I have a good friend living in Texas named Romy McCloskey who happens to be one of the most talented costume designers out there. Romy was introduced to me by another mutual friend named Katherine, and over the course of just a few short months, we have become steadfast friends. She often checks in with me and offers a friendly ear and some wonderful advice when times seem tough. It’s amazing to think that with the power of the internet it is possible to meet people in places far away that even thirty years ago would have seemed impossible.
Romy’s passion for costume design mirrors my own passion for script writing and her costumes caught my eye because of the details surrounding the embroidery and fabrics she chooses to use. A few months ago, I was especially drawn to some long silk and satin patterned coats she had made for an upcoming shoot and I reached out to her to tell her the designs were among my most favorite of all the pieces she had ever produced. During that conversation, I couldn’t help but remark that some of her current and past pieces reminded me very much of elements of the Montenegrin national costume, most especially the female tunic and long coat.
Having never seen the costumes of the Montenegrin region, I sent Romy a few images I had uploaded from Pinterest and Instagram, and voila. I waited patiently for her to respond and when she did, she, as usual, managed to put a huge smile on my face. “Katarina…..these costumes are quite literally among the most beautiful I have ever seen,” remarked Romy. “You are so very blessed to call such a region home and to come from such a place.” Now, I know I had always considered myself fortunate, but it was interested and certainly self-validating to hear that someone else felt the same way about the part of the world I love and call home.
But there was more to Romy’s comments than meets the eye. You see Romy and I shared a joint love of the HBO series Game of Thrones, and when I was first introduced to her website it was because of the attention to detail she poured into her work by lovingly recreating and giving her own take on some of the glorious costumes for Queen Cersei and Daenerys. Romy’s skill at matching anything you see on the television show and taking it to the next level with costumes that are every bit as spell-binding left me awe-struck time and again. What I never dared tell her was that when I would watch Game of Thrones – especially the scenes filmed in King’s Landing for which Dubrovnik was the film site location, I couldn’t help but wonder if the show’s costume designers had been inspired by the costumes of the Balkans or if they had created these ethereal visions from scratch and from imagination. It seemed hard to believe because if you look at the tunics and dresses worn by the female characters in the fictional kingdoms of Dorne and King’s Landing, it’s like opening an old photo album depicting the coastal costumes of Dalmatia and the highlander costumes of Montenegro.
Romy said she would get back to me and would continue to investigate the Montenegrin female costume by pouring through online photos and collector sets posted on Pinterest. For a few days, we swapped as many photos as we could. Although not being familiar with what was going on on the set, we came to the conclusion that someone at HBO must have done their homework before they came to the Balkans to begin filming in 2011. It’s just too much of a coincidence.
If you look at the female court tunics, for example, even the stitching and wrist embroidery is the same as the costumes of Dalmatia and Montenegro. In Seasons 3-7 of the hit HBO show, the round highlander hat can be seen on the heads of some of the court ladies used as extras in the King’s Landing scenes and the long tunic is reminiscent of some of the old court lithographs I have seen of Queen Milena, the wife, and consort of old King Nicholas II of Montenegro.
The more and more I would peruse these images, the more I wondered if life was imitating art or was it the other way around? Surely this could not be entirely coincidental. Romy did not think so either.
I have yet to re-visit the old royal palace complex in Cetinje, but I recall the last time that I was there in the late 1990s that there were many costumes on display (hoping they are still there). If I had more time, what I would love to conduct is a cultural audit of all the costumes typically present in Montenegro and determine who close the variation is to a national costume. This is because of all the regions of the former-Yugoslavia, Montenegro’s national folk costume is very endemic and shows little variation from coastline to mountain and beyond (except perhaps for the folk costumes of the Croat minority in Boka and the Albanian minorities further down the coastline and in the high mountains, but even there one sees strong connections to the main costumes worn by men and women in this country for the past 300 and something years).
That, of course, is the subject of a longer write up, but for now, I wanted to share my musings on this beautiful costume and its uniqueness as far as the Balkans are concerned. One of the things I was hoping this article would produce was a show of voices of all those who have or know someone who has still lovingly kept this beautiful heirloom of the past in their home or trousseau. These items are very precious and to my knowledge, few people are replicating them these days, nor would I even know where to go to purchase an authentic one. If someone reading this is aware, please get in touch as I would like this article to inform a much longer one about a revival of the Montenegrin costume and where tourists could go to see them on display. For now, I must content myself with Game of Thrones and imagine that this legendary HBO show has managed to provide a small glimpse into the past at the sort of clothing and attire worn by our ancestors.