backstory impacts the type of clothing that they wear and how they present themselves to the world.

As a Costume Designer it was so refreshing to be able to build this world from the ground up. Director Ava Duvernay entrusted me with this incredible project, and I was so appreciative for the freedom she gave me to explore more stylized silhouettes. DMZ is set just eight years in the future so there needed to be a semi futuristic feel, while at the same time maintaining a grounded contemporary aesthetic that honored the raw authenticity of New York City. 

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