‘Assassin’s Creed​’ Reimagined: A Woman’s Role in the Order

Assassin's Creed

[PART 1] [PART 2]

My first order of business in reimagining Ezio as a woman was to learn everything I could about him and the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I had five main questions that I sought to answer:

  1. Who is Ezio?
  2. What is important about his costume?
  3. What did the game designers want to say about Ezio through his costume?
  4. How are women dressed in the game?
  5. How anachronistic is the costuming?

I went back to the source and replayed A​ssassin’s Creed II ​on my sad laptop that, in all honesty, should not be used for gaming. It had been a few years since I had last played the game, and my perspective on gender and social issues had changed drastically since then. This was going to be fun. What I got within the first thirty minutes of playing was that this game was definitely not made with someone like me in mind. It’s literally a textbook example of a straight white guy power fantasy. Ezio is suave, flirtatious, and deadly. Oh yeah, and the book version—Assassin’s Creed Renaissance by Oliver Bowden—is even worse. Claudia, Ezio’s sister, doesn’t even keep his books for him. She ends up joining a convent just outside of Monteriggioni.

What information I couldn’t get from playing the game or reading the book I got from the Assassin’s Creed Wiki. I’m pretty sure I drained my university of printer paper as I printed out every single Wiki article I thought would be even remotely relevant to my project. Trust me, it was a lot.

So, who is Ezio? I decided to answer this like I was talking to someone who had never hear of the series. Ezio Auditore da Firenze is the second son of the fake noble Auditore family of Florence, Italy in the latter half of the 15th century. He spends the first 17 years of his life completely oblivious to his family’s association with the Assassin Order until his father and brothers are killed under false accusations of treason. Ezio takes on the role of head of the family to protect his mother and sister. With the help of his Uncle Mario, he sets out to exact his vengeance upon the Templars who conspired against his family and plotted to overtake Florence and Venice.

Ezio is part of the Italian Order of the Assassins. This branch was started in the late 13th century by his ancestor, Dante Alighieri, who disguised himself as a fake noble in Florence under the name Auditore. The main objective of the Italian Assassins was to take down the Borgia family, the head family in the Templar Order. The Templars’ goal is absolute control in the name of protecting humanity. The heart of the Assassin Order is to ensure that freedom survives so that individual growth and the progression of new ideas can flourish. Their creed is “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”

Assassin's Creed

Ezio’s lavish lifestyle growing up made him into a person who easily lets their temper get the best of them. For example, when he assassinated Uberto Alberti for killing his father and brothers, Ezio stabbed him multiple times with his hidden blade before proclaiming himself to everyone around him that he was Alberti’s killer and the surviving heir of the Auditore bloodline. It is only when he becomes a Master Assassin that Ezio really begins to reign in and channel his emotions into a more productive form. While his emotions are strong, Ezio’s passion is his strongest asset. He cares deeply for his family even to the point of being overbearing in regards to Claudia (his little sister) and holds a strong allegiance to the Assassin Order. He is a romantic at heart—a predisposition that becomes most clear with his flirtatious attitudes towards many of the women he meets.

Normally, when I analyze a character, I like to give them one buzzword that best describes them. Ezio’s word is really obvious: passion. He’s a passionate fighter, brother, and lover—often to the point where it gets him into trouble. It’s this word that I kept with me throughout the rest of my project and what fed into my final design of Ezia.

The second question broke down each individual piece of Ezio’s costume and their function as a garment. In case you were wondering, he has at least 14 costume pieces at any given point in time during the game. These include everything from his lazily laced doublet to that little necklace you can barely see sometimes. It was less of an analysis and more of a breakdown so that I would know what to look for later on when I researched the real fashion of late 15th century Italy.

The third question is the type that I relish the most when analyzing any form of performance. Costume analysis is so completely fascinating, I honestly can’t get enough of how designers use costumes as an art form to tell the stories and the relationships between characters. Ezio’s assassin costume is a literal open book to his character.

[Concept art courtesy of Ubisoft.]
[Concept art courtesy of Ubisoft.]
The assassin robes in A​s​sassin’s Creed II​ that Ezio wears were originally his father’s. What is important about the costume is its sense of uniformity compared to the other assassin costumes in the series. Key features such as the beaked hood, red sash, and hidden blades are shared with the costume design of Altair, an assassin based in Constantinople during the late Middle Ages. The goal of the assassin robes is to provide the wearer anonymity in public while still remaining recognizable to their fellow assassins. It is also designed for quick, quiet kills and, especially in Ezio’s case, a wide range of movement.

Yet, because Altair is from a different time period and region, the costume varies greatly from his so that it can live in the world of the Renaissance. Ezio most likely wears his father’s robes to remind him of who he is fighting for. He makes alterations such as larger storage pouches and better armor throughout the game to adjust his dress to his fighting style. Something that Ezio does that no other assassin does is leave the top of his robes open, revealing multiple collars and two necklaces. This leads me to believe that the designers wanted to show that his interpretations of the rules are a little loose, which fits with his fiery attitude. Compared to his costume in A​C​: Brotherhood, ​t​his one is more flashy and carries far more character with it.

The Ezio in A​C: Brotherhood w​as far more calm and focused on uniting and growing the Assassin Order, whereas in the previous game his motivation was based on selfish grounds of vengeance. Aside from the A​C: Brotherhood r​obes, the costume Ezio wears in this game are the traditional assassin white colors—the most iconic for his character, which best represents his personality at this point in his life. He is young, driven by passion, and still has a lot of maturing to do before he becomes the legendary hero characters in later time periods recognize him as.

Oh, and have I mentioned this series’ obsession with eagles yet? You get it just from playing the game (Eagle Spot, Eagle Vision, Eagle Dive), but the assassin outfit is literally a glorified bird costume. The Assassin symbol looks like a simplified top view of an eagle’s head, the hood has a beak on it, the back of the robes taper to a point like the tail end of a bird, and there is beautiful Renaissance style embroidery of eagles on Ezio’s costume. Also, Ezio’s name is, I kid you not, “Eagle” in Italian. How’s that for subtle?

What’s interesting about the women in this game is the spectrum of design for them. Almost all of them play into Ezio’s white guy power fantasy, but they’re still important, and I needed to know what they were like before I started creating Ezia.

Assassin's Creed

Let’s start with the closest one. Claudia Auditore, Ezio’s sister, is dressed as a noble Italian woman of the later 15th century. At the start of the game, she is about 15. Her floor length dress is made of rich brocade and detailed with gold embroidery. Claudia’s hair is clean, neatly pinned by her maid, and pulled back into a snood to uphold her innocent look. The overall coloring of her costume is soft pink and yellow to further exemplify her youth. It is clear through her design that she is a lady who is not meant to move anywhere in a hurry or fight in any sort of combat. Like Ezio, she never knew that their family was part of the Assassin Order until after their father and brothers were executed. Claudia may have a saucy attitude sometimes, but she is supposed to exude innocence so that the player feels a desire to protect her like the little sister that she is.

Now, let’s jump way over to a completely different style with Rosa, the thief from Venice. Her design makes her feel right at home with the rest of the thieves in the game instead of the other women. She wears a dirty tunic, vest, sash, and breeches that allow for high amounts of movement and agility. Her hair is cut choppy and short and covered a messy cap. From a distance, she could easily be mistaken for a wiry framed boy because absolutely no part of her costume indicates that she is in any way a typical woman from that time period. Her choice of dress is heavily influenced by the work she does and her interactions with her peers. Rosa’s class and occupation puts her in a position where her clothes are less about aesthetic and more about function. Practicality is most important to her.

The costumes that I believe grab the most attention are worn by the courtesans. Courtesans, while not all directly affiliated with the Assassins, will help provide cover and distract guards for Ezio if he pays them. They’re best described as an NPC tool that stands on street corners who wave and flirt with passersby until Ezio hires them to help him. Compared to the rest of the characters who are women, in the game, they stand out because most of their legs are showing and they are wearing noticeable pastel colors. They would typically wear a necklace, stays, detached sleeves, a set of two highl​ow skirts, and an anklet. Their hair was pulled back into the two-horn look that was popular during the Renaissance.

The last question was more of a hypothesis to look back on when I did more fashion history research. I wish I could have said that I knew more fashion history at the time, but the class my school offers is not the best, so this period was a little fuzzy. From what I knew, I could say that the courtesans were inaccurate (they’re not even real courtesans, but we’ll get to that later), and their hair was off for some of the characters. Veering slightly away from AC II for the moment, Lucrezia Borgia’s hair in A​C: Brotherhood ​is blatantly inaccurate. Side parts were definitely not appropriate.

Overall, this was the easiest section for me to research. All I had to do was replay the game, research a few sources on the Assassin’s Creed Wiki, and read that horrible book version by Oliver Bowden. The hardest part was writing my responses in such a way that someone who had never interacted with the series would understand it. While it was tough, it was also a communication skill to learn that became incredibly important when I presented my research at University of Nevada, Reno. The game analysis section taught me more than just how to read into media and its messages, but also how to organize and communicate my findings in a coherent fashion. This skill is becoming so much more important as I move on to bigger, newer projects, and are proving to be worth all the effort I put in to gain them. So I may have spent a few weeks vigorously wrapping my head around every aspect of a video game. I gained a better understanding of the value of communication.

Up next, we’ll be getting down and dirty with the facts. What was it really like to live in Ezio’s Italy?

Oh, and an update on Geek Girl Con! I entered Ezia into the costume contest. Root for me if you’re there! I’d love to see some FemHype representation this Saturday.

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