John Mollo’s original Star Wars designs go under the hammer at Bonhams

John Mollo’s sketch for a Stormtrooper from Star Wars. ©Lucasfilm Ltd / John Mollo

John Mollo’s sketch for a Stormtrooper from Star Wars. ©Lucasfilm Ltd / John Mollo

The personal notebooks and sketchbooks of world-renowned double Oscar-winning British costume designer, John Mollo, the concept artist behind the international 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 later this year.

The archive contains a wealth of 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 John Mollo iconic status in Hollywood.

John is recognised as one of the most significant costume designers in cinematic history. He started his career as a historical advisor for films, specialising in military costumes for notable films including; The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975).

Director George Lucas employed Mollo to work on the Star Wars film series in 1975, which provided the catalyst for his career in designing costumes for SF films. His contribution to costume design has been awarded two Academy awards, an Oscar for his work on Star Wars and a second for his designs for Richard Attenborough’s 1982 Gandhi.

John 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 John was commissioned by George Lucas to create uniforms and ensembles for Star Wars. At the time, he was unfamiliar with the SF 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.

With just three months to go before shooting begun, 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.”

Lucas also tasked him with convincing the reluctant Sir Alex 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.

John Mollo’s son, Tom Mollo said: “This collection is a very personal insight into my father’s creative process. As these wonderful sketches demonstrate, he was a man of boundless imagination, but he never forgot the practical side of costume design – that actors had to be able to move and breathe and speak their lines. We can see him wrestling with these issues in his designs and, of course, producing the wonderful solutions that gave life to the characters and have made them recognised and loved the world over. My father once said with typical understatement, ‘I think on the whole I did a good job.” History has surely proved him right.”

A highlight of the auction includes a sketchbook, which it’s estimated will sell for between £100,000 – £150,000, 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 renowned 1975 film Barry Lyndon

Another sketchbook  in the auction features designs from The Empire Strikes Back, Alien and Zulu Dawn, estimated at £80,000-120,000. The book covers the period 1978-1979, predominantly including the production of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars sequel. 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.

Katherine Schofield, Head of Entertainment Memorabilia, says, “John Mollo created costumes that elevated characters to cult cinematic status and this highly important archive of his notes and sketches demonstrates how brilliantly the designer merged fantasy and practicality.

“These sketchbooks are a unique part of cinema history – in my experience, nothing like this has been seen before at auction – and will have immense appeal to collectors.”

Designing an Empire, 4.00pm Tuesday 11th December 2018, The John Mollo Archive, New Bond Street, London | Specialist: Katherine Schofield | Web:

Categories: Art and Illustration, Auctions, downthetubes News, Other Worlds, Star Wars

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1 reply

  1. Funny for years John’s work was a afterthought having worked at Lucasfilm I knewe all too well all he did was beyond pivotal to the original films and those that followed.
    I never haf a chance to meet him which was a hige regret on my part as je is one of the true creative minds behind this continued saga.

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