This post was written by Dominique Dawson.

In the captivating series Swarm, the transformation of characters is not solely reliant on their actions or dialogue but is profoundly influenced by the meticulous art of costume design. As the costume designer behind the show, I had the privilege of bringing the characters to life through their wardrobe. 

One of the key inspirations for me in working on this project was the opportunity to delve into the journey of the main character, Dre (Dominique Fishback). From the moment I read the pilot script, I knew that her story was a profound metamorphosis. Dre embarks on a quest to find herself amidst the turmoil of losing her sister, Marissa (Chloe Bailey), and her costumes play a vital role in visually representing her evolution. Each garment and accessory she wears tells a story of her search for identity, resilience, and empowerment. 

Dre was going through so much, traveling to so many different locations, and searching for her identity along the way, and I was very excited to tackle that. She was trying to find herself amidst this traumatic event of losing her sister. She’s navigating through pain, economic hardship, and abandonmentDre’s pretty much alone. We see her arc begin in tomboy clothes, with a very muted palette, where she doesn’t care very much about her style and aesthetic.

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When she loses Marissa, she begins to adopt some of her sister’s ways. Marissa was very girly and sexy, so Dre started wearing club dresses, doing her makeup, and paying attention to her hair. But as she makes these choices, she’s very awkward. There’s always something that feels a little off, so we paid a lot of attention to fit and straps, perhaps hanging off her, or just ways to make her look a little disheveled if possible. 

As Dre begins her killing spree of revenge, she begins to gain her confidence. She’s working in a strip club and beginning to understand her sexuality and the power that she has in that. That begins to transfer over into her clothes in regards to the bolder, bright colors she wears—her clothes say "See me, I’m here." She’s no longer hiding.

When she shows up at the music journalist’s house to murder him, she’s wearing a neon yellow shirt with a puffy vest and pattern pants—she is in the building, and she is not afraid to be found out. Initially, she’s so confident in her ability to kill that she doesn’t have to put any effort into a disguise.

As she starts to peacock and shows her true colors, we see her end up in a very masculine space where she actually cuts her hair and adopts a new identity as “Toni.” I think that’s where we begin to find her most authentic self. I paid attention to the color and fit there. She has baggy clothes, but they’re put together in a very calculated way.

Her final outfit is all yellow, so she has a mustard hoodie with a mustard Carhartt jacket and mustard Air Maxes. To me, that color symbolized the bee, the vibrancy of honey, and the ability to produce. She is at her peak at that moment.

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Through all of her hardships, she ends up in this place of winning, of having completed her mission, and she blossoms into this expert killer by the end of the show. 

One of my favorite moments was looking at the relationship between Dre and Paris Jackson’s character, Hailey. She plays a stripper who’s known for bringing in the most money, and she and Dre end up tied in together because she has an abusive boyfriend. We have never seen somebody with as much gusto as Dre, and this girl is so persistent. Hailey’s the ultimate stalker, while Dre’s the one who’s been mastering the art of stalking.

It was really important for us to find this iconic look for her that allowed her to be a girl on the go. She had fresh sneakers because she always had to walk since her boyfriend wouldn’t pick her up. She always had reptilian prints, whether it was an alligator or some crazy leopard or sting ray print. She always had an animalistic feeling, and I remember that character was in contrast to who Paris is.

She’s very calm in real life. It was great to watch her when she stepped into the clothing and see how she adapted her posture and darting movements. She created this level of persistence and annoyance that Dre couldn’t help but go along with whatever she wanted. She was so pushy. Dre had finally met her match.

This was a great moment in Dominique Fishback’s performance since Dre would normally kill people she didn’t want to be around. 

That’s just one example of how powerful clothing is when it comes to characterization. By the time the actors get to us in a fitting, they’ve received the script but maybe haven’t done extensive work on the characters yet. Putting on these pieces informs their choices and the lens through which they see the character and how they want to attack it. Even Damson Idris, who played Marissa’s boyfriend Khalid and later flirts with Dre, had never worn Houston streetwear gear.

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As soon as he put the hat on, he started to hunch his shoulders over. When he put the chain on, it created this little walk. You could just see the character reveal itself. I do think there is such power in garments that help dictate what the stature is going to be with the character and how they hold themselves.

My background always plays a large part in my design work and choices. I have a lot of training in theatre and theatre directing. In plays, you have to be so conscious of the choices you make, because you have this small stage and every single thing that has been placed on the stage is hyper-focused. That’s how we felt with this project. We shot it on film, so every take that we had was precious. I wanted to create a language between Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), our popstar character, and Dre, so that she would see certain things that Ni’Jah wore, and she would find her own version of that and translate that into her life.

I think we did that several times by creating links. One of them was through the use of the H-Town sweatshirt, which is an iconic sweatshirt that Ni’Jah wears. Everyone knows she’s from Houston, and then Dre wears it for an entire episode, specifically when she comes back to Houston. We did that again with the color yellow, linking them together in that final episode. Again, with the chainmail and metal work that Ni’Jah is wearing in her music video, which Dre then wears to the club—this kind of all-metal dress. We wanted the audience to look at those links and see how this pop star had influenced Dre. We had so much fun planning those Easter Eggs. 

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We could take so many risks with Swarm. Our showrunner and co-creator, Janine Nabers, allowed us to be bold and courageous with our choices, and I’m so grateful that she was never afraid to make controversial statements with this show. She wanted us to go there, and the fact that she was pregnant the whole time speaks to what an amazing artist she is. Dealing with all of that pain, she was still such a savage and wanted to create the most thought-provoking piece we could. Janine is someone who always likes to spark questions and play devil’s advocate. That’s what art should do: pose a question and let audiences hash it out. I’m excited to see her next project. I know it’ll be pretty cutting-edge.

The costume design plays a paramount role in bringing Swarm to life. It has the power to enhance characters' identities and convey their emotions, and I’m so proud to have played a key role in this groundbreaking series. 

This post was written by Dominique Dawson.