Sketches of original Star Wars designs at auction

The personal notebooks and sketchbooks of costume designer John Mollo, the concept artist behind the Star Wars franchise, are to be offered in a December auction. Titled "Designing an Empire: The John Mollo Archive," the offering includes the original Star Wars designs created by Mollo.
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LONDON – The personal notebooks and sketchbooks of world-renowned double Oscar®-winning British costume designer, John Mollo, the concept artist behind the Star Wars franchise, are to be offered at Bonhams in a stand-alone 62-lot sale, Designing an Empire: The John Mollo Archive, in London on Tuesday, Dec. 11 2018. The eponymous sale is offering Mollo's original Star Wars designs.

About Star Wars designer John Mollo

Original Star Wars design

Original Star Wars design for Chewbacca. Images courtesy Bonhams

The archive contains drawings, notes and designs which illustrate the artistic development behind the creation of some of the best-known and best-loved costumes in cinematic history, and that gave Mollo iconic status in Hollywood.

Mollo knew his destiny from an early age. As a child of six he visited the cinema for the first time and was dazzled by the costumes. As he once said, “I came out of the cinema knowing that was what I wanted to do when I grew up.”

It was in 1975, after enjoying success as an advisor on historical military dress for films such as The Charge of the Light Brigade, that Mollo was commissioned by George Lucas to create uniforms and ensembles for Star Wars. At the time, he was unfamiliar with the sci-fi genre and considered the film ‘a sort of space western,’ adding that ‘one of the heroes is a dustbin.’ Lucas urged Mollo to avoid the stereotypical space-age look of earlier science fiction productions and instead to focus his designs on the pivotal concept of light versus darkness – ‘I just want to see light versus dark,’ he said.

Star Wars designs prove challenging

With just three months to go before shooting, Mollo went to London film costumiers Bermans and Nathans to get some ideas. “For Darth Vader I had to go to three departments: the ecclesiastical department for a robe, the modern department for a motorcycle suit and the military department for a (Second World War) German helmet and gas mask. We cobbled it all together and there was Darth Vader.”

Original Star Wars design

Original Star Wars design for Obi-Wan Kenobi

Lucas also tasked him with convincing the reluctant Sir Alec Guinness to play the part of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Mollo recalled it wasn’t until he showed him the monastic brown cloak and cowl design that he believed Guinness was truly convinced.

Highlights include a sketchbook, dating from April 1975 to July 1976, showing some of the first hand-drawn costume designs for pivotal characters in Star Wars including Darth Vader, Chewbacca and the stormtroopers. The book also served as Mollo’s personal production and development diary, containing pages of costume budgets, production notes and meeting notes with the Director/ Writer George Lucas. A section also holds costume sketches from Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon. The book is estimated at $131,524-$197,285.

A sketchbook of designs from The Empire Strikes Back,Alien and Zulu Dawn, estimated at $105,219-$157,828. The book covers the period 1978-1979, including the production of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Other sections of the book show work for Ridley Scott’s Alien and Douglas Hickox’s Zulu Dawn. The volume also includes Oscar® Nomination and invite cards for the 1978 Academy Awards® Ceremony at which John Mollo won an Oscar® for best Costume Design in Star Wars.

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