One of the biggest challenges artistically is capturing the essence of ancient Chinese culture in Disney's live-action Mulan. I spoke with costume designer Bina Daigeler, who admits the film was her biggest and most ambitious project to date. "Mulan was a beautiful challenge to design the costumes," she said. Daigeler said the conceptualizing from art to costuming took eight months, and the most difficult was working on the armor. "The armor was a very long process because to find out what material and what the right structure is so the actors can do all their stunt movement, riding horses in them," Daigeler said.
How Daigeler Captured Mulan in Costume
"I wanted to make sure they're really comfortable in them and don't lose any authentic image of armor that it has this weight to it," Daigeler continued. "There was a huge manufacturing process. We did a lot of fittings with the actors." She admitted there wasn't one specific period in Chinese history she wanted to model the costumes after. "When it comes to traditional garments, we tell our own Mulan story. It's based on an Asian/Chinese influence but added along a lot of fantasy and visual richness to my own creation. We didn't want to be historically correct to one dynasty. It's something we created on our own Mulan world."
When it came to the armor, Daigeler said it took an extensive trial and error from prototype costumes to the final model to maximize conformity and comfort to each actor. "It's complete teamwork," she said. "You have to listen and to ask questions. They come to let you know their needs on how it could work. It's very important that we rehearsed every single stunt. It's important that the actor can forget about the wardrobe so they can freely move and not worry. They trained in the armor." Daigeler enjoys working her share of large and smaller productions. "It wasn't more stressful [to work on Mulan]," she said. "To get surrounded by an amazing crew. You're very well supported. I was prepared to do a film like Mulan. Small movies like indie movies are a challenge because of the time and less money, but have to have the same result. I find it satisfying in both ways. Small movies feel more personal. I love both. It's different." You can also see Daigeler's work in Mrs. America for FX and the Netflix original Dumplin' (2018). Mulan is currently available to stream on Disney+.