John Mollo

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John Mollo
Born(1931-03-18)18 March 1931
London, England
Died25 October 2017(2017-10-25) (aged 86)
Froxfield, Wiltshire, England
Occupation(s)Costume designer, author
Years active1970–2003
  • (m. 1956; div. 1966)
  • Louise Pongracz
    (m. 1968)
RelativesAndrew Mollo (brother)

John Mollo (18 March 1931 – 25 October 2017) was a British costume designer and book author, most known for his Oscar-winning costume design for the Star Wars film series. He was the older brother of Andrew Mollo.


Mollo was born in London on 18 March 1931. His father was Eugene Simonovitch Mollo, a Russian immigrant who had escaped Russia in the 1920s, and his mother was Ella Clara Mollo (née Cockell).[1] Eugene Mollo had started his own company that specialised in spraying cement. He was a collector of tin soldiers and military insignia and he wrote a book, Russian Military Swords, 1801–1917. Eugene was also a noted illustrator, and some of his drawings are now held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.[2] John Mollo followed his father's interest in military history and developed a particular interest in military uniforms from a very young age. He recalled being especially inspired when he saw the 1935 film Clive of India as a child and returned home from the cinema to draw the costume of King George II.[3][4] John Mollo was educated at Charterhouse School and then went on to study at the Farnham School of Art in Surrey. After World War II, he was conscripted to do his national service in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in Hong Kong.[4]

Mollo's first marriage was to Ann Farquharson who worked as a set decorator on films such as Rob Roy (1995) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981). In 1968 he married Louise Pongracz. The son of this second marriage, Tom Mollo, served as a captain in the Coldstream Guards and as equerry to Queen Elizabeth II.[4]

He died on 25 October 2017, aged 86.[5][6]


Mollo's illustrated chart of characters for the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in Star Wars (1977)

Mollo's interest in military uniform shaped his career and he became a respected authority on European and American uniforms. He wrote several carefully researched books on European and American military uniform, including Uniforms of the American Revolution (1975) and Into the Valley of Death: The British Cavalry Division at Balaclava 1854, often in collaboration with his brother Boris and with illustrator Malcolm McGregor.[1][3][7]

Mollo's specialist knowledge put him in demand as an advisor to war film productions. He was engaged as advisor for the movies Charge of the Light Brigade (1966), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and on Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), ensuring the historical accuracy of the military uniforms worn by actors.

Mollo subsequently moved into costume design. For his first film, Mollo unexpectedly found himself working not on a historical military drama but in a genre he had no knowledge of: science fiction. He was commissioned in 1975 by a young filmmaker named George Lucas to devise uniforms and outfits for a fantasy space war film, Star Wars. When asked at the time by a friend about the project, Mollo said that he thought it was a "sort of a space western and one of the heroes is a dustbin". Lucas's project envisioned a cast of heroes battling an evil Galactic Empire, and he briefed Mollo to design costumes that would not resemble the stereotypical "spacey" look of earlier science fiction productions such as Flash Gordon — " I don't want the audience to notice any of the costumes. I just want to see light versus dark." The aim was to make Lucas's fantasy universe appear authentic – Mollo considered that his total ignorance of science fiction was advantageous in achieving this. Lucas provided Mollo with sketches and concept art by Ralph McQuarrie to work from, working McQuarrie's designs for Imperial stormtroopers and the malevolent character of Darth Vader into functional costumes for actors to wear. McQuarrie's image of Darth Vader had developed from Samurai armour,[8] and Mollo built up a costume using a combination of clerical robes, a motorcycle suit, a German military helmet and a gas mask from Bermans and Nathans costumiers in Camden Town. Mollo intentionally designed the uniforms of Imperial officers to resemble German Nazi officers' uniforms; by contrast, the heroes of the film were dressed in costumes resembling Wild West outfits. One of Mollo's biggest challenges on Star Wars was to create a plethora of exotic aliens to feature in the Mos Eisley Cantina scene. Mollo worked with George Lucas to compile a chart of visual designs for a range of character types. He collaborated with make-up artist Stuart Freeborn, who designed the masks and prosthetics to match each of the costumes, along with Doug Beswick, Rick Baker and Phil Tippett.[9][10][11]

Mollo was surprised by the success of Star Wars, and in 1978 he won an Academy Award for Costume Design. In his acceptance speech at the Oscars ceremony, he said that the Star Wars costumes were "really not so much costumes as a bit of plumbing and general automobile engineering."[3][4][12]

Mollo went on to work as advisor on more conventional military films such as Zulu Dawn. He also designed costumes for the crew of the Nostromo spacecraft in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), and he returned to the Star Wars universe to work with Irvin Kershner on the 1980 sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. His work on Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1983) involved designing historically accurate British military uniforms as well as Ben Kingsley's loincloth for the title role, and for this production he won his second Oscar, jointly with Bhanu Athaiya. Mollo's other credits include Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Attenborough's Cry Freedom (1987), and Chaplin (1992).[4][3]

Costume design[edit]


Mollo's film credits include:[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]


Mollo's books documented the history of military uniform in particular theatres of war such as the American Revolution, the Seven Years' War and the Crimean War.

  • Mollo, John (1972). Military Fashion: A Comparative History of the Uniforms of the Great Armies from the 17th Century to the First World War. Putnam.
  • Mollo, John (1975). Uniforms of the American Revolution in color (1st American ed.). New York: Macmillan. ISBN 9780025855809. Illustrated by Malcolm McGregor.
  • Mollo, John (1977). Uniforms of the Seven Years War, 1756-1763, in color. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 9780882544441. Illustrated by Malcolm McGregor
  • Mollo, Boris; Mollo, John (1991). Into the Valley of Death: the British Cavalry Division at Balaclava, 1854. London: Windrow & Greene. ISBN 9781872004754. Illustrated by Bryan Fosten
  • Miller, AE Haswell (2013). Mollo, John (ed.). Vanished Armies: A Record of Military Uniform Observed and Drawn in Various European Countries During the Years 1907 to 1914. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9780747813118.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "John Mollo Biography (1931–)". FilmReference. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Drawing: Mollo, Eugene". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Slotnik, Daniel E. (3 November 2017). "John Mollo, Whose Costumes Made 'Star Wars' Seem Real, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Davison, Phil (3 November 2017). "John Mollo, costume designer, 1931–2017". Financial Times. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  5. ^ Bartlett, Rhett (27 October 2017). "John Mollo, Oscar-Winning 'Star Wars' Costume Designer, Dies at 86". Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Obituary: John Mollo". The Times. Times Newspapers Limited. 28 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017. (subscription required)
  7. ^ a b III, Harris M. Lentz (2018). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2017. McFarland. ISBN 9781476670324. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  8. ^ Rees Shapiro, T. (5 March 2012). "Ralph McQuarrie, artist who drew Darth Vader, C-3PO, dies at 82". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  9. ^ "9 Things You Might Not Know About the Aliens of Star Wars: A New Hope". 24 May 2017. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
  10. ^ Titelman, Carol; Hoffman, Valerie, eds. (1979). The Art of Star Wars (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 61–63. ISBN 0345282736.
  11. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (1 November 2017). "John Mollo obituary: Star Wars costume designer who dressed Darth Vader". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  12. ^ "John Mollo Biography". Archived from the original on 24 November 2007. Retrieved 14 January 2008.
  13. ^ "Official Academy Awards Database". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 13 September 2008.
  14. ^ "Past Saturn Awards – Best Costume". Saturn Awards. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008.
  15. ^ Awards IMDb.
  16. ^ "Advanced Primetime Awards Search". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on 3 April 2009.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]