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:
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.
Janie 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.