In an exclusive interview, costume designer Audrey Fisher opens up about her immersive journey in creating the captivating costumes for the gripping series Love & Death featuring Elizabeth Olsen. Audrey shares her initial reaction upon delving into the true story behind the Candy Montgomery case, a tale that encompasses charm, darkness and fascination. From meticulous research to collaborating with lead actress Elizabeth Olsen, Audrey reveals the intricacies of her process in designing the Love & Death costumes, her inspirations from the late ’70s and early ’80s, and the evolution of costumes reflecting the complex character of Candy Montgomery.
Spencer Williams: Thank you so much, costume designer Audrey Fisher, for joining me. I’m so excited to talk to you!
Audrey Fisher: Me too. I’m really excited to talk to you and talk all about the Love & Death costumes.
Spencer Williams: It’s such a wild ride. Let’s start from the beginning. Love & Death is a series based on the Candy Montgomery case, a very true story and a rather gruesome, emotionally charged story. As you began to unravel the story, I wondered what your initial reaction was as you started to prepare for this project.
Audrey Fisher: Well, I didn’t know much about this story. I had never heard of it. I was in Hawaii wrapping up I Know What You Did Last Summer when I got a call from Lesli Linka Glatter who is the incredible director, producer, incredible, multi-talented powerhouse, and president of the DGA. So when you see Lesli’s name come up on your phone, it’s a good day. After I hung up the phone, I immediately started researching. She sent me the monthly articles, which I just devoured. They are so beautifully written! The story just gets stranger and stranger, and it’s fascinating and dark. It‘s just weird and twisted.
This was my first time doing an actual crime. So it was also really fun to imagine what it would take to help to bring these real-life characters into this fictional-ish narrative. Some of it is by the book. It was really exciting, and I started immediately researching and was astonished at what I came to learn as I discovered who Candy Montgomery really was.
Spencer Williams: Let’s talk about the research. This story takes place in the late seventies, early eighties. You also have the experience of working as an assistant costume designer for That ’70s Show with Melina Root, so I think that must have helped a little bit in the process. What did your research process look like?
Audrey Fisher: I always kind of start the same way. It’s sort of my systematic way of starting to understand a project, and I use the script as my guide. In the book Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs, there’s lots of very detailed information. For instance, on the day of the murder, the book details the outfits that both women wore. It was great to have the references that we got from the book.
I basically started to imagine this small town in Texas sort that is suburban and a part of this Methodist community. It’s very dominated by all the church-going activities and “gender roles.” The men go to work every day and are gone all day, and these women are just kind of running around town and doing the church things. Methodist churches specifically would have all their members dress up in their Sunday best and take portraits of the families. Then they would create this directory so that everyone could sort of take a look. Those were super helpful in terms of just looking at really seeing what Sunday best looked like then. I had other people who were on my team helping who would show me their family photos.
I started with the script and source material, and then, of course, I just leaned into all the seventies, late seventies, and early eighties research that I could possibly get my hands on. Melina Root, as you said, designed That ’70s Show. She’s incredible. She had the most amazing research that she accumulated over seven years of that show. I assisted her for the last two years. When the show ended, I was able to keep some of that research. It was really fun to pull out some of the research from the show. I actually called Melina too, and I said, “Hey can I come and look at what you’ve got still in your seventies library?” I went over, and she lent me a couple of really great books, photography books and late seventies fashion books.
I also leaned heavily into catalogs because I felt like they would really give me a good sense of small-town life. For example, I used a Sears catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, which is a little bit higher-end than the Sears catalog. I got all those catalogs from all of the seasons from like 1975 to 1981. I obsessively flipped through them and created these shared photo albums, and I invited my whole team to be a part of them. I just started taking snapshots just with my phone and loading photos by season into these albums.
Spencer Williams: This is so fascinating because the costume designer designs costumes for a character, and you’re helping to that storytelling. However, at the same time, you’re really diving into the mindset of someone who ends up killing someone. It’s an exercise in psychology and understanding their environment and history. She was fascinated by the world changing around her.
Audrey Fisher: I find that very helpful to try to kind of sit in the mentality of the person that you’re trying to help create through this costume.
Spencer Williams: I want to talk now about Candy and her evolution. Her costumes go through quite a journey throughout her story and her different phases. The first phase is Candy as the mother, the wife, the churchgoer, and the mistress. I have been dying to ask you about these costumes, specifically her color palettes. She wears a lot of red, and I can’t help but think we are leaning toward the note of adultery… very The Scarlet Letter. Was that a coincidence?
Audrey Fisher: With Candy originally in that first fitting where we had like seven racks of clothing… a five-hour fitting marathon, I definitely was pulling for her thinking about Elizabeth and her colors and Candy’s personality. I wanted to lean into candy colors. They were bright, fuchsia, and warm. It was our goal to make her warm and inviting. We found in the first fitting she looked gorgeous in fuchsia and pink. Then I just feel like the deeper, warmer reds, the burgundy, those burgundy jeans, they just fit great. I love that The Scarlet Letter reference. You’re the first person to call that out.
Spencer Williams: Really? It was one of the first things I thought of. I could sense pretty early on through the costume that this was going to be a pretty emotionally complex character.
Audrey Fisher: Amazing. Incredible. I love it. It is absolutely where we were leaning. Elizabeth had 120 costumes. I was just desperate to get enough clothes in the room. You start with great plans and a wonderful dramaturgical sense of where you’re going with the costumes. But at a certain point, you just are having fittings and trying to get it approved. So it’s wonderful that one of my original ideas read so strongly. I was definitely going for warmth and charm, and bubbliness. You just can’t say no to Candy. But then she starts to have those darker tones come in.
Spencer Williams: You really see an evolution. I really like what you said about how she was so inviting. Did you find between you and Elizabeth Olsen that you found yourself collaborating on her journey throughout the entire series and costumes?
Audrey Fisher: Absolutely. She was very clear on how she wanted Candy to look. There were certain things that she absolutely loved and other things she was just like…no! There were certain things I had to sort of let go of that I was excited about, but that’s okay because she’s the one going on camera. She’s the one who needs to be Candy Montgomery. We absolutely worked together to find all 120 of these costumes. I remember the hundredth outfit we actually popped some champagne. She was amazing. It’s important to remember in a show like this, she’s in practically every scene! It’s an exhausting marathon. She always was so poised and collaborative. She was the ideal collaborator for a big project like this.
Spencer Williams: That’s so lovely to hear. I am a big fan of Elizabeth Olsen. So let’s get into the next phase of this story. Candy’s story evolves as the incident occurs at Betty’s house. I am thinking back to that moment when Candy goes to the police station, and you can tell that something’s happening in her head. There’s a little more consciousness in the costumes from this moment into the courtrooms.
Audrey Fisher: Yes. That outfit that Candy wore to the police station was on Father’s Day, it was two days after she committed the murder. She goes to church, she comes home, she changes, and she’s been called into the sheriff’s office. So she changes to go for the first interview with the sheriff. Again, in Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs, her outfit is described as a beautiful black silk blouse, and a black and white striped skirt with dark pantyhose. She also wore a beautiful, sophisticated black pump. I thought this was kind of a weird reference. It was very different from what she’s usually wearing, right? It’s also the first time that she’s in black. It was pretty dramatic. Both Elizabeth and I felt like she put on the armor for this interview.
She’s clearly trying to create a lot of solemnity and seriousness but also be really kind of beautiful and disarming in how sort of elegant she looks. She’s wearing pantyhose. There’s a whole look going on! That was fascinating to create, and we built that whole look because there was nothing that I could find that felt right. It took us a while to find the right fabrics, and Elizabeth was very involved in the fit. We found it, and I felt really proud of it. Maybe she did do it for the audience. Why would you put all that on to say I didn’t do it?
Spencer Williams: Clearly, she has put some sort of thought into her direction and how she is going to present herself outwardly.
Audrey Fisher: Yeah. It’s also a weird outfit for summer? In our show, there were only five days to the trial, which is slightly shorter than the actual trial. We had to sort of compress and choose the looks that made the most sense. With Candy, I would slot in the strongest looks and then just start working on piecing them together. We started by trying to find vintage pieces, but a lot of things just couldn’t be found, so we built them. Those outfits were fun to make, and it’s so rewarding to create things that have the historical context that has been cataloged by news organizations; then you see the final product, and you have to take a second look!
Spencer Williams: It felt like you pulled some of these costumes right out of the timeline. Perhaps you discovered time travel and haven’t shared it with any of us yet. So incredible. Audrey Fisher, I’ve been so fascinated by your research process and how things worked out, and just the subtlety in the costuming. I want to wrap up with one final question. In the end, what did this project mean to you?
Audrey Fisher: I have to say, I’m so proud of this project. I’m so proud of all the work we accomplished and how great the world looks. The fact that people are having such a strong response to it is so gratifying. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder and had such a wonderful team around me. I had such trust, respect, and support from my director and producer. It was kind of a dream project in that way. The product of that support, respect, and a fantastic team, just shows it’s like you use the best ingredients and you get an amazing cake. The show is the product of a lot of really dedicated professionals working hard together. That just feels really good. There were so many friends working together, and I feel like that created this really special kind of vibration. I’m really proud of it. The Man in the High Castle was, for me, a real high point. Up until this project, that was one of my more proud achievements. But now this one is… I’m most proud of Love & Death.
Spencer Williams: Even though it’s such a tragic, gruesome story, in the end, it was still very beautiful and, in ways, inspiring in terms of the storytelling and learning about the period and the history. You deserve to feel proud, but this was a magnificent series. Thank you, Audrey, so much for joining me. This was a really special interview.
Audrey Fisher: Thank you, Spencer.