Deliciously Macabre: The Costumes of What We Do In The Shadows

It’s September, which in my view, is just October Eve. Spooky season quietly lurks in the shadows, pumpkin spice lattes appear in your local Starbucks, and suddenly everyone has the urge to watch slasher films… or Harry Potter. For me, I can also feel my annual obsession with vampires returning! Luckily for me, I was given the incredible opportunity of speaking with costume designer Laura Montgomery, responsible for the costumes of season three of my favorite comedy, What We Do In The Shadows!

Laura Montgomery is a film and television costume designer based in Toronto, Canada. Montgomery’s costume design credits include, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Small Town Murder Songs (TIFF Official Selection 2010), When Moses Woke (Gemini Award Winner for Best Direction in a Performing Arts Program), Coopers’ Christmas (TIFF Official Selection 2008), and What We Do in the Shadows S3. I spoke with Laura about the costumes for the third season, What We Do In The Shadows; please enjoy!


Spencer: Hi Laura! I am so excited to meet you! We are such big fans of What We Do In The Shadows here at The Art of Costume and have been dying for the new season! Thank you for joining me.

What We Do In The Shadows Costume Designer – Laura Montgomery

Laura: It’s my pleasure. I’m a big fan of the show too, so it’s a treasured opportunity anytime I can talk about it! 

Spencer: The first two episodes of the third season, “The Prisoner” and “The Cloak of Duplication,” are complete masterpieces, and I am already in love with the costumes! You must have been so excited to take on this project?

Laura: I was really excited! To begin with, I was a huge fan of the movie. I was the assistant costume designer for the first two seasons to Amanda Neale, the costume designer from New Zealand who had been working with Jemaine Clement on projects – she had also done the movie! When I heard that the show would be filmed in Toronto, I knew I wanted to join the team.

We shot the third season during the pandemic in 2020. There were many reasons, but it was just a safer decision [for Amanda] to stay in New Zealand. So I was just thrilled to kind of take on the characters – use what has been established and be able to put my own little spin on things.

Spencer: It’s a brilliant concept, vampires in a mockumentary format, living in Staten Island, New York! Each character comes to Staten Island with a unique background. Nandor The Relentless is from the fictional kingdom of Al-Quolanudar in Southern Iran and a warrior serving the Ottoman Empire; Laszlo Cravensworth was an English Nobleman, and Nadja is a Romani vampire. Though it is the third season, we are still learning about these individuals.

What do your research and creative process look like when it comes to costuming the vampires and creating the costumes of What We Do In the Shadows?

Laura: The research is my absolute favorite part, and this show is great because you don’t have to be perfect about it. It starts with the conceit that you know these vampires kind of got stuck in the period in which they were human.

As you said, Nandor is from the Persian region in the 1400s. Laszlo has a Victorian feel to him; we think he got turned in the mid-1800s. He’s from England, and Nadja has that Greek-ish background. Her story’s a little bit looser. She was born in, I think, the 1600s, but we go a little more Victorian with her as well. The show is contemporary, so that’s when they were born, but we have the freedom to use elements from the 80s – they’ve lived through all the decades. We can say, oh, they picked up this piece when they were clubbing in the 90s, or they picked up something you know they’ve got all these collected pieces.

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

I found it really fascinating last year I did a lot of research into Nandor’s background, and I really wanted to make him as authentic as possible. So I started looking up Persian textiles and a lot of art from that period. I visited a museum in Toronto called the Agha Khan, where they currently have a great exhibition showcasing paintings of this Iranian epic poem. The kings in those dynasties started to get interested in illustrating the poem, so there were many illustrated versions commissioned around the 1400s. So I’ve been looking at those images to bring inspiration, even some of the colors. I was surprised by the way they would wear things the silhouettes.

I was so, so satisfied with the second episode, “The Cloak of Duplication,” in part because of Nandor’s exercise pants that he wears.

Spencer: Ugh, yes, I was going to ask you about those! They were so good!

Laura: One of the producers said that he saw a Twitter thread commenting on their authenticity, saying they’re really Persian. It’s true; they’re from this ancient Persian sport, called Zurkhaneh or Pahlevani. I knew I wanted to get these pants, and we have a couple of Iranian people on our costume team. So I found the pants from a maker who makes them custom in Tehran. I started the conversation with him, and then eventually, someone from our team helped me. So we got them made, and then she had a friend who was in Tehran and would be coming to Toronto, so the friend picked them up and brought them over. It took months, but I was so happy to get the genuine pads and that they were recognized.

Spencer: Nandor running on a treadmill was hilarious to me, and suddenly I stopped laughing when I saw the shorts. I just thought, oh my gosh, look at the fabric – look at those shorts!  I’ve never seen anything like them!

Laura: Yes! It started by searching up Persian sports; people still practice it in the modern-day. Also, during the 80s, there was the wrestler – The Iron Sheik. Do you know who that is? *laughs*

Spencer: *laughs* No, I’m sorry! Please tell me! I am pretty rusty on my 80s wrestlers.

Laura: He was from the Hulk Hogan era. So these two roads are what lead me to those traditional pants Nandor wears.

Spencer: That makes sense, and this conversation reminded me of the first season where Nandor applies for citizenship while wearing his 90s basketball jersey from the Olympics, so it makes sense that he would have something that may be a little dated. 

We have to talk about Colin Robinson, an energy vampire who lives in the basement. Colin Robinson is unique because he is hardly unique nor interesting – which makes him one of the most hilarious characters. Can you walk me through Colin’s wardrobe?

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Laura: Colin was a new concept introduced to the series. For Amanda and Mark Proksch, it kind of clicked into place when it came to the color palette. Colin would always wear beige and keep within that color palette. So that’s where we get the very monotone boring palette. 

What I tried to do this year was elevate the tailoring.

Spencer: Oh, I love that!

Laura: Colin had been picking up things from all kinds of periods, especially the 90s. Knowing this year that he’s about to turn 100, I was able to home in on the 40s and 50s as his era. I started looking at a lot of 40s tailoring. We got a lot of custom pieces done for him this season. I hope it won’t be too noticeable a difference, but we tried to refine the tailoring a little bit.

Spencer: It’s a subtle difference! He’s boring, but also, it’s like it’s still a nice suit, though. He does have a good eye for a decent tailored suit.

Laura: Yeah, I think he would be the kind of person who would really go down a wormhole of the specifics of sartorial details and talk someone’s ear off about things.

Spencer: *laughs* Absolutely; he would! That is a brilliant concept!

Guillermo De La Cruz, everyone’s favorite vampire familiar played by Harvey Guillén, has found himself on quite the journey. It turns out he is the descendant of the vampire hunter, Van Helsing. How do you approach costuming Guillermo – a familiar turned vampire bodyguard? His wardrobe has changed in a more sophisticated way that subtly aligns him with the vampires, without screaming it from the rooftops.

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Laura: Yeah, he’s always wanted to be a vampire, and this is something that Harvey has brought to the table. Because he wants to be a vampire, Harvey always wants to bring in this idea that Guillermo is trying to dress the part.

The trench coat is something that was introduced in season two. When he had to do the fighting, that was his Van Helsing moment. Because he’s now the bodyguard, we had to toughen them up even more. We introduced waistcoats! We’re trying to keep him that soft and cuddly and Guillermo,  but at the same time, he is the bodyguard now. So he has a leather waistcoat with his Bandelier of detachable stakes.

Spencer: It’s so ridiculously perfect; I love it.

Our favorite vampire roommates have found themselves in quite the unexpected position – now leading Vampiric Council found in New York. This transition immediately gave sophistication to the character’s costumes, particularly Nandor and Nadja, as they are splitting the leadership role. Can you explain the development of these costumes?

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Photo By Russ Martin – Courtesy of FX

Laura: That was something that came from the writing. The cape is a piece that we’ve had, I think, since season one. But there was a note in the script saying they dress more nicely than usual. We want to keep raising the bar because, in every season, it seems like there’s some sort of fancy thing that happens. 

So for Nandor, that meant the hat. I was seeping the shape of that hat in a lot of paintings. Then for Nadja, it was really fun to blow out the shoulders and make it special.

Spencer: I love it, such an excellent way to start the season. I’m obsessed with these costumes, and I recognized the cape, but just the subtle touch of the hat said everything to me.

Laura- Oh, just wait. I have a favorite costume coming up, and there’s another character’s costume. I just think it’s so hilarious.

Spencer: This isn’t fair; now I am going to want to do this interview all over again in a few weeks! You’ll be hearing from me!

I was excited to see Kristen Schaal return to reprise her role as The Guide, aka as The Floating Woman. I am absolutely in love with her costume! Can we just talk about this costume for a second?

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Laura: In the beginning, I think she only had one or two costumes when we saw her in season one, but already she wore the hat really well. It was a French hood with a veil that she wore in season one. I just decided; she’s obviously a fashionista. So for this season, she has a whole closet because she’s in, I think pretty much every episode. I wanted to play with the silhouettes – she has a lot of structure with a mix of 1600s meets very modern. There were a lot of designer influences – a lot of Alexander McQueen and Gareth Pugh.

Spencer: I must mention the physically younger generation of vampires we saw in Nandor and Nadja’s first official Vampiric Council business outing. A group of vampires calling themselves the Council of Vampires shows themselves to be a minor problem for the official Vampiric Council. From a costume point of view, I thought these scenes were so interesting because they were vampires in more contemporary fashion – wardrobe-wise. Yet they still had that vampire look – how did you approach these scenes from a costume perspective?

Laura: That is such a fun thing about the show is that we have our vampires, but then there are also these contemporary characters. These new vampires, they were young. But then there’s always that idea of how old were they when they turned? So it was very fortunate because the 90s are really in style right now. The 90s are back, and that’s when I was a teenager, so I feel like I know that era so well. It was so fun to see Urban Outfitters have all this stuff I was wearing in high school.

The show is not trendy at all. We always say there’s a fine line, they’re not cheap, but it’s tacky. Our main characters look a little dated compared to the 20s vampires; this was the first time we got to do something a bit more trendy.

What We Do in The Shadows S3 – Courtesy of FX

Spencer When I saw them on screen the first time, I was like, whoa whoa, who are they and what are they wearing!

Laura, I am already in love with this season and the costumes of What We Do In The Shadows. I am so excited to see what’s next and I am also happy to have learned that you will be continuing forward as costume designer into the fourth season as well! I know you can’t reveal much about what’s to come – but I imagine there is a lot to look forward to!

Laura: Everyone says that the scripts are even funnier, and I don’t know how that’s possible. We just started pre-production now, and we start shooting soon, but the scripts are great from what I’ve read!

Spencer: Oh gosh, I am so excited. Until the next time, thank you so much for joining me; I can’t wait until we meet again!

Laura: Oh, you’re welcome! Thank you!

See the costumes of What We Do In The Shadows on Thursdays on FX. Next Day FX on Hulu.

The Queen’s Wardrobe: A Glimpse Into Beth Harmon’s Costumes and The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit brought to our screens an inspiring, emotional and intimate story about a female chess prodigy. It takes place in the late 1950’s and early to mid 1960’s in The United States and around many other countries.

It has received 18 nominations, not only for the outstanding performance of Anya Taylor-Joy, as Elizabeth Harmon, but also for its production and cinematography. The costumes, of course, have not been left behind. Costume Designer Gabriele Binder won a Costume Designers Guild Award for “Excellence in Period Television” and recently won an Emmy Award in the Outstanding Period Costumes Category. With an extraordinary attention to colour, detail, silhouette and building around 80% of the costumes for the series, Gabriele portrayed this decade in a flawless way through Beth Harmon’s costumes.

The Netflix miniseries tells the story of Beth and her journey from becoming an orphan with a tragic past to a chess grandmaster. Along the series, Beth gains courage and confidence to beat anyone that comes in her way. However, she struggles with loneliness, addiction, as well as with power and love. All of this is expressed through the costumes and brings Beth Harmon to life.

Right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

At the show’s beginning, Beth is given a uniform at the orphanage and is forced to wear it for many years. This uniform, a dull grey/brown jumper dress, off-white Peter Pan collared shirt, white socks, and shoes, was a standard uniform during the 1950s. The Peter Pan collar was very popular during this period, and Gabriele used it accurately on many occasions.

Left to right: 1. Isla Johnston as Beth Harmon and Christiane Seidel as Miss Deardoff. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

Later on, in 1963, Beth wins her first chess competition, and with the cash prize, she buys herself a much more stylish plaid pinafore dress. She pairs it with a 3/4 sleeve collared shirt, white bobby socks, and black and white saddle shoes. This is the first time that Beth connects deeply with fashion and actually picks what she wants to wear. Going forward, her outfits and addiction to fashion just get better, making her look confident and empowered.

At this moment, we witness a glimpse of Beth’s wardrobe’s connection to the chessboard: checks, plaids, and geometrical or linear prints. These patterns were also a trend during the 1960s, known as op-art. In most scenes, the background characters’ costumes also include a subtle checkered or plaid pattern—a brilliant and accurate detail from Gabriele that works perfectly for storytelling purposes.

Left to right: 1. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing plaid pinafore dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing checkered dress, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

“Beth Harmon should have felt more confident in a checkered outfit. The contrast of the check print also mirrors the nuances of the game itself—it’s decisive, it’s win or lose” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer.

As Beth starts gaining confidence in her life and in chess, she starts to experiment with fashion and discovers her real style. In Mexico City, 1966, the costumes are just astonishing. She is using warmer colours and often has an A line silhouette that allures more to the 1950’s fashions. As a teenage girl that comes from a small town in USA, this is what was available to her. So, not only her costumes are cohesive with time period and geography, but also make her look secure and professional.

One really interesting point about Beth’s costumes is Gabriele’s attention to detail in necklines and torso. Since Beth is most of the time sitting at the chessboard, she needed to look elegant, interesting and professional. Without the use of any cleavage or jewellery because that could cause distraction. The use of Peter Pan collars (right photo) and checkered details, the buttons on her dress (left photo), are still clever and work perfectly.

Left to right: 1. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing dress with checkered buttons. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Mathew Dennis-Lewis as Matt, Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, Russell Dennis-Lewis as Mike. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

By 1967, Beth goes to Ohio and New York City before heading to Paris. Her costumes are slowly jumping to the ‘60s, with more interesting prints and mini skirts, making her look more confident and comfortable in her environment. One of the designer’s favorite looks is a casual white and black t-shirt flared jeans. This outfit is a rather repetitive look through the episodes, and it’s what she wears when feeling comfortable. Her headbands add an interesting touch to her feminine looks and make her hair look amazing.

“We wanted Beth Harmon’s late 1950s, early 1960s look to be a little bit backwards on purpose—that way we could clearly show the moment when she catches up with the modern day in New York where she discovers how young people in her generation are living.” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer shares with Vogue

In three pictures: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

In Paris, Beth’s love for fashion becomes more evident. Being now in the world’s Fashion Capital, her looks are more elegant, structural, and linear. The so popular 1960’s minidress, which we first see on Cleo, makes her look older and like a true fashion icon. For these episodes, Costume Designer Gabriele Binder incorporated references from Pierre Cardin. The mint green bow dress (the one she wore on her match with Borgov) resembled the pill colors and was made from a light crepe. The colors and fabric contributed to show how unstable and fragile she was at this particular moment, which at the same time symbolized the way she was slowly destroying herself with her addictions.

Left to right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing Pierre Cardin inspiration dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing her “pill” dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix.

When Beth encounters total loneliness and failure, she jumps into a self-destructive spiral. She feels lost and insecure, which transforms her appearance entirely, and we see her for the first time wearing pastel colors. The choice of this pink cardigan and baby blue camisole can be a way of grieving her late Mother, Alma, because these were colors she (Alma) ordinarily worn. In addition to this, we see her copying the style and makeup of a singer that she sees on TV. Impeccable detail in this costume is her hat. This is the first time we see Beth wearing a hat, probably trying to hide her red hair, which has always made her stand out from the crowd.

Left to right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing her pastel look. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing her rebel look. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix.

Gabriele’s attention to color was a huge point during the creation of these costumes. Beth’s costumes centered on one particular color, pale green. This color is the one she is wearing in Episode 1 when she first arrives at the orphanage. It symbolized “home” but made her look weak and fragile. By the end of the show, at her final match with Borvog, Beth is wearing a wool collared dress in the exact same color. It makes her look so strong and sophisticated that we can see how the color transformed with her and how she is once again “home.” Also, it is a color that contrasts but extraordinarily compliments her red hair.

“We wanted to use this colour to show that she finally feels confident and that her mother is with her. At this moment, she is not afraid of the man she has been most afraid of. In the beginning, it’s a colour that makes her really fragile, but in the end, the same colour is a sign of her strength; it is symbolic of a homecoming.” -Gabriele Binder, Costume Designer shares with Vogue

Left to right: 1. Beth’s embroidered dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix 2. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing wool collared dress. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

Vintage pieces from the decade inspire the final coats that we see her wearing in Moscow. The checkered coat, which Binder called “Beth’s Pride Coat,” is what she wears to leave the tournament in Moscow. “It was a beautiful vintage piece that we found, which I believe was designed by André Courrèges for an American designer as part of a collaboration. This was a very self-confident piece; we wanted the visuals of a strong decision referenced by the checks”. Courrèges was one of the first to use op-art aesthetics in his collections, so it is evident how his stamp was used throughout the whole show as an accurate reference. Also, these final outfits have inspiration from Jaqueline Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn, two icons from the era.

By the end, Beth Harmon is The White Queen of the chess world. She has conquered what she came looking for and has demonstrated how strong, determined, intelligent, and talented she can be. This final look is also referencing the work of André Courrèges. She is wearing a black long-sleeve turtleneck, white straight trousers, white leather ankle boots, knee-length white wool coat with stand collar, white cap, and leather gloves. Her elegance and simplicity make her look absolutely stunning. This final look is the perfect way to finish the story of Beth’s character. It summarizes her whole path, her style, her strength, and her symbolism with chess. 

Left to right: Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing checkered coat. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix. Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon wearing The White Queen outfit. The Queen’s Gambit. Photo: © Netflix

Gabriele Binder and her talented crew brought together an impeccable wardrobe for a Netflix limited series that we will never forget. They were able to bring together pieces from chess, fashion, addiction, empowerment, and the beautiful and iconic ‘50s and 60’s to our screens. They told the story of a strong and out-of-the-ordinary chess player and made her the Beth Harmon that we will never forget. Thank you for reviving this decade and perfectly telling such a good story.

If you would like to hear more about The Queen’s Gambit’s costumes, go and check The Art of Costume Blogcast.


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2021 Emmys Roundtable – Outstanding Period Costumes

Spencer: Hey Team! Thank you so much for being here. There is SO much great costume design in the Outstanding Period Costumes category this year. I also think it is safe to say Period Costumes is the favorite here at The Art of Costume, so I know you all have many thoughts! Let’s go around and talk about your favorites and why! Let’s start with Mariana, a big fan of period costumes!

Mariana: Hi everyone! Well, where to begin? I am a fan of period pieces, and this year’s nominees filled my heart with pure joy. One of my favorites will be The Queen’s Gambit, designed by Gabriele Binder. There is so much drama and passion in these costumes, which at the same time are accurate to the time period and work brilliantly for storytelling purposes. I love how Beth’s style transforms through the years and cities she visits and tells us who she really is! 

My second favorite will have to be The Crown, designed by Amy Roberts. Every single costume worn on this TV Show has always been a masterpiece, and this season, with Princess Diana’s stunning wedding dress, was beyond what I imagined! 

Spencer: Two brilliant choices Mariana! Let’s hear from Candice next.

Candice: I will say typically, Regency-era costumes are not my favorite. However, I was hooked on Bridgerton when the first trailer was released. Ellen Mirojnick and John W. Glaser’s take and designs on the era have made me reconsider my previous opinions on the time frame. I am a HUGE fan of the Featherington Family and their costumes in particular. The bright, bold colors and embellishments drew me in. A close second would be the costumes designed for the Queen. 

Speaking of Queens, The Queen’s Gambit’s costumes were beyond words. The subtle nods to chess within the costumes were brilliant while conveying the complicated character’s nuances.

This is such a hard category, Ratched was awe-inspiring, and the show with their costume contest saved Halloween during a pandemic while many were unable to be creative with friends. Halloween is my favorite holiday and the costumes that fans re-created during October last year were a testament to Lou Eyrichs’s talent and storytelling through clothes. 

Spencer: Ah yes, Ratched was such a great show. I need it to come back like now… Elizabeth I would love to hear your picks.

Elizabeth: Hello everyone! There were so many good period pieces this year, but I really loved Bridgeton, and the costumes immediately grabbed my attention. The Regency era is a particular favorite of mine, and I loved how Ellen Mirojnick and John W. Glaser truly brought the costumes to life. While the overall style and silhouettes of the costumes remain faithful to the Regency era, the designers fill them with color and embellishments that bring a modern, energetic flare to Bridgeton. 

A close second favorite this year is The Queen’s Gambit. While not the flashy, attention-grabbing drama Bridgeton is, Gabriele Binder creates a thoughtful, meaningful wardrobe that reflects its heroine’s inner passions and feelings. 

Spencer: Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit seem quit popular here! Thank you Elizabeth, now I would love to hear from Csilla!

Csilla: Hey Everyone! It is tough to choose just one from this category; all the shows and their costume designers were terrific! But if I had to choose one, my favorite has to be Ratched. That show had such a brilliant color palette, and the costumes from Lou Eyrich were just stunning. I love the end of the 40s, the beginning of the 50s era, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so I was excited to see the back story of Nurse Ratched. The aesthetic of the whole show was beautiful but dangerous and scary, and these mixed feelings about the characters were present in every silhouette, even in the uniforms. 

My close second favorite is the Queen’s Gambit. I agree with the rest of the team on that completely. Such wonderful designs from Gabriele Binder. 

Spencer: Thank you so much Csilla. Well, I guess it’s my turn!

My favorite costumes within this category are easily to Netflix’s Halston, with costumes designed by Jeriana San Juan. I fell in love with this show, primarily because of the costuming. She had so much ground to cover, so many decades of research, and brought it all together perfectly. The tie-dye collection, ultra-suede shirt dresses, The Battle of Versailles, Studio 54, Martha Graham’s Persephone – there was so much, and every single costume stood strong. On top of all of the brilliant costuming, Jeriana also worked alongside actor Ewan McGregor to teach him the ways of the designer, coaching him through the process of becoming Halston

Halston – Courtesy of Netflix

This is Jeriana’s year in my opinion, but I am still in love with every other nominated show in this category – literally, all of them were amazing. It’s a tough call!

Thank you all so much for joining me! I can’t wait to see how this all plays out!

Vote For Your Favorite Period Costumes Below!

2021 Emmys Roundtable – Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes

Spencer: Hey Team! Thank you so much for being here. There is SO much great costume design in the Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes category this year. On a personal note, this is always my favorite category, so I am just beyond excited. Let’s go around and talk about your favorites, and why! Let’s start with Candice!

Candice: I loved Lovecraft Country. Dayna Pink’s costumes are genius. It was the only reason I paid for an HBO subscription. 

WandaVision was another favorite of mine. I usually am not a fan of the ’70s, but I am obsessed with Geraldine’s 70’s ensemble from episode 3. However, I loved it even more after listening to Spencer and Elizabeth’s podcast. I never noticed the subtle hints through costume when I watched it each week. I had many “Oh My, how did I miss that” moments when listening to the podcast.  

Umbrella Academy is a top favorite of mine.  The oddball characters were brilliantly executed. I need every costume designed for Kate Walsh, the Handler, in my closet now. Christopher Hargadon did a great job!

Spencer: Candice, I couldn’t agree more. All of your picks were so fun! Now I would love to hear from Elizabeth. You and I share a great love for Fantasy/Sci-Fi! What were some of your favorites this year?

Elizabeth: Hey everyone! My personal favorite this year has to be WandaVision. While it’s not a classic Sci-Fi show in visual terms, the costumes in WandaVision help tell a complex story of how we process grief. In its nominated episode, Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience, Wanda is in the denial stage of her grief and is creating her idealized version of the perfect 1950’s sitcom. The costumes are soft with full fluffy skirts, frilly aprons, and feathery lingerie create a cocoon for Wanda, sheltering her from her grief. Mayes C. Rubeo truly turns emotions into costume and I love that about WandaVsion

WandaVision – Courtesy of Disney +

Spencer: Such a great point Elizabeth. WandaVision was filled with so much symbolism.

For me, I am a HUGE fan of Dayna Pink and her work on Lovecraft Country. This was by far one of my favorite shows of the year, and I thought Dayna did such an incredible job. Dayna not only mastered the 1950’s period costume, but she also had to work with lots of time traveling – exploring the 1920’s, The Korean War, The Kingdom of Dahomey, and the future! Not to mention all of the horror elements that led to much aging and dyeing of costumes. I would personally love to see Dayna win this year’s award.

However, we all know I am a huge nerd. I LOVED WandaVision – it gave me so much life. I also was obsessed with the second season of The Mandalorian. Shawna Trpcic has such an exciting task, bringing to life so many characters we love in animated worlds such as Ahsoka Tano or bringing back huge fan favorites such as Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker. This is a tough category.

Spencer: Thank you both for joining me! Before you go, do you have any good sci-fi /fantasy shows or films to recommend?

Candice: I recommend and loved The Nevers. It is period mixed with SciFi. The Victorian-inspired costumes and setting are as intriguing as the storyline. I want to rewatch The Witcher before the premiere of Season 2. I love Motherland: Fort Salem on Free Form. The story of witches is told from a different angle, witch militia, working with the military and against other witches. Stranger Things season 1-3 if you haven’t watched it and have to wait an eternity like the rest of us for the next season. I am currently watching and enjoying Fantasy Island. Each guest who visits the island learns the fantasy they want is different than what they need. 

Elizabeth: I can not recommend Doom Patrol enough! It’s SciFi and superheroes dialed to a hundred with a great balance of comedy and drama. Also, the costumes are diverse and interesting in every episode.
Spencer: If you are not watching What We Do In The Shadows, you are seriously missing out. The new season is out, and costume designer Laura Montgomery is doing a fabulous job! Check it out!

Vote For Your Favorite Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes Below!

2021 Emmys Roundtable – Outstanding Contemporary Costumes

Spencer: Hey Team! Thank you so much for being here. There is SO much excellent costume design in the Outstanding Contemporary Costumes category this year. I honestly have no idea which way the award will go; everyone here is so deserving! Before I start blabbing on, let’s go around and talk about your favorites and why! Let’s start with Jada!

Jada: Hi everybody! I’m so excited to be here. I agree; despite the obstacles faced this past year, contemporary costume design has flourished! I’m not sure who’s going to win either, but there were so many that caught my eye. 

One of my favorites would be bBlack-ish! I love this show and have always resonated with the costumes because they are so colorful and lively, similar to my personal style. I’m also a huge pop culture fan, and costume designer Michelle Cole does a great job portraying those references in her work!  

I also adored Analucia McGorty’s work on Pose. Similar to black-ish, the costumes are exuberant. They tell a story and are full of character and personality. From angel wings and roses to fringes and feathers, it’s impossible not to love them! 

Euphoria is excellent as always. Heidi Bivens captures Gen Z perfectly and manages to stay on top of trends and set new ones simultaneously. 

And lastly, The Politician stood out to me because of its unique take on business-wear. Business attire in the political climate can be monotonous, but Claire Parkinson introduced pastels, neons, and bold patterns.   

Spencer: Jada, you and I tend to favorite the same shows and today was no exception. Now I would love to hear from Candice. You are quite a fan of contemporary costuming! What were some of your favorites this year?

Candice: I am excited about this category because they are all great and different. Michelle Cole is brilliant, and I still stand by what I said last year; I wish I were as cool as her and the characters she designs. I  also loved The Politician and how their costumes and the evolution from season 1 to 2.  

Hacks was also great. I loved the patterns, sparkle, and Kathleen Felix-Hager’s take on luxury leisure. The costumes throughout could have easily stolen the scenes, but instead, they added additional layers to the character Deborah, played by Jean Smart

I would say, though, that I am particularly excited about Meghan Kasperlik’s costumes in Mare of Easttown (which also stars Jean Smart). I think costumes in shows like Mare of Easttown are often overlooked when it comes to awards for costumes.

Spencer: All brilliant choices!  I have to say, this is such a strong category. I have so many favorites. Quite difficult, really! However, I am a big fan of Analucia McGorty and her work on Pose. Pose was such a monumental, groundbreaking show and Analucia understood the assignment. Every costume was so detailed and fully realized. She brought the 80’s/90s ballroom scene to life, giving this story such color and vibrancy – while also delivering on a very important message that ever human on Earth should hear.

At the same time, I just love Michelle Cole. Her work on black-ish has been remarkable, and the episode “Our Wedding Dre” was just so beautiful. I would love to see her take the Emmy! It’s long overdue!

A surprise to me was Mare of Easttown. At first sight, the costumes might seem a bit drab. But once I started to watch the show, I realized how brilliant a storyteller costume designer Meghan Kasperlik was. She brought such a feeling of authenticity to these characters and this setting. I was so impressed and it reminded how much power contemporary costume design really has in terms of storytelling. Brilliant work!

Spencer: Thank you both for joining me. Before you leave, any tv show recommendations?

Jada: Thank you for having us. I enjoyed this discussion! On top of these brilliant shows, there are a few I’d love to share. If you’re into drama, I’d recommend watching A Million Little Things, This Is Us, and Rebel. A Million Little Things is incredibly heartwarming as it follows a group of friends while they deal with life after losing their friend. This Is Us is beautifully written and it centers around the Pearson family as they deal with the loss of their father.  And Rebel, even though it was unfortunately canceled, served as a symbol of women’s empowerment and inspired so many people, including me, to stand up for others and fight for justice. 

Of course, if you like romance and/or reality television, I highly suggest watching the Bachelor Franchise, including The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and the Bachelor in Paradise. They’re all filled with drama, never-ending surprises, and unforgettable moments. And you can join Bachelor Nation on Twitter as we share memes and tweet all night long when the episodes air!

Candice: I agree with Jada; I loved the Rebel. I watched too much TV and could probably talk for hours about recommendations, but Cruel Summer was a stand out. Costume Designer Taneia Lednicky’s 90s costumes were terrific. The story covers three different summers and how the characters changed from 93, 94, and 95. Those transitions appear effortless in every episode. 

While I am still upset that The Bold Type completed its final season, I recommend it for anyone who hasn’t watched. However, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect Costume Designer, Mandi Line, to complete the final season. I am also a huge fan of Salvador Perez, so season 2 of Never Have I Ever is also on my recommendation list. 

Spencer: Well Ill be honest, my favorite show right now is Naked and Afraid XL… so I guess there aren’t a lot of costumes. Thank you all for joining me!

Vote For Your Favorite Contemporary Costumes Below!

WandaVision: Costumes and First Impressions

August 23rd just passed, so you know what that means…it’s WandaVision time! Now brace yourself because this may come as a shock, but I must confess that I’ve never seen WandaVision. I know it’s a shame. Even my little 6-year-old cousin has watched it and talks about how great it is. So I decided to turn my embarrassment into a fun article!

For context, WandaVision is a sitcom-style show centered around two Avengers: Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen), also known as Scarlet Witch, and Vision (played by Paul Bettany). After getting married, Wanda and Vision move to a suburban area where they attempt to conceal their superhero identity and blend in with the rest of the “normal” community — or so they think. In this premiere episode that we’ll be talking about, titled “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience,” Wanda and Vision see that their calendar is marked with a heart for August 23rd. Wanda and Vision can’t remember what special event is happening, and they continue throughout their day trying to figure out what it is.

WandaVision has been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, specifically for this episode, so I thought it’d be cool to share my first thoughts and impressions of some of the costumes and, after further research, see if it connected to costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo’s actual thought process while creating them.

Wanda’s Costumes

It’s important to note that this episode takes place all in one day. First impression: The first costume that Wanda is seen wearing is a stunning wedding gown as she and Vision are moving into their new home. It’s also in black and white, so it’s hard to tell what exact color each costume is, but I tried to imagine what color they were, and for this one, I came up with white. As soon as I saw this dress, I couldn’t help but notice the shape. It has your typical voluminous skirt, but from the waist up, the silhouette resembles a trapezoid, reminding me of the style of clothes from the 1950s. Combined with her tight curls and pearl necklace, I believe that the 1950s inspired Rubeo.  

Wanda has the most outfits in this episode, sporting three more costumes I call: the kitchen dress, the lingerie gown, and the fancy bow dress. Wanda wears the kitchen dress for a while, specifically around the house while Vision is at work and when their new neighbor, Agnes (played by Kathryn Hahn), comes over to welcome her. At first, I thought this dress was one entire piece, including the apron-like piece, which I assumed was attached to it. It also gave me 1950s-inspired vibes, especially with the A-line skirt and outline of the collar and sleeves. As for the color, I imagined that the main dress was pastel yellow and the apron was white.  

Now let’s step away from the 1950s for a little bit and travel back to the 1920s-1930s. That’s the period I thought of when I first saw the lingerie gown, which I also assumed was white. While Vision is at work, Agnes comes over and chats with Wanda for a while. Wanda and Agnes conclude that the day is special because it’s Wanda and Vision’s anniversary (even though they don’t have one) and decides to treat Vision to a special night.

After a classic sitcom miscommunication on the phone, Wanda comes downstairs to greet Vision in this intimate look, only to find out that it’s not their anniversary but the day where Vision’s boss Mr. Hart (played by Fred Melamed and Mr. Hart’s wife (played by Debra Jo Rupp) are coming over for dinner. Wanda is surprised by the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Hart and quickly closes the plunging neckline.

The dress has a different shape and looks from the first two dresses, stepping away from the shapely silhouette and bringing more movement and flow to the costume. It seems like it was inspired by the glamourous Old Hollywood, mainly because of the fur on her cuffs. It also looks like Marilyn Monroe had some influence on the costume, looking similar to Monroe’s infamous white dress with the plunging neckline. This revealing gown is the complete opposite of the conservative style of the 1950s, which she quickly changes to with the snap of her fingers as soon as Vision explains to her what’s going on. 

Wanda finishes off the rest of the episode wearing an off-the-shoulder dress, the same shape as the wedding and kitchen dress. It has a bow in the front, and I imagined that it’s pastel pink. This happens to be the part where I learned that the apron-like piece on the kitchen dress wasn’t attached to it because Wanda can be seen wearing the apron with this dress. This dress, along with the lingerie dress, were my top two favorite costumes of this episode!

The Truth: It turns out that the 1950s inspired Rubeo in this episode! As the show progresses, each episode takes on a different decade and pulls from popular sitcoms of each period. According to an interview with FIDM Museum Associate Joanna Abijaoude, Rubeo states that the director Matt Shakman and the creators of WandaVision already knew what sitcoms each era was going to be based on. The team was influenced by The Dick Van Dyke Show I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch (which I watch every Sunday), and Bewitched, all of the 1950s and 60s. Rubeo grew up watching these sitcoms in Spanish, so she was already familiar with them!  

She also talks about how Wanda’s wedding dress was inspired by a late 1950s movie called Funny Face. Rubeo wanted to portray Wanda as actress Audrey Hepburn, and she did an outstanding job! Wanda’s wedding dress has the same structure and trapezoid shape as Hepburn’s.

As for the kitchen and fancy bow dress, I was incorrect about them being inspired by the 1950s. The dresses were based on the 1960s, as mentioned by Rubeo in an interview with the Gold Derby editor Rob Licuria. Rubeo talks about the process behind the kitchen and fancy bow dress and her relationship with vintage fabric, stating, “I’m a huge fan of using real vintage fabric when you’re creating a vintage costume. And that helps a lot when you’re making something with the real fabric. It’s going to fall in the same way that you imagine or stays in the same way that you imagine, like the 60s dresses for Wanda when we got the housewife dress and the dinner dress, and they were made with the wonderful vintage fabric. It makes a difference.”  

Something that I also got wrong was the color of the costumes. With the kitchen dress, it wasn’t yellow as I imagined. It’s mint-colored with a beautiful pastel yellow, green, and white apron. Rubeo mentioned to Licuria that this particular costume almost blended with the set of the show. She had to work closely with the production design team to ensure that costumes didn’t disappear in the background. For this specific dress, she ended up having to outline the collar on the dress, which is where the black outline came from.

Since the show is in black and white, Rubeo used a very creative technique to get the costume colors just right on the screen – mainly to avoid that from happening again. She would take a picture of the fabric using her phone and put it on the monochrome filter, which gave her the same shade of gray that you would see on the screen.   

Along with the kitchen dress, the party dress also isn’t what I thought it was. There wasn’t much information about the lingerie dress or if it had any exact inspiration, but I was able to confirm that it’s white! It was also mint-colored but made with a vintage taffeta fabric from India, staying true to Rubeo’s belief of using vintage materials.

Vision’s Costumes

First impression: Vision’s costumes were the complete opposite of Wanda’s. His suits looked darker, almost as if the costume designers wanted there to be a stark contrast between the two. It’s important to note that since Vision is a robot and needs to hide his identity, he transforms into a human several times throughout the episode, which is why it may seem as though two different figures are wearing the exact same outfit.

Vision wears his first suit only in the sitcom-style introduction as he and Wanda are first moving into their new home after getting married. What’s very interesting about the suit (which I assumed was gray) is the pattern. It didn’t give me a 1950s feel, but it made me believe that there was some modern influence.

The next suit, however, did remind me of the 1950s. Vision wears this suit for the rest of the episode, including while he’s at work and when he comes home for dinner. There didn’t appear to be a pattern on this suit, but I also assumed that it was gray. The tie was also unique. It had a rectangle with two dots inside and one dot outside of the rectangle on each side. I’m not sure what it represented, but I feel it was significant to him being a superhero. I also thought it was funny how Vision wears Wanda’s apron while trying to help her cook dinner. It challenged the stereotypical ideals of the 1950s. What a nice touch!

The Truth: I guessed the costume right again! Both Vision’s wedding suit and work suit were gray. And although I didn’t guess the colors of the ties, the work suit tie turned out to be burgundy. Not much has been said about the possible superhero design, but it matched the tie that the Vision POP! figure wears, and there have also been speculations about ties to Doctor Strange 2

Along with Doctor Strange, Vision’s costumes have connections to other shows as well. As mentioned with Wanda’s costumes, Rubeo was influenced by many sitcoms, including I Love Lucy. There is a significant reference from I Love Lucy where Vision cooks and wears Wanda’s apron while she’s in the main room entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Hart. In the episode of I Love Lucy titled “Job Switching,” Lucy’s husband Ricky and his best friend Fred switch roles with Lucy and her best friend Ethel after arguing over whether earning money or being a housewife is harder. In one specific scene, Ricky and Fred can both be seen wearing aprons while cooking in the kitchen, which perfectly mirrors Vision’s scene in WandaVision.  I love these references! Long with Doctor Strange,  Vision’s costumes have connections to other shows as well.

Agnes’s Costumes  

First impression: I don’t know what this dress is, but it perfectly describes Agnes’ character. Agnes is Wanda and Vision’s new neighbor. She and Wanda first meet when she comes over to welcome Wanda to the neighborhood. The bold plaid pattern perfectly aligns with her personality as she’s very outgoing, nosy, funny, and loves to gossip. She also wears what looks like a black belt. Even though this is Agnes’ only look, she doesn’t seem like a person who would wear very bright colors or anything similar to Wanda’s style.

With that, I assumed that this dress was either black and white or navy blue and white. When she returns later on the episode to deliver a pineapple for their upside-down cake, she wears what I assume is a black capelet. This dress has the same silhouette as Wanda’s wedding, lingerie, and fancy bow dress, so I felt the 1950s inspired this look.

The Truth: I was thrilled to see Rubeo’s process behind Agnes’ costume because it was very similar to what I guessed! Agnes’ dress is darker, just as I imagined. According to the same interview with Joanna Abijaoude, Rubeo states that she made Agnes have very strong contrast in comparison to Wanda and that she “made it [the contrast] in a subliminal way so when she knocks on the door, and you see this like powerful contrast, it’s ominous that this person is not going to bring out peaceful contribution.” It’s so fascinating how Rubeo conveyed the specific energy or mood just by their clothes. And the fact that she does so without the audience even being able to see the actual colors of their costumes is incredible. 

One aspect of her outfit that I did completely miss, though, was Agnes’ medallion. Rubeo was asked about any hidden easter eggs or details in the costumes of WandaVision that she could tell everyone about to which she says is the medallion. Rubeo mentioned that she designed and created the medallion intending to hint into the future of Agnes’ character, stating that, “The medallion is a classic cameo medallion, and it has a figure of two ladies. Usually, this kind of medallion portrays the three graces in life. But if you look closer, these three ladies are burning. They’re at the stake, and this represents the three witches that she was burning with.”

Later in the season, Agnes turns out to be Agatha Harkness, a powerful Marvel witch.  Rubeo’s ability to provide that subtle hint and foreshadow is admirable. And what’s even more impressive is that this medallion is in almost every costume that Agnes wears throughout the show, except for an aerobic scene they did; what a well-thought-out detail! That shows how much thought was put into her look.

Ending 

My little cousin was right. This show has won me over. I’m absolutely in love with these costumes and cannot stress enough how extremely talented Mayes C. Rubeo and her team are! I am a huge lover of symbolism and storytelling, and I am in awe of how Rubeo and the entire creative team conveyed that. With television shows and films being full of vibrant colors nowadays, it’s not usual for shows to be black and white. But this was such a unique experience, and being able to imagine each costume and envision what they look like in real life opened my mind and enabled me to be even more creative. If you haven’t seen this show yet, please stream it now on Disney Plus! And for more information on the costumes throughout the entire season, please click here to listen to The Art of Costume Blogcast!


Check out these sources for more on WandaVision!

Bojalad, Alec. “Wandavision: The Sitcom Influences of Episodes 1 and 2.” WandaVision: The Sitcom Influences of Episodes 1 and 2, Den of Geek, 9 Feb. 2021, www.denofgeek.com/tv/wandavision-sitcom-influences-dick-van-dyke/

Chitwood, Adam, and Adam Chitwood (15911 Articles Published) . “See How ‘Wandavision’ Was Filmed in Front of a Live Audience in New Featurette.” See How ‘WandaVision’ Was Filmed in Front of a Live Audience in New Featurette, 15 Jan. 2021, collider.com/how-wandavision-was-filmed-in-front-of-an-audience-explained/. 

FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Creating The Costumes of WandaVision, With Costume Designer Mayes C. RubeoYouTube, YouTube, 24 June 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZNQeTX2JRs&t=33s

Howard, Kirsten. “Wandavision May Have Already Shown Us Its Doctor Strange 2 Connection.” Den of Geek, Den of Geek, 18 Jan. 2021, http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/wandavision-doctor-strange-villain-theory/.

The Costume Designers Guild. “Design through Time: The Costumes of Mayes C. Rubeo.” YouTube, YouTube, 24 July 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSVwYS6jS5A&t=400s

A Style-ish Wedding: Contemporary Costumes of Black-ish

If I had to sum up my entire childhood in two words, it would be Michelle Cole, the talented costume designer behind many of the shows that I watched and was inspired by growing up. She worked on some of my favorites, such as Martin, The Steve Harvey Show, and The Bernie Mac Show. She even styled two of my favorite musicians: Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder. All of her hard work and dedication paid off, earning her 8 Emmy nominations in total, with 4 of those being from from the costumes of Black-ish — a show that’s been such a huge part of me and my family’s lives for so long. 

Black-ish, created by Kenya Barris, is a show that Barris’ own family inspires. It centers around the Johnsons: an upper-middle-class African American family consisting of Andre ‘Dre’ (played by Anthony Anderson), Rainbow ‘Bow’ (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) and their five children — Zoey (played by Yara Shahidi), Andre Jr ‘Junior’ (played by Marcus Scribner), twins Diane (played by Marsai Martin) and Jack (played by Miles Brown) and Devante (played by twins Berlin and August Gross). It follows the family as they navigate life while dealing with racism, work, school, relationships, and finding their identity. The entire cast is phenomenal, and I love how real the show is. Filled with much-needed life lessons, it’s not afraid to “go there” with serious topics, and it isn’t concerned about what others will think of it. 

That’s exactly why I admire Cole. Her ability to step outside of the box and try new things when it comes to her designs is what makes her so iconic. Cole demonstrates this throughout the show, especially in some of the most unforgettable episodes, such as “Purple Rain,” where she pays homage to Prince by recreating looks from his career. “Juneteenth,” where she sends the Johnson family back in time to commemorate the significant holiday, and “The Prank King,” where she helps the Johnson family win Halloween in their costume as, The Jackson 5. But she also does so in a more recent episode titled “Our Wedding Dre,” where her latest Emmy nomination for Outstanding Contemporary Costume comes from.  

This episode focuses on Dre’s mother, Rubeline “Ruby” Johnson (played by Jenifer Lewis), and father Earl “Pops” Johnson (played by Laurence Fishburne), who is getting remarried after their rekindled romance. Pop’s brother, Uncle Norman (played by Danny Glover), makes an unexpected appearance with his family before the wedding, stirring problems between the two. But after some emotional talks and reconciliations, the families come together at the end for a stylish and heartwarming, socially distanced wedding.

I am fascinated by the colors and patterns in the wedding scene. Black-ish always manages to make their episodes visually appealing, especially with its radiant and eye-catching costumes. Cole makes a complete 180 from typical wedding color palettes and creates something new and exciting. Because of all the time and effort that she’s put in to bring this show to life, it’s a must that we applaud her and her work in this episode, as well as appreciate how much work goes into contemporary costume design. 

Contemporary costumes can be overlooked and forgotten in the fashion industry. Because they’re not typical period pieces, connecting to them can be more challenging for people. Some people may view them as simple or boring, and they may not be able to bring out as many memories or feelings of nostalgia as period pieces would. But there’s more to contemporary design than we think. Cole describes the entire behind-the-scenes process in an interview with Kevin Jacobsen from Gold Derby, stating that, “It’s a very fast-moving show” and “We have a lot of fun doing it, but it is a lot of work and you really have to concentrate.”

She also walks through each step, starting with the script where she and her team, including her talented ACD (assistant costume designer) Stanley Hudson, whom she never fails to mention, break it down to figure out what each character is going through to wear. Next, the team goes through the actors’ closets, and once they’re finished, they go shopping before the scenes are shot so that when it’s time to start filming, they can pull from what they already have. While the show is filming, Cole continues to shop with her crew, where they set off in search of fabrics and later move into colors and textures. And this is all done within five days or even less!

A fascinating approach that Cole talks about is how she attempts to dress Tracee Ellis Ross first and then has everyone else’s costume be based on hers! And each character is said to have about 6-8 outfit changes or more per show, which adds to the intensity of the process. Now keep in mind that this episode was aired during the pandemic, so not only did the crew have to be super cautious while working, but they also had to get super creative. There weren’t many clothes in the stores, so they didn’t have many options to choose from. But they still managed to work with what they had and did a stellar job! And to top that all off, Cole was working on two other shows: #BlackAF and Grown-ish at the same time. Talk about a superwoman!

Now that we’ve been backstage let’s talk about the final looks onscreen! Ruby’s wedding dress — or should I say work of art — immediately caught my eye. Even Jenifer Lewis herself talked about how excited she was about the dress more than anything else. It’s not a traditional, white wedding gown that most people are used to. Cole and Hudson completely reinvented this classic attire, adding vibrant colors, multiple pieces, and a striking pattern – which perfectly matched Ruby’s powerful personality. And they did so in 2 weeks!

A big part of making the costume was getting input from Lewis herself, which is such a great practice, especially since it makes the actors feel more comfortable and connected to their costumes. Hudson came up with some drawings of their designs for the dress and showed them to Lewis, noting that she loves pants and loves to cover her elbows. Cole and Hudson incorporated those features into the outfit, with the off-the-shoulder peplum pantsuit shaping Lewis perfectly and emphasizing her beauty and grace. The ruffled sleeves at her elbows and the train on the skirt add volume to the look, creating a dramatic effect and accentuating her. The skirt is detachable, too, allowing Ruby to dance freely for the reception.

And both Cole and Hudson made sure to tie in African culture as well, using African Kente cloth fabric alongside the other African references in the episode, including “Jumping the Broom” and the “Money Dance” tradition. The fabric came from an African clothing store, Ashanti Fabrics, that Cole and her team found in downtown Los Angeles. Ruby wears a matching Kente cloth headwrap as well, which she personally requested.

A little black-ish lesson on Kente cloth: it actually has a mythological background. It’s said that two young men stumbled upon Anansi the Spider (also known as Ananse) and were captivated by the beautiful web that he had spun. After completing a few favors, Anansi taught the men how to weave like him, and the men brought their knowledge back to the village of Bonwire in Ghana – where Kente weaving most notably originated. At first, the cloth was reserved for the royals of the Ashanti people (a major tribe of the Akans who are an ethnic group in West Africa).

Still, it eventually spread out, being used worldwide from HBCU (Historically Black College/University) graduations to huge movies such as Black Panther. The colors of Kente cloth have significant meanings as well. The ones in Ruby’s dress represent peace and love (blue), purity (white), royalty (gold), and ancestral spirituality (black), which perfectly sum up the elements of marriage. Along with orange, which is seen throughout the dress, there’s also a stunning orange lining in the dress, with the fabric being from Mood Fabrics in New York.  

Alongside Ruby is her groom, Earl. Earl is a pretty straightforward man who is never afraid to share his opinion. He’s been through a lot and puts up a tough front, but deep inside, he has a soft spot, and we’re able to see him put his guard down at the wedding. The contrast between Ruby’s flamboyant outfit and Earl’s solid suit also shows his love for Ruby, in which he was willing to take a step back and let her shine on their special day. But this African-inspired, navy-blue suit with silk pockets still speaks volumes, portraying Pops as an African King. The well-tailored suit captures Pops stature perfectly, and the asymmetrical design gives it the right amount of uniqueness.

The two costumes complement each other so well, even much so that Lewis herself commented on her impression of the suit with The Root, stating that “When I saw Laurence in his groom attire, we both teared up. It was as if we were getting married. As if Jenifer Lewis and Laurence Fishburne were getting married.” That is how much of an effect Cole, Hudson, and the entire team had on the actors — and the audience too! 

Following Ruby and Earl, are Dre and Bow, who never let me down in the fashion department. Dre wears a custom-made classic suit similar in color to his father’s. His striped button-up shirt, patterned tie, and handkerchief add variety to the outfit. I also love the double pocket detail on the right side, which you don’t usually see on suits.  And just as Ruby and Earl’s costumes match their personalities, Dre’s does too with his white sneakers. He’s known to be a sneakerhead, owning an impressive shoe collection that’s displayed in his closet. So it was very fitting that he’s not wearing Oxfords.

This is another factor that costumers have to think about when it comes to contemporary costume design. You have to know each character well and keep up with their life, ensuring that their style is consistent with their personalities and development, even if they’re already adults. Cole and Hudson do a great job of this, making sure that each character’s costume stays true to their identity. This is shown with Bow as well. She has always been fashionable, displaying a classy and timeless style with high-end pieces from brands such as Balenciaga and Zara. And this wedding wasn’t an exception. Not only did she serve as the wedding officiant, but she served looks in this Rachel Comey outfit featuring a metallic Mirar Jacquard tie-knot top and matching pleated pants along with a fuchsia-colored, marble print blazer. 

The Johnson kids on the set of Black-ish – Courtesy of ABC

Just like their parents, the Johnson kids are always in style. What’s so fascinating about them is how each of their personalities is so similar yet so different at the same time. It’s almost as if each character is influenced by at least one other family member’s style while also trying to find their own fashion sense. For example, the eldest siblings Zoey and Junior.

Zoey is very sophisticated, laid-back, and independent. She mirrors her mother in her wear, trying out different prints and patterns while also maintaining a business look full of button-up shirts and blouses. This style continues through her spin-off show, Grown-ish, along with some experimenting, where Zoey is actually a stylist herself. Zoey returns home to celebrate the special day in this episode, wearing a green, A.L.C, long-sleeve Tavi pleated dress with a black belt and gold buckle. This dress is so beautiful, sleek, and elegant, perfectly matching Zoey’s poise. 

On the other hand, Junior is very quirky, nerdy, and at times uptight, making him the butt of the family jokes. But he’s matured a lot throughout the years: taking care of his siblings, standing up for himself, and even handling being in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Olivia Lockhart (played by Katlyn Nichol). And although Junior is a mama’s boy, his style is close to Dre’s, where he tends to wear a lot of hoodies, polos, and button-up shirts as well as floral and graphic prints. Here, Junior wears a well-fitted bright red suit, representing his lively nature. He also wears an abstract button-up shirt. And just like his dad, Junior swaps out dress shoes for multicolored Nikes – which look fantastic with the whole ensemble. This is something I’d wear.  

Reflecting both Zoey and Junior, the twins Diane and Jack are also complete opposites. Just like Zoey, Diane is very independent – so much so that you forget she’s among the youngest. She’s also intelligent, blunt, and eccentric to the point that it’s a little scary. She wears many hoodies, sweaters, long sleeve tops, and jumpsuits filled with bright colors, stripes, camouflage, and animal prints. In this scene, Diane wears a Valeria floral silk wrap dress by All Things Mochi. The dress resembles Ruby’s costume with its ruffled sleeves and hem, which is interesting considering that Diane has a similar personality to Ruby’s. 

Jack is similar to Junior in a way. They’re both sweet, sensitive, and gullible at times. They also both wear the same types of garments and prints. But Jack has another side to him. He’s a great dancer, which boosts self-confidence, turning him into a more outgoing version of himself who’s not afraid of what other people might think about him. And nothing says confidence like this suit. This conversation starter is covered entirely in pink palm trees, standing out against the white button-up shirt underneath. It’s gorgeous, and I’m absolutely in love with it and want one for myself! And for the Johnson men, a suit is never complete without sneakers. Cole pairs multicolored white sneakers with this look.

The last thing I wanted to touch on regarding the Johnson kids is an interview with the wonderful costume designer, Mandi Line, where Cole and Hudson talk about working with the cast. When it comes to contemporary costumes, sometimes designers will have to work with younger actors. And because you’re spending most of your day on set, the cast and crew become a family. It’s so important to recognize that not only are these designers making the cast look good, but they’re also making them feel good. They’ve seen the actors grow up, hit milestones, and face new challenges, and as a result, they play the role of a parental figure in their lives.

Hudson talks more on this, applauding Cole and her relationship with both Yara and Marsai, who both have “such a love for her and respect for her that you don’t see a lot of.” He also talks about Instagram, body image, and how Cole “has managed to sort of lead her [Marsai] and guide her in a way where it’s been sort of seamless in her growth as a young woman, as a producer, as a young black woman.” I think it’s so essential that Cole was able to establish that connection with the cast because it builds trust and, in today’s society, can really help people gain a healthier self-image. And what better way to hype yourself up than with a fabulous outfit?

Overall, I am genuinely blown away by Michelle, Stanley, and the entire costume team, along with the cast and crew behind Black-ish. They have done such a great job bringing Barris’ vision to life. There are specific ways that black families are portrayed in the entertainment field, and it’s not always done in a positive light, nor is it a correct representation of our lives. We come from very diverse backgrounds, and we must recognize that.

This show has helped so many people by teaching us valuable life lessons, bringing laughter into our lives, and tackling taboo and challenging topics that many avoid talking about. As a result, it’s opened up a discussion that will allow us to better the world and make it a safe space for everyone, no matter our differences. I wish you all the best! Thank you so much for everything you’ve done, and congratulations again for the well-earned Emmy nomination.


Sources:

Bell, Chloe. “Poppy Cardigans, Printed Sweaters – We ID’d All These Clothes from Black-Ish Season 7.” POPSUGAR Fashion, 10 Mar. 2021, www.popsugar.com/fashion/black-ish-fashion-season-7-48206838.  

“Black-Ish Outfits & Fashion.” WornOnTV, wornontv.net/black-ish/. 

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “Exclusive: How Ruby’s Kente Cloth Wedding Dress Came Together in Just 2 Weeks on ‘Black-Ish’.” Brides, Dotdash, 18 Nov. 2020, www.brides.com/blackish-kente-cloth-wedding-dress-exclusive-5088224

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “How Michelle Cole Went from Studying Costume Design to Actually Doing It – on Multiple Shows at Once.” Fashionista, Breaking Media, 15 June 2020, fashionista.com/2020/06/michelle-cole-costume-designer-career. 

Jacobsen, Kevin. “’Black-Ish’ Costume DESIGNER Michelle R. Cole on Working for a ‘Very FAST-MOVING Show’ [Exclusive VIDEO INTERVIEW].” GoldDerby, Penske Media Corporation, 12 June 2020, 1:30pm, www.goldderby.com/article/2020/black-ish-costume-designer-michelle-cole-video-interview/

LaBarrie, Ariana. “Jumping the Broom: Everything You Need to Know about the Tradition.” Brides, Dotdash, 27 July 2020, www.brides.com/jumping-the-broom-5071336

Lee, Esther. “Exclusive Photos and Details from the ‘Black-Ish’ Wedding.” The Knot, Xo Group, 18 Nov. 2020, www.theknot.com/content/blackish-tv-show-wedding

Micots, Dr. Courtnay. “Kente Cloth (Asante and Ewe Peoples).” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-africa/west-africa/ghana/a/kente-cloth

Sanders, Shamika. “A Family That Slays Together, Stays Together: ‘Black-Ish’ Costume Designer Michelle R. Cole On Creating The Looks We Love.” HelloBeautiful, Interactive One, 17 June 2021, hellobeautiful.com/3391309/michelle-cole-costume-director-blackish-tracee-ellis-ross/. 

Stand Tall: Soyon An and The Costumes of ‘Julie and the Phantoms’

These days, everyone could use some color and positivity in their life. Luckily for us, the hit Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms delivered just that! I felt so inspired by the vibrancy of the costumes in this show, I just had to talk with the Emmy Award-Winning costume designer behind the show, Soyon An. Soyon’s previous work includes Jem and the Holograms, So You Think You Can Dance, and Step Up All In. Excitingly, Soyon was just awarded her third Emmy win due to her brilliant work on Julie and the Phantoms! I am so grateful for the opportunity to have interviewed Soyon, and I hope you will enjoy.


Spencer: Soyon! I am so excited to talk to you finally. You are famous over here at The Art of Costume! We are big fans.

Soyon: Thank you so much! Happy to be here!

Spencer: Before we get started, congratulations are in order! Because of your brilliant work on Julie and the Phantoms, you just celebrated your third Emmy win! I am so happy for you as it is so well deserved! What does this award mean to you?

Soyon: Thank you! This award means a lot to me, especially coming out of this past year of COVID, which has put many things into perspective. Specifically for Julie and the Phantoms to result in an Emmy win is so special and meaningful knowing that I intentionally left reality and variety shows because I wanted to focus on more script-driven and narrative projects. Julie was my first scripted episodic and for it to result in an Emmy really solidifies the whole reason I took this job and made this move. It’s so exciting to know that I can try new things even at this stage of my career and continue to grow. I’m so grateful. 

Photo Courtesy of Netflix – Julie and The Phantoms

Spencer: I am excited to talk more about Julie and the Phantoms, but first, I find your journey to be quite fascinating. I would love to hear a little about how you got your start in costume design?

Soyon: Since high school, I have loved fashion and art.  I always creatively expressed myself through clothing, but at the time, I didn’t know that this could be a career choice. During my senior year of high school, I had to decide what college to attend. I decided to pursue my passion for art and apply for the Otis College of Art and Design. I focused my portfolio on design for fashion, and I got a scholarship. And this is where I discovered my love for fashion design. 

Jumping to when I was 24 years old and working in the industry,  I was the costume designer for the SYTYCD Tour and then, at 26, the show, which was my first big network show plus my first department head credit. My work on this resulted in my first Emmy at 27. Thinking about it now, my first ever TV show and department head credit and I won! It’s such a full-circle moment when thinking of Julie and the Phantoms as my first episodic project and now having my third Emmy win. It’s wild to think of this.

And it all stems from my love for art. I’ve always considered myself an artist, and I love to bring art into fashion; now, I get to bring art into costume design. 

Photo Courtesy of Netflix – Julie and The Phantoms

Spencer: I absolutely loved this show. I have had the soundtrack on repeat in preparation for this interview. I loved it all, the music, the characters, and above all the costumes! It felt like you just had so much fun with it. Because of that, the audience had so much fun. Each character had their unique style, and I loved watching those styles move throughout the series. Let’s start by diving into what inspired Julie, the main character’s, style?

Soyon: The main thing that inspired Julie’s style was her journey and her character growth throughout the show. 

The whole premise of her character was that she was a student in an art school, and she lived in Los Feliz, so I had to really embrace what a teenager would dress like in this environment. Julie already expressed herself through art, so figuring out how that would translate into her everyday style choices was a fun, creative part of my work. She truly marches to the beat of her own drum, and you can see that in everything she wears, all the way down to the doodles on her sneakers and jeans. She is an artist and creative. 

I also made sure to embrace her character having a Latinx heritage. I threw in nuances of her roots, so you see this in her jewelry and more prominently in her daydream during ‘I Got the Music’ with the marching band cape that features a custom embroidered, hand-crystaled Virgin Mary.  

Another large part of Julie and her journey is the intimate feelings she has in the remembrance of her mom, so this was also a big part of creating her character. This is seen when she incorporates a lot of her mom’s hand-me-downs and the Dahlia flowers, a symbol for her mom. 

Spencer: By the end of the series, Julie has gone through quite the metamorphosis (literally, she was wearing a dress covered in butterflies at one point). What was your thought process in creating Julie’s final looks compared to when we first meet her?

Soyon: Julie’s costumes at the end of the series — with her free-flowing hair, her bouncy skirt, and the vibrant colors of her dress — reflect her embrace of her mom’s passing, as well as the passing of her new friends Luke, Alex, and Reggie. I love this scene because we see Julie growing up by accepting all the transitions of her life. She is more confident in who she is and has this newfound confidence in her creative expression, singing, and songwriting. It was really a full-circle moment in costume storytelling by the time we get to the final episode.

I wanted her to exude this confidence for the final look, so she is wearing a dress her mom made her and her mom’s vintage jacket. I had actually already established Sunset Curve’s colors with Alex primarily having pink, Reggie in a rock ‘n’ roll red, and Luke in this classic blue; so the color choice for Julie naturally had to also represent rock ‘n’ roll since they are playing this awesome music venue as a band. That deep purple was the perfect color to connect them all beautifully.

Spencer: I’ll admit, I became a bit of a fangirl for Sunset Curve, a rock band from the 90s. When it came to the costuming of the guys in the band, it was actually quite hilarious to me because this 90s fashion is now back in style today in 2021! What fashion trends from that decade did you incorporate into their characters and costume design?

Photo Courtesy of Netflix – Julie and The Phantoms

Soyon: For Luke, I incorporated the rock ‘n’ roll tees, the black rock ‘n’ roll skinny jeans, the vans, and obviously the muscle tee cut (you’re welcome!!). I wanted to bring in some vintage 70s and 80s style as a nod to the 90s style, so we added a trench to his wardrobe. I made it Luke’s own by making it a denim tie-dye, more rock ‘n’ roll, and LA surfer boy since that is who he is. 

For Reggie, I wanted to keep that timeless classic rock style. My inspiration was James Dean and Marlon Brando because even in the 90s, that was your classic rock look. The elements I brought into his wardrobe were the flannel tied around the waist, shredded knee denim, and a pointed-toe leather boot.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix – Julie and The Phantoms

For Alex, I wanted to keep him very athleisure, which was very much the 90s street style! I did this with his hoodies, cargo pants, and of course, his Nike Air Max. His socks had to be statements, which is a trend we all saw back in the 90s. And who could forget his fanny pack! For this accessory, I wanted Alex to be more of a trendsetter. He wears it across his body, which is now totally in.

Spencer: Dirty Candi, the girl group, now those were some fun costumes! They were full of color and different textures. I was reminded of your work on Jem and The Holograms when I saw the group perform! How did you approach costuming Dirty Candi?

Soyon: With Dirty Candi, I absolutely played off of Kenny Ortega’s fantastic direction. The way he described Dirty Candi visually was as if ‘a sucker or lollipop that you are enjoying, fell on the ground and picked up all this dirt. What would that look like?’ I loved it so much and ran with it! This is why I incorporated many bright colors with sparkles and crystals to represent the rocks in dirt.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix – Julie and The Phantoms

Another significant aspect of my creative conversations with Kenny was that since Carrie is a girl who has a lot of money, she would totally be the person to hire Katy Perry’s stylist. Good thing I have actually worked with Katy before! So I had to think about what would she be wearing? She would have all her performance outfits custom-made and creatively extra. Dirty Candi’s looks were completely designed and built from scratch. Carrie wouldn’t want anything off the rack!

It’s also really fun that you mentioned Jem because I wanted the girls to be bright and colorful for that film. But for Dirty Candi, there were five girls, and I wanted each girl to be a color of the rainbow.  My inspiration was K-pop girl groups and Jolly Ranchers, which are literally see-through candy. I thought of this for the types of fabrics I wanted to use. I used vinyl and organza for this inspiration, and all the crystals are the “dirty” of Dirty Candi.

Spencer: Julie and the Phantoms prompted a reunion between you and Kenny Ortega, now having worked on multiple projects together. What is the collaborative process like between the two of you?

Soyon: The collaboration between Kenny and I is always super fun! Kenny is a director that is full of life and vibrancy. He is pure magic. The way he illustrates his vision makes my job so easy; I can see the colors and the costumes immediately in my mind as he speaks. When I work with him, there is always a lot of fun banter and collaboration because we just get each other. For Julie specifically, I loved working with him because the ideas kept evolving and got better and better; I’m so happy with what we created together for the show. 

Spencer: Was there a costume that you found more challenging? Which costume are you the proudest of?

Soyon: I don’t have a favorite because I love them all; they are like my children, you can’t pick a favorite!

There were two challenging costumes. The first was Julie’s finale dress because I had to factor in a lot of different parameters, such as Julie’s body type, how to elongate her on the stage while keeping her the sneakerhead that she is, keeping it youthful, finding the right color, not making it too sexy, keeping the skirt a certain length, and making sure she can breathe and perform, plus have duplicates for her body doubles.

I also had Netflix’s restrictions of it being a family show, so I couldn’t make the skirt too short. To problem solve this, I threw in the 90s biker shorts.  I ended up coming up with the high-low skirt and kept the back long and the front short to help elongate her legs while also showcasing her teeny waist. I wanted it to have a quinceañera vibe, which traditionally is always a cupcake or ball gown type of silhouette. The jacket was originally a vintage Balmain dress that I took apart to use as fabric to make into a cropped bomber. It was a huge task because we needed to hand-sew all the beading down; it took months, but it was worth it. 

Photo Courtesy of Netflix – Julie and The Phantoms

The second most challenging costumes were for ‘The Other Side of Hollywood’ Hollywood Ghost Club scene. This was because we ended up moving up the shoot date because of location availability. When I thought I had two months to design and build these costumes, I ended up having only two weeks! It was a lot of hands-on and a ton of sleepless nights. 

Spencer: Soyon, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me! I had so much. Congratulations again on the success of the show and your well-deserved Emmy win! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Soyon: Thank you again, Spencer! This was fun! I’ll be sure to let you know what I’m working on right now when I can; it is next-level!


Follow Soyon An on Instagram! Julie and the Phantoms is streaming now on Netflix!

Jeriana San Juan and The Costumes of Netflix’s ‘Halston’

This year, audiences were blessed with a real Netflix treasure, Halston. Netflix’s Halston is a masterpiece, strengthened by the performances, sets, music, but most of all, the costumes. Costume designer Jeriana San Juan is nominated for a 2021 Emmy, and wow, talking about well deserved! Let’s dive into the costumes of Halston and why I think the costumes by Jeriana San Juan are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Included are some quotes from my interview with Jeriana, which can be heard in the YouTube video below or by listening to The Art of Costume Blogcast through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen!

Jeriana San Juan was the costume designer on this project, but she also worked as a consultant, a real inspiration to actor Ewan McGregor. You see, Ewan had to become Halston in every way possible, meaning he had to know what it’s like to be a fashion designer. “We worked together on how to pull fabric off the roll, how to manipulate a model wearing clothes,” Jeriana told me in an interview on The Art of Costume Blogcast. Jeriana continues by saying she also showed Ewan “those little details like how a designer works, where your eye goes to and when, how you reflect in the mirror for the whole image.” I love this story because it highlights the magic and worth of fashion and costume designers.

One of my favorite parts of this show had to be Krysta Rodriguez’s interpretation of Liza Minnelli. Who doesn’t love Liza with a Z, not Lisa with an S? Krysta’s performance was perfect, but then paired with the brilliant costuming of Jeriana San Juan…a match made in heaven. I loved every look from the “Liza With a Z” performance to Liza’s rehearsal outfit in France. Honestly, I could do an entire show on Liza’s costumes alone. Don’t tempt me with a good time!

Halston was known for his tie-dye silk chiffon caftans, which served as a real breakthrough in the designer’s career. Jeriana approached this “unique challenge” by immersing herself in the research, gathering photos, and even visiting archives. “There are three that are authentic pieces; one was a very special piece,” Jeriana told me, explaining that one of the caftans was actually a garment of the real Halston collection.

My favorite episode of television this year has to be “Versailles.” The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show is one of the more legendary fashion events in our history, taking place on November 28, 1973, in hopes of raising money for The Palace of Versailles restoration. The show pitted French designers Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Marc Bohan, and Hubert de Givenchy against American designers Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, and Bill Blass. Anne Klein, and of course, Halston!

Images Courtesy of Netflix

We had these moments in the script that felt almost mythological,” said Jeriana. “When I initially even took on this project, I just always thought in the back of my mind we would never get to really do Versailles. We just wouldn’t; it’s too massive!” Not only was Jeriana responsible for the costumes of Halston and all of the American designers, French designers, and everyone in the crowd. This episode could have been its own mini-series! Jeriana had to find the voices of each of these designers in small little segments, piecing together books and images of the show from photographers such as Bill Cunningham and Andy Warhol. This episode also gave Jeriana a chance to do more dance costumes, as Liza performed “Bonjour Paris” at the fashion show. “I LOVE dance costumes,” Jeriana excitedly told me, mentioning her use of the Halston signature clear sequins for these costumes.

The time has come for us to visit Studio 54! Wow, what a dream! Jeriana was charged with recreating some iconic regulars visiting Studio 54, such as Bianca Jagger, Steve Rubell in his infamous Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat, Divine, and of course, Liza Minnelli. The masterful costume design combined with the colorful sets brought the audience into a world that felt like it could have been the real Studio 54. I remain blown away. The scenes might have been short, but they left a long lasting impression.

When working with the crowds of Studio 54, Jeriana focused on color and playing with textures. “Studio 54 was a real celebration of sequin, beads, denim, t-shirts, and disco heels. There was a combination of textures there that I just appreciate,” said Jeriana. “I really had just too much fun.

Images Courtesy of Netflix

I absolutely loved this show. Each of these episodes was its own work of art that can be binged or seen on its own. However, a large amount of credit goes to costume designer Jeriana San Juan, who gave a masterclass in costume design. Her work told Halston’s story through all of the highs and lows of his life. She used fabric, color, and textures as her weapon and delivered a show that I will always go back to for years to come.

Listen to The Art of Costume Blogcast Interview with Jeriana San Juan on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on Youtube! Don’t forget to follow Jeriana San Juan on Instagram!

The Umbrella Academy – Modern Superheroes Adapting To The 1960s

When the Emmy nominations came up, I immediately searched for The Umbrella Academy, hoping it got nominated, which it did. I was looking forward to this show as a massive My Chemical Romance fan who admires Gerard Way, his work, and the comic book he created with Gabriel Bá. I was also delighted to know that the costume designer of Hannibal, the amazing Christopher Hargadon, would take care of the comic book adaptation.

In the second season of The Umbrella Academy, we follow the beloved family of dysfunctional modern-day superheroes scattered across time in the 1960s in America, more specifically in Dallas. For him, only a few days have passed in this era while the others have already spent years there, moved on to a new life. But as of 1963, the Apocalypse comes for our heroes for the second time. And just before the annihilation would come, Number Five is rescued, with only ten days left to prevent the end of the world. Again.

In a brilliant interview that was conducted with Christopher Hargadon by the Costume CO YouTube channel, he mentions that how each of these characters handles the new circumstances of a different era, and how each one of them gets hold of their clothing, to blend in or stand out in the 1960s.

Following this thought, I wanted to approach this article by focusing on the adaptability of the characters shown through their costumes in The Umbrella Academy.

Klaus

Our first subject is Klaus, who can speak with the dead, played by the wonderful Robert Sheehan. He’s just survived the original apocalypse when he finds himself in an alleyway in 1960, wearing his torn vest, feminine jeans, and striped shirt. We already see the people’s disparaging reactions to him, that two episodes later culminate in him getting thrown out of a restaurant.

He ends up lying on the street, seeing nothing else but the perfect black and white shoes of an older gentlewoman. Klaus cries out “Chanel,” recognizing the signature two-toned shoes of the fashion house and the opportunity in the stylish and probably very wealthy American lady. With her two-piece floral print skirt suit and pearl necklaces, she comes to the help of the attractive but unfortunate man.

Klaus recognizes the wealthy patron’s openness towards his lavish lifestyle, and soon, he takes advantage of her and becomes a gurus-inspired cult leader. He is dressed in an Indian-inspired coat for the part he plays, a sort of sherwani dress jacket that Hargadon and his team made lighter for mobility’s sake. And, of course, to fit Klaus’ unique way of life.

Photo by CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX – © 2020 Netflix, Inc.

In season one, he already spent a year in 1968 in the Vietnam War, and maybe this motivates him to bring about the hippie era a few years earlier with his feminine style and long hair. Klaus could have been the perfect hippie if he was born in that era; his sense of fashion and ideology aligned with the hippies. They delved into Eastern religions, and hair was one of the main elements that young men in the late 1960s used to protest against the Vietnam War and become less conforming to the rigid gender roles of the time, which Klaus embodies wearing both male and female shirts. As Sarah Pruitt writes:

The vast majority of hippies were young, white, middle-class men and women who felt alienated from mainstream middle-class society and resented the pressure to conform to the “normal” standards of appearance, employment or lifestyle. By wearing their hair long and growing beards (for the men), taking drugs and exploring spirituality outside of the confines of the Judeo-Christian tradition, hippies sought to find more meaning in life—or at least have a good time.

How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

Allison

Klaus is not the only one who actively participates in the events of the 1960s. Allison, aka The Rumor, arrives in 1961. Her first destination is a white-only café, and soon she realizes this is a different world. Allison comes in a peplum shirt, jeans, and a black leather jacket—quite like an alien. Allison has to become a different person from the glamorous celebrity she was in 2019, so the trauma of losing her voice—thus her powers of controlling people’s actions—and being a black woman in the 1960s presents her a chance to rebuild herself.

She starts from the bottom in a hair salon, and through her struggles, she becomes a respected member of her new community, the first time without the help of her superpowers. This builds her confidence, which then shines through her authentic wardrobe the most.

She rocks the 1960s colors and patterns almost like a natural. In the first scenes of her established second life, she wears a yellow and white halter skirt, an original 1960s piece from Dallas, Hargadon managed to find. She feels home here, and perhaps nothing remarks this more than her short-sleeved lace wedding dress, with a cinched waist, accessorized with delicate lace gloves. She embodies the perfect 1960s bride, and just by a glance, we can already see a small and intimate wedding ceremony, bright and happy. Out of all her siblings, she embraced this age the most.

Luther

Luther is the next to arrive in 1962. Considering his unique physique of, well, being half a gorilla—bolstered by a muscle suit from the costume department—it must have been a struggle for him to find anything fitting in this new era. Luther is a lovely big boy, wearing blue in almost every scene apart from when he is fighting in a boxing ring sporting a white “wifebeater.” He becomes a bodyguard and the boxing champion of Jack Ruby, a classic gangster in fashionable suits running a burlesque bar, who also happens to be a real-life figure who killed Lee Harvey Oswald—the real assassin of JFK.

Luther is just here, trying to survive, struggling with a blank identity. He is the only one of the siblings who try to reach their wealthy and rather uncaring father decades before their birth. His attempts to please this stylish father speaks volumes of his relationship with costumes. First, he doesn’t care. Then he only manages to get through his father’s ignorance, failing, nonetheless.

Diego and Lila

Diego arrived in 1963, and he is almost immediately taken to a psychiatric ward in an attempt to stop the assassination of JFK. We first see him in a completely white outfit, bland, just like the rest of the other patients, but he only cares about his self-proclaimed mission, anyway. His style is utilitarian. However, his love interest, Lila, proves to be way more intriguing than him. And she is not who she shows herself to be. Her clothing slowly unravels a mystery.

Their first costume change is on the run, stealing clothes while escaping the facility. Strangely, a little bit later, she is already wearing a bit out-of-time red leather boots, hinting at her real identity.

We follow her footsteps right until a curious meeting with our favorite crazy villain from season one—The Handler. Christopher Hargadon said several times in articles how much of a pleasure it was to design this psychotic fashionista, stressing the amazing collaboration with the actress Kate Walsh.

The Handler

“Every time she walks on, I want it to be like an entrance, I want her to be making some major kind of statement because she is such a trippy off-the-wall insane character.”

Christopher Hargadon

When we meet her in season one, the Handler is a high-ranking employee of the time travel agency called the Commission. In season 2, she is about to be cremated when she suddenly comes alive again; this is the beginning of the episode, The Frankel Footage, which was nominated for an Emmy.  We follow her back to the Commission in her flaming red skirt suit with a cinched wasp waist and an elaborate black headpiece. While her silhouette is exceptionally chic, she is threatening like some sort of insect. Throughout the season, she stays elaborate on her accessories. No matter what she wears, she always has red either on her accessories or nail polish, but mainly on her iconic red high heels.

The Handler – NETFLIX © 2020

The Handler’s wardrobe is always immaculate, proper lady-like, heavily inspired by the 50s, quite the opposite of her methods against her enemies. This dissonance between her wonderful outer look and the rotten wicked side comes to the surface as spiders on her costume. Either her handbag or—most extravagantly—her coronation dress is embellished with them.

Hargadon costumed the Handler to evoke an image of Napoleon after the slaughter at the time travel agency with her purple military-style jacket. Her costumes climaxed in her coronation dress, instilling grandiosity and an over-the-top feeling with its metallic colors, the same way as Napoleon’s ceremonial dress.