Warning, Spoilers for Orphan Black seasons 1-5.
Within the first three minutes of Orphan Black, a BBC America tv series created by John Fawcett and Graeme Manson create a gripping series when Sarah Manning locks eyes with a woman in distress who looks exactly like her. Before she can ask any questions, the woman walks in front of the oncoming train, and Sarah makes the rash decision to steal her identity. This scene launches five seasons of a series that revolves around a group of illegal human clones trying to find the truth about their origins, save their lives, and find family. This series’s success relied on a combination of technical achievement, tour-de-force performance by Tatiana Maslany, and a master class in creating characters through hair, makeup, and costume.
While the concept itself was difficult enough for directors, writers, camera, and editing teams to execute, the whole series hinged on who they decided to cast as the clones. These roles went to Tatiana Maslany, who played fourteen clone characters over the five-season run. Earing two Emmy nominations and one win.
For Maslany, this was a massive undertaking. She had to create distinct mannerisms, accents, and personalities for each clone and then take those characters to develop each episode regularly, playing off herself. There are literally scenes where the only characters are the clones, and Maslany manages to make it work by giving each clone a distinctive personality. While this makes the series compelling and exciting, it’s the difference in each character’s look that offers viewers the visual cues needed to distinguish them as different characters, not just clones. This challenge was taken on by costume designers Laurie Drew and Debra Hanson.
In season one, Laurie Drew created the wardrobe template for the core cast of clones, Alison, Cosima, Rachel, Sara, and Helena. She made a distinct look for each that reflected their role in society and their environment. After the first season, Debra Hanson took over as the wardrobe’s head for the rest of the series. She followed the template set by Drew as new clones were introduced while also evolving the wardrobe of those already present. Few of the clones go through more evolution on the show than Alison Hendrix.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, lead hairstylist on the show, Sandy Sokolowski perfectly summed up Alison’s personality “Alison is always riding this line between being the perfect suburban mother and an insane person at the same time.” Of all the sisters in the clone club, Alison Hendrix is the only one with a sub-plot that doesn’t revolve around the quest to find answers and freedom. The revelation that she’s a clone out brings out the worst of her neurotic behavior and throws her substance abuse tendency into over-driver, cracking the suburban housewife facade. Despite all of this, Alison copes with dark humor and keeps the perfect athleisure soccer mom look.
Since every character is played by Maslany, the differences between them need to be evident as soon as you look them in the face. This distinction starts with her hair and makeup. When talking with Vanity Fair, makeup artist Stephen Lynch described his thought process behind Alison’s perfect pink lips and purple eye makeup, “She found her makeup look in high school and never changed it.”, this makes a lot of sense. Alison is continually going on about how she wants her life to go back to her pre-clone life. It makes sense that in her pre-clone life, she wanted to go back to a simpler time when she didn’t have to worry so much about being watched and scrutinized by her neighbors. This scrutiny led Alison to have the tightly wound personality that is reflected in her pin-straight hair, perfect high ponytail, and bangs. However, Sokolowski put in small details to show the cracks, “The hair might have looked good front-on when you look at it in the mirror, but from the back it looks a little bit crazy.” While Alison’s hair may betray the inner anxiety, her wardrobe is never anything but soccer mom perfect.
With her children heavily involved in various sports, some of which Alison coaches, Athleisure is a staple of Alison’s wardrobe. From the first moment we meet her, the staples of Alison’s look are a tight long-sleeved shirt with thumb stilts with a puffer vest or jacket, yoga pants, and tennis shoes. In this, she’s showing those around her that she’s a mom on the move, ready for anything.
This is also the look Alsion presents when she decides to run to be a trustee on the school board. During her campaign, she punches this look to be more approachable with pinks and campaign paraphernalia.
When talking with InStyle costume department set supervisor Peter Webster said that Alison is “that kind of housewife/mom, where everything’s steamed and pressed.” This statement could not be more accurate. When not chauffeuring her kids around or campaigning, Alison is the model housewife. She wears collared button-down shirts, sweaters, dark wash jeans, and the only accessory she wears besides her wedding ring, a cross necklace. As part of her effort to be the perfect housewife, she is also a devout churchgoer, often emploring the on high for answers. Through the series, Alison often finds herself involved in various church functions and on the receiving end of many pep talks from her reverend. Her modest dress and necklace are a nod to this ongoing devotion.
Alison sticks to this look through almost the entire series. That is until she decides to go on a vacation of self-discovery to Florida. When she comes back she looks like an entirely different person and says she’s exploring her “shadow self”. As a result of this exploration, Alison has decided to go for a more artsy look or at least what a housewife would consider artsy. For Alison, artsy means getting a bob with purple highlights that match her eyeshadow and flowing bohemian tops. For Alison, this is an outward symbol of her letting go of the standards she thought she had to live but now realizes she never did. It is also the culmination of Alison’s journey through the series. For Alison discovering she’s a clone allowed her to realize that she doesn’t need to live up to others’ expectations and free to do whatever she wants with her life.
Next week we’ll dive into a clone who always lived her life to the fullest, Cosima.
Want to know more? Check out my sources.
Miller, Julie. “Here’s How Orphan Black Transforms Tatiana Maslany Into a Cast of Clones.” Vanity Fair, 2015, http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/04/orphan-black-clones.
Trudeau, Tessa. “On the Orphan Black Set: We’ve Got All the Costume Details!” InStyle, 2014, http://www.instyle.com/fashion/costume-department-insider-orphan-black.
“InnerSpace – Orphan Black: Behind the Scenes of ‘Gag of Throttle.'” CTV Sci-Fi Channel , 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOa2xMr2uIk.
In the series the sisters often need to impersonate each other. Here are the times Alison had to be Sara.