Like a spool of custom-made fabric, the acclaimed costume designers from this year’s Emmy eligible shows unraveled a bit of the intensive collaborative process their work requires during “The Art of Costumes” discussion celebrating TV costume design at NBCU’s FYC House in Hollywood.
The conversation — moderated by TheWrap’s Jen Laski — featured Academy Award-nominated “Angelyne” costume designer Danny Glicker. He was joined by “Gaslit” costume supervisor Patricia Peppard and Emmy-nominated “Hacks” costume supervisor Karen Bellamy. Joining virtually on Zoom were “Harlem” costume designer Deirdra Govan, and Matthew Hemesath, the costume designer for “Dr. Death” and “Girls5Eva.”
For a series to run smoothly, costume designers must work in tandem with writers, producers, hair and makeup artists and the rest of the production team toward a singular vision yet maintain their unique perspectives and expertise when crafting how characters — whether fictionalized or based on real-life figures — dress and live authentically.
Glicker recalled pulling more than 700 costumes for Emmy Rossum, who plays the title 1980s billboard icon in “Angelyne,” and an “intense” yet “helpful” pre-costuming process, which required pulling together at least 40 key art pieces recreating headshots and high school yearbook photos. The costume team also designed three different bust lines to coincide with Angelyne’s different eras (“The young era is a little perkier,” Glicker said, drawing laughs from the audience).
“We really had a crash course on what was working, what wasn’t working,” he added. “We would just keep generating all of these looks, but every single thing was custom-made, and everything was hard because the body is really challenging to drape.”
Bellamy echoed Glicker’s sentiment, emphasizing the importance of prep and being able to get scripts on time to plan ahead. In “Hacks,” veteran comic icon Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and up-and-coming foolhardy comedian-writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) often clash and act as foils to one another. Dressing the two meant grounding the characters in authenticity and reflecting that divide. Because Smart’s character is so “glamorous,” it can often be more challenging to dress the sensible Ava, which Bellamy said required plenty of research, working with extras to blend them in with the crowd and often “[taking] ourselves back” to avoid excess.
“We found this costume for Deborah Vance, which was made by a company called Casablanca, and it was just perfect because it was so over the top, and we added a hat, which made it more over the top,” she said. “And the outfit for Ava was more difficult to do, actually, because it had to be true to her character, and she’s definitely rough around the edges, and she’s more real.”
Hemesath described a particularly chaotic behind-the-scenes process for “Girls5Eva’s” third episode, where the members of the long-forgotten ‘90s girl group — draped in golden dresses, jewelry and headpieces — act as extras in the music video that samples their one-off hit track. The script was completed by the middle of the second episode, while the song in the music video itself had yet to be written.
“When I read the words ‘Met Gala, fabulous,’ my heart drops, like, ‘Oh, my God, how are we gonna do this?’” he recalled. “We just had to push forward … We just started buying everything gold we could find, and we just filled racks of things and got it all in.”
For “Gaslit,” Peppard had a two-pronged approach, tailoring more conservative pieces for Martha Mitchell (Julia Roberts) in professional settings and lavish outfits for dinner parties and galas.
“When it came to the parties and the photo ops that Martha had — and the galas, the fundraisers — we really, really glammed everything up and used color, and the crazier ’70s palettes and sparkle,” Peppard said. “And Martha was from the South, so she loved a good outfit.”
The goal with “Harlem” — which follows four single friends in what Govan calls New York City’s “cultural mecca” — is to showcase the lead characters’ distinct personalities through clothing and establishing “benchmark” signature pieces to do so. She drew on her own personal experiences, including her time living Harlem, to craft a “new renaissance” featuring “vibrant” fashion-forward looks. A self-described “dumpster diver,” Govan said she appreciates vintage articles and bringing back previously worn outfits to ensure that once her show airs, the costuming is not out-of-touch with current trends.
“What I was really excited about with this show is we are really exhibiting women — women of color — who are stylish, who dress aspirationally, who have careers, who are whole women and also fractured in some areas and some areas not,” she said.
Closing out the Q&A, the costume veterans offered tidbits of advice for aspiring designers, ranging from being “fearless” in pursuing one’s point of view to acquiring the necessary skills and education for the field. Glicker said his go-to counsel for young designers is to hone their specific worldview.
“It’s always not just about clothes,” he said. “So I often tell people who are starting out in costume design, the most important thing is to be interested in things that are not just clothes because then you’ll be able to bring all that perspective to clothes.”
The can watch the full panel here.