The Absurdly High Importance of Luffy’s Straw Hat

Even among other anime and manga, One Piece has always had a very distinct sense of style. Eiichiro Oda’s series blends Japanese and Western drawing styles, creating colorful characters easily distinguishable from their fictional peers. That vibrancy and internationally-tinged blend of styles extends to the very clothes the characters wear. In One Piece’s first storytelling arc alone, most of which was adapted for Netflix’s shockingly good live-action adaptation, Oda introduces Navy officials, a swordsman sporting a Japanese haramaki (belly band), and a guy named Dracule Mihawk, whose appearance suggests an extravagant Spanish vampire hunter.

Clothing has always been part of Oda’s sandbox. Every character has a “default” classic outfit, but as the series has gone on, “costume changes” have become a central feature of each shift in the story. Oda’s vibrant color spreads, which are collected in their own compendium series called Color Walk, imagine the central Straw Hat Crew in all kinds of scenarios, wearing all kinds of costumes. These colorful illustrations, which often appear ahead of chapters of the manga, span the gamut from ronin to cowboys. Others are simply Cool Poses in Cool Outfits.

Considering this broad and well-established stylistic palette, costume designer Diana Cilliers had her work cut out for her when tackling Netflix’s adaptation. Cilliers’ translations of outfits from the manga into live action plays a noticeable role in the adaptation’s success, because she successfully translates the looks of the characters without them feeling stiff or out of place. Plus, no minute detail was spared, from the exact design of Nami’s flowery bandana right down to the fecal-inspired trim on Klahadore’s jacket.

Each character’s style feels distinct, yet the world as a whole remarkably reads as cohesive. Meanwhile, fans have enjoyed spotting all the easter eggs in the costume design, as Cilliers pulled liberally from the Color Walk compendiums. Adding these “non-canonical” costume changes either spice up scenes with variation (Luffy, ever a boy, deviates from his trademark red vest even less in the manga), or grounds new scenes, like Kaya’s dinner party, in the already-established look of One Piece.

Cilliers’ approach feels undeniably loving, and her work, alongside the adaptation as a whole, has been warmly received by fans. I asked Cilliers about the process of bringing One Piece from illustration to live action, how making one straw hat simply wasn’t enough, and why Edna Mode from The Incredibles was right about capes.

How did you come to be involved with this project?

I guess it was partly because it was filmed in Cape Town, where I’m based and where I work from. I was asked if I was interested in doing it, and of course I was. I have many friends who are great fans of One Piece, so it was an easy decision to get involved in the production.

That was my next question—what’s your history with the series?

I’ve got one very good friend who is a massive fan of One Piece, so I hear about it often, and I knew a lot about it. And of course, once I got involved in it, I looked through [the manga and anime] and became totally involved in it. That was the beginning of a long journey.

Let’s talk about one of the most recognizable parts of One Piece: Luffy’s straw hat. Was it daunting to translate that into live action?

It sure was. It’s probably the most iconic item, from a costume point of view, in the One Piece manga. We imported the straw to South Africa [where the show filmed], and then we started making the hat from scratch. So we made many hats. They had different weights—they all had to fulfill their own duties, in a way. But the hat was made completely from scratch. And then it of course had to be broken [in] so that it didn’t look like a brand new hat.

We had many different reasons for the hat to change a lot. Sometimes it was hanging behind Luffy’s back. Sometimes it was on his head. It sometimes had to look a little bit too big because it was actually Shanks’ hat that he inherited. We had to have different weights so that it would be comfortable for Iñaki [Godoy], the actor, with the action. So there were many elements.

Emily Rudd as Nami, Mackenyu Arata as Roronoa Zoro, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Celeste Loots as Kaya, Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp in season 1 of One Piece.

It looks great! How many hats in total did you make?

I think we made about 35 hats. [They each had] very different elements—some lighter than others, some smaller or bigger, all of those elements we had to consider.

You said you had people break in the hats so that they look worn. How’d you do that?

We had to do the same with the clothes as well. There’s different techniques in the film industry of how you would age and distress something to not look brand new. We sand them, we spray them, we paint into them—there’s a number of different techniques that you use in our industry to age and distress clothing, or hats, or any items like that.

Many of the costumes are inspired by those in Eiichiro Oda’s Color Walk compendiums. How did you decide which ones to borrow for the show??

It was a very collaborative effort. We worked with the two showrunners—Matt Owens and Steve Maeda—quite a lot, and through them, of course, with Oda-sensei, who was really very involved in the production as well. …There were a lot of discussions about exactly which outfit worked for which scene. We obviously took all the outfits that were existing in the Color Walk, and then we made them work for the scenes that we all agreed that they would work best for.

Which costumes were particularly challenging to translate from the manga to live action?

I think the Straw Hat [Pirates] were quite difficult, because there was a massive simplicity in all of their clothing. … Even though the characters are so three-dimensional, [the manga is] a two-dimensional drawing. So you wanted to retain the simplicity of that. So that was quite a challenge, to make it into a live action costume—but at the same time, retain the simpleness of the two-dimensional drawings of the manga, so that it didn’t become too complicated.

And then the Marines were challenging. It was a world government force, so to speak, so you had to work out a completely different look [from people in other locations, like], the Love Duck people. So I think that each group of characters—or should I say, or characters on a location—had their own challenges, which made it really creative and exciting for us to work on.

A film still from ‘One Piece.’

The Navy costumes have so much detail to the different ranks and who works for who. The designs are very faithful to the manga, but there are little flourishes. How did you work to differentiate characters while keeping everything unified?

We obviously honored the manga, and we took our inspiration in every aspect from that work and from the Color Walk. And we also wanted to convey a sense of authority and a sense of differentness.

Uniforms always have got more complicated issues because they convey certain elements like authority and, probably, organization. A lot of different elements are conveyed through a uniform. You wanted to honor that, and at the same time, you wanted to have the political elements that go with a government force. You wanted to … also differentiate them completely from the normal people, and all the pirates, and the people in the Baratie, and all the different locations.

Were there any costumes that felt too cartoonish at first, so you had to rework them?

I think some of the Easter eggs for us were quite a challenge that way. We did our best. And also, I think of Buggy and the circus people. And then even Alvida—they were all just iconic, and one had to make sure.

But especially with the Easter eggs, the flashbacks of the younger Mihawk, Doflamingo, Shanks, Smoker—all of those guys. You had to make very sure that it also looked real and looked like it was part of people’s characters, that it was something that people could live in, that didn’t reflect a completely different [reality], that gave a visual identity to each person … [while] at the same time, honoring the manga.

Your designs are so faithful, but there are small, logical differences—like the fact that the Navy uniforms say “cadet” on them, or the fact that Luffy’s wearing sneakers versus flip flops. What are other changes that you made to costumes that were for practicality’s sake?

Obviously, they were things that one had to [change], because of the action. With the shoes, they couldn’t be sandals, because it wasn’t safe. There were also certain characters in the manga and the Color Walk that, for instance, wore capes, and it was just unsafe with the action. So we had to design these things without using the capes to make sure that the actors were safe and that they could do what was required of them without having something that could hook onto something.

That was a massive part of our job, to make sure everyone was safe. So there were certain things that we had to change slightly, or take a certain aspect of it away. We tried to layer all the costumes so that it was possible to remove a cape if it was necessary and it became difficult with the action.

A film still from ‘One Piece.’

So it really is like The Incredibles? Capes are dangerous?

Well, they could be. Some people didn’t have [action sequences] that made the cape dangerous, but some people did, so it depended on the situation and the character. There was a lot of collaborative discussion about when these issues had to be changed and when we could retain whatever part of the costume it was that had to be taken away.


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