The Lord’s Day Off

It is always so fun to collaborate with a creative mastermind like the photographer Taylor Castle.  I love that this image was inspired from the 90’s one hit wonder, “What if God was one of us,” twenty years after the fact.  Lucky for us, we know a DJ that looks a hell of a lot like Jesus  and was totally game to be like one of us and pose in front of the TV for this angelic photograph.  A big thanks to Chicago prop house, Propabilities for the sweet props, and retoucher Brian York for the making it so I didn’t have to create a set that looked like a sky, rather just a couple of fluffy clouds that Brian could manipulate in post.  Great job, team.


Pretty. Strong. for Oxygen Network

Here are some recent images that I styled (minimally, these girls were great on their own) with photographer Kate T. Parker from Atlanta of the Chicago Bliss football team.  Kate’s body of work focuses on strong women and girls, which she really captures in these pictures.  I’ll have to admit, prior to working on this project I never heard of the Legends Football League that the Chicago Bliss is part of.  These girls are all amazing athletes; many of them are ex Division I college competitors, many of them professional personal trainers, and all of them are incredibly hard workers that train their butts off to play for the Bliss.  You can support these ladies by watching their show on Oxygen, Pretty.Strong or by letting the Legends League know that you want some of the proceeds from your ticket admission to go to these amazing athletes.  You can contact the league directly HERE under support, (these women currently don’t see a dime of the proceeds.)

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Two thousand thirteen.

2013 has already been pretty lively; well, at least the last 4 days.  I bought a car, had invasive foot surgery where my BIG toe actually stands a little shorter now, and watched 27 episodes of Homeland.  Shortening of the toe?  No big deal, but 27 episodes of Homeland???  Obvious response would be, that’s too much TV… and there’s only been 24.  I decided to pack a punch by rewatching the last 3 episodes.  The shit is good, scary good.   There really isn’t anything better than getting into an amazing show a couple of seasons after it aired, and rifling through the episodes like you’re on assignment.  I would now like to take the time to thank my foot for never healing properly after an old field hockey injury to give me the opportunity to indulge in yet another reason why this clearly is the golden age of television.

But back to it being 2013, being unable to move and sitting on my ass this week made me think about what lies ahead. 2012 was by far my most successful year thus far in my career.  If I could put my disc man on repeat (90’s!) I certainly would.  The strange thing about the past year was the busier I was with assignments, the fewer ideas I had to share on my blog and the less creative tasks I did on my own.  I could point my finger at being creatively drained, but if I was the equivalent stylist as Carrie is a CIA agent (get in on Homeland, NOW), I’d be spewing out styling chants every night before bed on my blog, I’d be testing for my portfolio the few microseconds I have in a month, and I wouldn’t sigh at standing on my feet for 4 hours after I shopped for 10 to see a band.  Sadly, it shows the most on this blog.  It has turned to posting only a few random jobs, which makes me BbbboooOOOrring.  I’ve been told by people in emails who want to get into styling that The Returnist is one of the few outlets online that gives a little insight to the styling world (Rachel Zoe and Brad Brad World aren’t exactly representative of what goes on).  Yet another reason I need to get back on this internet high horse.

So here it goes, my 2013 goal is to not let being super busy make me mentally lazy.  The weird thing about freelancing is that it’s less taxing to be busy all of the time with projects [insert first world problems joke here].  You have people telling  you where to pour your creative juices all day, everyday, which is mentally easy.  The real gains for me happen when I step outside of that agenda filled box, remember why I got here, and look elsewhere for creative inspiration.   If you truly are passionate about your job and don’t feel that you’re at work when you’re working, there shouldn’t be a box.   That’s my real 2013 resolution; no box, more Carrie.

NBC’s Chicago Fire, photographed by the Wade Brothers, styled by ME!

I got called for this job with having one sole purpose: to find red dresses (and accessories) that look like fire.  When you’re asked to find something so specific with not a lot of time, the internet is your best friend.  You don’t have time to walk into every store and see what they have on the racks for red dresses (although my amazing assistant, Melinda Jane Myers went out for me for reassurance).  To narrow down your search, I highly recommend using ShopStyle.  It pulls from every designer and high-end department store, and allows you to see every red dress available, while sifting out the crap for you.  I use it for myself if; for example, if I have a pair of shoes I want, but want to see how much everyone is selling it for, I always plug it into ShopStyle to price check.  They’re the jam.

This Gryphon dress was chosen because it was hammered silk and flowed like magma.  We had to improvise with her scarf because unless you’re a retiree who dresses up for Bingo in Tampa Florida, chiffon red scarves aren’t readily available.  Instead we hacked up some red chiffon and draped it over her, which worked like a charm.  If you’re wondering how to get red locks like that, you’ll have to ask the master hair and make up artist Cindy Shute.

As for the crew and the Wade Brothers, this will go down as one of the most creative/fun projects I have worked on to date.  The Wade Brothers had so many tricks up their sleeve to make this shot look as fantastic as it does, that I found myself admiring and watching as though I was nineteen in photo school again.  These guys are ridiculously talented and a pleasure to work with.

Backyard grilling action?  Now here’s something I know a lot about propping.  Here’s a Unilock commercial that we filmed last October that I art directed and propped.  I was so excited to see this because I never get to see any of the ads I work on.  You’d think I’d be better at digging stuff up to present on my blog, but honestly, blogs that only show your work are really just portfolios.

Some interesting outtakes from the filming of this would be the crew rolling into this suburban house at 5 am, trying to remove a tarp from the Unilock patio that had collected a pond full of rainwater the night before, and then proceeding to dump it all over ourselves.  I worked the first hour without any shoes and wet feet.  Thanks again Melanie (super duper producer who keeps extra socks on hand) for your festive socks.  Shockingly, the mostly Canadian crew showed no empathy for cold feet.

Other fun obstacles were creating a new patio cushion color by pinning loose fabric, making a yard that looked like late fall in Chicago look like June by filling it with out of season flowers, and propping a french door to look like we were still in the house, while in fact the door was rigged outside in the middle of the patio.  Oh art department and the challenges you present.  As usual, a crazy amount of work for a quick splice of advertising, but that’s how these things roll.

Bear’s camel carcass outerwear

Um…. I just received Bear Grylls shiny catalog for his new rugged clothing line.  I guess to no surprise, Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild, MacGyver to the great outdoors, and the leading Boy Scout of the galaxy (this statement is actually true, he’s numero uno on the international list of reputable scouts), clothing design seems like a natural step.  I laughed as quickly as a hastily flipped through the pages to see if there was a camel carcass with cargo pockets.  If you’ve seen it, you’re laughing there with me.  If you haven’t, you might have missed the best 5 minutes of reality television, EVER!  To sum it up, Bear visits the Sahara and hollows out a camel, first wrenching it’s excrement for water and then nestling in for a nap.  For that, Bear, I’ll order a windbreaker.

Bear tests each item in the wild….  I think the cover says it all.  Hilarious.

I’m obsessed with Ann Roth.

Costume designer of the new HBO series, Mildred Pierce, costume designer of all things awesome…  Ann Roth is my new hero.  This isn’t only because of her body of work that includes movies such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient, Midnight Cowboy and 109 other films(!), but also because she’s 80, works 16 hour days and is still completely enthralled in her career.  When I did my movie-a-day project last year and profiled each costume designer, I found her name coming up again and again to movies I loved.  I’ve since grown a small obsession with her and try to see everything she does.

Harper’s Bazaar interviews her this month because of her work for Mildred Pierce.  She makes a lot of great points that I couldn’t agree with her more on.  She talks about how little her job has to do with fashion.  She creates looks for characters, not the runway, which is a common misconception of the costume designer’s role.  The costumes are only intended to serve the narrative.  For a wardrobe stylist in advertising, the same is true.  You’re representing a character, a demographic, and telling a story of how he or she would experience the product.  It has little to do with what everyone thinks is fashionable (unless it applies directly to the product), rather, whether it fits the narrative of what we’re trying to imply for the product.

Here’s some highlights from the interview, which you can read in its entireity here.

““I would never look at movies for my work. I would look at real clothes from the period and photographs from the period. One doesn’t look at other people’s work.” Instead, Roth takes an almost forensic approach to costuming her characters, assessing them from the inside out.  For Mildred Pierce, she decided that based on Mildred’s means, she would have shopped at Bullock’s department store, rather than at the tonier shops in Beverly Hills. She does this for all her characters, she says. “I think about how much money they spent, where they go, does she have a drawer for silk slips…”

You can also see her in action in this HBO behind the scenes video on the making of Mildred Pierce.  I recommend watching the entire video, but if you’re only interested in learning more about Roth, she’s highlighted about 13 minutes in.

If only I could hold her coffee cup on a project.  I would sell my soul to do the honor.

New Image – Vintage Catering

Referring back to how people are influenced by television, I can’t tell you how often I’m asked to do a Mad Men inspired shoot.  In my mind, it’s kind of like someone trying to sing Whitney Houston at a karaoke bar.  Not that I love Whitney Houston, she’s on crack, but the lady has pipes and you don’t want to even attempt to bust out a fan favorite because it’s an easy way to butcher something people already know.  The same goes for a stylist trying to do a Mad Men set.  It’s a bit scary and is why I have turned down the opportunity until now.  I jumped on this time around because I was working with a large team of people to create shots for a catering company.  Other than the regular slew of crew members needed to produce a successful shoot, we had an interior designer, specialized pin up hair stylists, florist, and a caterer.  It basically turned into a vintage showcase of the Mad Men in us all.

Wardrobe was easy to find for this due to Mad Men’s influence on retailers.  Brooks Brothers even has a Mad Men line of suits.  In the end, I think we all got images we can be proud of due to having a great leader, Chicago photographer Scott Thompson.  Here’s a couple of images.

The Golden Age of television.

My friends and I have this debate a lot.  What is better, a really great television series or a movie?  Fifteen years ago your answer may have been different, but due to groundbreaking shows like The Wire, Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, Friday Night Lights to name a few… We all agreed we choose the former.  Television has been able to come up to film quality and beyond in story telling due to longer air times.  They also have larger budgets, giving them better technology and high profiled crews.  I’m always surprised to hear coworkers say they don’t own a television because of… whatever pretentious reason they may have.  Fact of the matter is, television should be a current inspiration.  Sure, you have to dig out the gems under a heaping pile of Two and a Half Crap TV, but finding the next golden nugget is well worth the hunt.  You will be entertained for years rather than hours, and if you missed the bus of when the show airs, you’ll have the Netflix shakes to finish an entire season in a week.

To hammer in the point for wardrobe and prop stylists out there, Mad Men’s costume designer, Katherine Jane Bryant, is on every list for Fashion’s top influences.  You can even buy a Mad Men suit at Brooks Brothers and Banana Republic has come out with multiple Mad Men lines.  He’s an interview with the most well known costume designer in television, “Janie” Bryant, taken from NY Times blog:

Behind the Madness | Costume Designer Janie Bryant

Women’s Fashion



| July 28, 2008, 2:30 pm

From Left: “Mad Men’s” Betty Draper rocking a butterfly blouse; clad in an equestrian ensemble. (AMC)

Forget all the hoopla surrounding “Mad Men” and its 16 Emmy nominations. The real show-stopper of everyone’s favorite series about ’60s ad men in old-timey New York is the wardrobe. Although the show’s candy-colored, classic attire is already influencing the runways (see Michael Kors’s fall line), the key to the series’s picture-perfect style is its authenticity. The show’s costume designer, Janie Bryant, doesn’t shy away from unkempt ties or well-worn fur stoles, or from reusing the same vibrant, red dress. (Did anyone else spot Joan sporting her signature Season 1 frock during last night’s premiere?) Here Bryant muses about working with a perfectionist boss, the glamour of a time before Wal-Mart and her love for playing dress-up.

How did you get involved in costume design?

I studied fashion design, and then I moved to Paris after I graduated from college for a few months. I was going to be a famous fashion designer in six months and learn French fluently, but instead I had to go to New York and get a job! I started working on Seventh Avenue for a fashion designer named John Scher, which was such a great experience. I wanted to design, but I wasn’t sure I was a perfect fit on Seventh Avenue at that time in my life. I met a costume designer at a party, and she told me about her job. I was totally excited about the idea of being in film. I put it out there that I wanted to be in film, and so it happened.

imageJanie Bryant, costume designer.

Before “Mad Men,” you won an Emmy for “Deadwood,” another period piece set a century earlier. Is this a coincidence, or do you have a particular affinity for historical fiction?

I love designing period. It’s my favorite thing. It’s my obsession. I studied costume history as well as fashion design, and I was always so fascinated with the clothing from all the different periods. When I was in New York, I designed a project called “The Royale” and a short film that was set in the late 1940s.

Did you need a crash course in McCarthy-era history?

I really didn’t. My grandparents were of this time. And my parents were married in 1962. Being Southern, I still have a lot of the traditions that these characters experience on “Mad Men.”

When I read Alex Witchel’s story in The Times Magazine last month, I loved that Matthew Weiner, the series creator, calls himself a “control freak.” Is there any creative tension on set?

He has a very specific idea about some things, and we’ll have discussions about it. When he has a clear image in his mind about what he wants to see, I love to give that to him and bring something else to it. I know how much he cares about details. I’m very similar in my style of working. We have similar tastes. After I have my fittings, I’ll take pictures and show him the photos of my favorite pieces. Usually we’ll look at the pictures and he’ll be laughing. He can see the visual, three-dimensional person in living color. The character comes to life.

Looks from last night’s season premiere of “Mad Men.” (AMC)

Where do the clothes come from?

I designed for a lot of the principal characters and I’ll build for them. We do rentals, and then I’ll also buy pieces from vintage stores. It really is a mixture of everything. I would love to design for the entire show, but it would take so much time, not to mention expensive.

What about your own personal style? Any influence there?

I change my outfit several times throughout the day. I’ll have on big baubles that are chartreuse. I’ll put on a big brooch. I change it up throughout the day. People say I’m the most dressed-up person on set.

The characters are all very relatable — they feel like they come straight out of a history book or a novel I’ve already read.

Betty Draper was inspired by my grandmother. She was the image of perfection. Luckily, I think my grandmother and grandfather were very happy and had lots of fun, unlike Don and Betty! Also, Grace Kelly. I have a lot of pictures of Grace Kelly on my inspiration board. I love that image of her because, to me, Grace also seemed quite cool. You could never really get under the surface of that woman, of that character. Even in her movies, there is always that distance. Beautiful distance. Betty Draper is like that to me. And for Joan, definitely Sophia Loren, as far as being curvy with that real iconic hourglass figure from the period.

The beginning of Season 2 picks up in 1962 — Kennedy is president and the country is moving away from the conservatism of the 1950s. Do the clothes change significantly?

Not so much. It is similar to 1960. Matt and I talked a lot before the second season started. As far as the production and costume design, there aren’t a lot of changes that are made. Staying true to the period, it has similar silhouettes to the late ’50s; just the hemlines are getting shorter. There are some characters that are in couture clothing, but I think it’s significant to show that change takes time. The second season only starts 18 months later. I did repeat some costumes from last season…

Michael Kors name-checked “Mad Men” as the inspiration for his fall collection. I thought Prada’s 2008 resort collection also looked “Mad Men”-esque, with all those deconstructed floral dresses and fitted cardigans.

It seems to be seeping everywhere, doesn’t it? I’m so happy about people being so excited and so inspired. “Mad Men” really is such a period of elegance. And also, it’s a time when people dressed up and went to work. You wore your gloves. There were all those customs that existed then. We don’t have that anymore. If it inspires people to dress up more, I think that’s fantastic.

Chicago Code

If you live in Chicago and have left your house in the past 6 months, you’ve mostly likely run into the taping of Fox’s new cop show, Chicago Code.  There’s even a big chance you worked on the series since it employed an bajillion city residents.  I’ve had the great pleasure of helping out in the costume department under costume designer Sue Kaufman (The Shield, Prison Break) and costume supervisor Gretchen Grain, who I can’t say enough good things about.  To say these ladies are hard workers in a vast understatement.  Their work ethic was contagious and I felt honored to be in their company.  This was the first television series I have ever worked on and was blown away by all that goes into making a one hour drama.  In print and television commercials (my normal gig) a 15 hour day is considered a good chunk of time.  If you’re working on a one hour series, consider this normal, 5 days a week for 6 months.  Needless to say, the crew who slaved over this for Chicago Code’s entire taping (I was only freelance) must be jumping up and down in excitement to finally see it air on Fox February 7th.  The series already has high hopes in being a success coming from director Sean Ryan (The Shield, Terriers) and starring great actors such as Jennifer Beals and Jason Clarke.

Here’s a trailer for the series in case you haven’t already seen the commercials on Fox.

Here’s the promo featurette:

Make sure you tune in February 7th at 9/8 Central so we can all work another season!