The South African who dresses the walkers

Eulyn Hufkie-Womble makes her mark on the zombies in the international television series, The Walking Dead. She’s a dab hand at making new clothes look old, and at adding litres of pus and blood. She also gives each character a signature piece.

 the-walking-dead_article Eulyn Hufkie-Womble is a South African designer who’s not afraid to dress the zombies. (Images: Supplied )


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Melissa Javan

Eulyn Hufkie-Womble is one of a few people who can brag about dressing actors in filthy, bloodied and pus-stained clothes for a hit international television series.

The South African-born costume designer for The Walking Dead can also boast about being one of the creators of the series’ action figures. She is very proud to be part of the production of these miniature characters: “I was like: ‘Oh my gosh! I designed super heroes!’ It’s amazing. It doesn’t get better than that!”

In an interview with US television show Walker Stalker Con Atlanta, Hufkie-Womble explains that she is very attentive to detail, and that her designs were very important to her. Daryl’s poncho/cap on the show is a case in point: “They wouldn’t have done it the way I asked,” she explains. “But it was really important to me that it was done correctly. It was a Navaho design and he is a trekker… And they actually made it perfect! I love it!”

Hufkie-Womble, who grew up in Elfindale, in Cape Town, has been working on The Walking Dead since its second season. The series is now broadcasting its fifth season on Fox International Channels. Fans on social media rave about her costumes and actress Melissa McBride, who plays character Carol Peletier, refers to Hufkie-Womble as the “wardrobe goddess”.

Fellow actors and fans also sings Hufkie-Womble’s praises on Twitter:

The script

A new script is issued every seven days. “I have to get into the characters’ heads in order to make choices for them,” she says. “I think about what they did for a living pre-apocalypse. How have they stayed alive – hiding behind others; cunning; standing out as a warrior? How did they get to work pre-apocalypse – by car, train or bicycle? Are they vegetarian, et cetera?”

In an interview with South African online news portal IOL, Hufkie-Womble says she does a lot of research around her characters. “The design sometimes comes from strange and even dark places. Like researching the Great Depression or war or poverty has brought me to tears. I feel that our show sends a strong message about survival and I try to make the clothing as real as possible.”

 walking_dead_season_1 Eulyn Hufkie-Womble has worked on The Walking Dead since its second season. The fifth season is currently playing on Fox International Channels. (Image: AMC via playbuzz.com)

The beauty in dirt

Despite the darkness, Hufkie-Womble says she is able to see the beauty in it. That her parents who were always positive people encouraged her to see the beauty in things on a daily basis, says the designer. “I think the dirt and sweat can be sexy. I see who the person was before they became a ‘walker.'”

Ageing clothing is another aspect of designing the wardrobe for the show that she enjoys. “Also, they [the walkers] never get a fresh set of clothes. It wouldn’t be The Walking Dead if they looked clean.”

Despite this, the walkers sometimes add an accessory or change their outfits a bit. “Maggie is much tougher this year. She’s left the whole farmgirl thing behind – nothing cute or frilly anymore. Daryl has also changed. This season he has a poncho. It’s not quite Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s got a little bit more edge than that.”

Start from scratch

Although she studied accounting at the University of Cape Town, she wasn’t interested in going into that field. She worked as a model, but knew that she couldn’t model forever, she adds. “When I was a model, I asked a designer who had dressed me to give me a chance to do what she did.”

Yet the accounting background has stood Hufkie-Womble in good stead in her career. “Understanding clothing and character study is very important, but so is studying business or accounting. The film industry is a business and managing money is also part of a costume designer’s job.”

Hufkie-Womble and her husband, an American, moved to the United States because both of them worked in the film industry. Despite making a name for herself in South Africa, once in the US she had to start out at the bottom again as a runner. “When I moved to the US, I had to start from scratch. No-one cared that I was a designer in South Africa.”

As a runner, Hufkie-Womble organised hangers into piles, carried rails, made coffee and got to see how costume designing worked. “I loved it. I knew immediately that this was where I belonged.

“By the time I started on The Walking Dead, I was a costumer. In season one, I worked on set as a costumer, working with actors, and in season two I was offered the job as designer,” she says. “I cried on the phone with our producer, Tom Luse. I was so happy; it was a dream come true!”

Once in a while, Hufkie-Womble puts video clips on You Tube to show how she tears, shreds and colours The Walking Dead clothing.

Asked by the online portal AMC TV how the pus used in the show was made, she answered: “Paint. It’s different colours that we mix up to match the clothing that we create… We’re like ‘add more pus’ or ‘add more blood’. Blood is a huge deal on the set as well. They’re all different and they’re all labelled, and it’s very specific how we know what fresh zombie blood is, what old zombie blood is, what fresh human blood is, and what old human blood is.”

The clothes

When it comes to choosing clothing for the show, the quality of the material is very important, and Hufkie-Womble searches several shops to find what she needs. Once she does, she buys between five to 10 pieces of one item.

This is because she has to wash and re-dye the clothing pieces. “I once left a shirt in bleach over the weekend. When I came back, all that was left was buttons,” she says. “A lot of people think I just buy a lot of nonsense, but it actually has to be nice quality to work.”

Her favourite characters to dress were the young girls. “They grew up in the apocalypse, so they were not bogged down with gender roles. They wore boys’ clothing but then tied it into a cute knot on the side. Those little details make a good costume.”

She laughs when she tells of the first time one of the girls came for a fitting. “She was like ‘I feel so emotional. This is probably how a bride feels on her wedding day!’ She is so dramatic and does a great job.”

Hufkie-Womble also makes a signature piece for each character: Carl has his hat and his miss-matched shoes; Rick has his boots and belt; Michonne, the African descendant warrior, has her African-printed headband. “Danai’s [Guirira] parents are from Zimbabwe and I wanted to honour our African heritage. Plus, it looks amazing on her.”

About South Africa

She misses her family in Cape Town a lot, says Hufkie-Womble, and she tries to visit at least once a year. “Cape Town is the most beautiful place with beautiful people. The town has a beautiful spirit.

“I miss the food. There’s nothing like a warm Cape Malay koeksister with coffee on a Sunday morning. Yum!”

Watch Eulyn Hufkie-Womble explain what she does to the zombies’ wardrobe: