The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design at the FIDM Museum

Once again, the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles has delivered a wonderful look back at the past year’s best in television costume design. The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibition, opening this week, features a diverse sampling of television costumes from every genre, from the stunning period details of Downton Abbey to the contemporary prison garb on Orange is the New Black. The exhibition was carefully curated by Mary Rose, a costume designer and former President of the Costume Designers Guild, who is currently a Governor of the Costume Design & Supervision Peer Group of the Television Academy. Rose has put together a broad spectrum of work from the talented designers currently working in television.

A sampling of the finery on Downton Abbey, by costume designer Caroline McCall

A sampling of the finery on Downton Abbey, by costume designer Caroline McCall (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Upon entering the gallery, one is immediately greeted by Emmy-nominated Caroline McCall’s work for Downton Abbey. As beautiful as the costumes always look on the screen, they are even more so in person. Each piece is unique. It is interesting to see the different styles represented for the different characters as well. The more traditional silhouettes worn by the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) are presented next to the contrasting modern flair of her contemporary, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine). Many of the younger characters are also represented, their dropped-waist gowns covered with an amazing array of beading and metallic thread. A particular highlight of the Downton portion of the exhibition this year is a focus on the show’s jewelry designer, Andrew Prince, who has made a beautiful variety of custom pieces for the characters, including necklaces, earrings, and tiaras. (Visitors to the exhibition can also purchase a variety of Prince’s pieces similar to those worn on the show in the museum’s shop.)

Stunning beadwork detail & jewelry from Downton Abbey

Stunning beadwork detail & jewelry from Downton Abbey (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Even the backs of the costumes on Downton Abbey contain stunning detail

Even the backs of the costumes on Downton Abbey contain stunning detail (photo by Brianne Gillen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included in the exhibition is another period piece with surprising detail – WGN America’s Salem, designed by Joseph A. Porro. At a glance, the costumes are classic 17th-century gowns, but a closer look reveals extraordinary nuances. One black dress features a bodice overlay with intricate metalwork, and a collection of bird and insect charms scattered throughout the skirt. A men’s costume includes rough woven leather and a creepy, otherworldly relief of a human face across the chest. Porro masterfully combines the historic with the supernatural.

Costumes from Salem, by costume designer Joseph A. Porro

Costumes from Salem, by costume designer Joseph A. Porro (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Interesting metalwork on a costume from Salem

Interesting metalwork on a costume from Salem (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Creepy leather detailing from Salem

Creepy leather detailing from Salem (photo by Brianne Gillen)

 

On Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, costume designer Kristin M. Burke combines not only historic and supernatural costumes, but also the contemporary. On display is a sampling of the broad range of the show’s costumes, from Abbie’s modern leather jacket to Ichabod’s infamous coat, which he wore throughout almost all of season one. It is fascinating to see the present-day styles alongside some of the Revolutionary War-era costumes, which showcase Burke’s extraordinary attention to details ranging from uniform buttons to careful skirt pleating.

The characters of Abbie & Ichabod, Sleepy Hollow (costume designer Kristin M. Burke)

The characters of Abbie & Ichabod, Sleepy Hollow (costume designer Kristin M. Burke) (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Modern & historical costumes from Sleepy Hollow

Modern & historical costumes from Sleepy Hollow (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Intricate pleated detailing on a costume from Sleepy Hollow

Intricate pleated detailing on a costume from Sleepy Hollow (photo by Brianne Gillen)

There are beautiful period pieces showcased in the exhibition, including Ane Crabtree’s polished costumes from Masters of Sex and the authentic creations from television movie The Trip to Bountiful (designed by Van Broughton Ramsey). But it is also exciting to see so many contemporary pieces showcased as well. Too often the hard work of these shows’ designers is overlooked, but Mary Rose and the FIDM Museum have made sure that they receive the attention they deserve.

A sampling of costumes from Masters of Sex (costume designer Ane Crabtree)

A sampling of costumes from Masters of Sex (costume designer Ane Crabtree) (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The Trip to Bountiful, by designer Van Broughton Ramsey

The Trip to Bountiful, by designer Van Broughton Ramsey (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Beautiful embroidery detail from The Trip to Bountiful

Beautiful embroidery detail from The Trip to Bountiful (photo by Brianne Gillen)

It is easy to assume that a contemporary series set in a women’s prison, like Orange is the New Black, would have minimal costume needs, but quite the opposite is true. The exhibition has a range of Jennifer Rogien’s costumes for the show, and even though they are mostly uniforms, there is still a sense of individuality between the looks. Rogien and assistant designer Joshua Marsh attended the exhibition’s opening, and graciously talked with me about the design process for OINTB. Rogien said that “one of my favorite creative challenges on the show” is “to convey that each of these women is an individual even though they’re literally in uniform.” It is great to see that unexpected design challenge acknowledged and celebrated.

Jennifer Rogien's costumes from Orange is the New Black

Jennifer Rogien’s costumes from Orange is the New Black (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Other modern shows are also celebrated, including the impeccable tailoring on The Blacklist (from costume designer Christine Bean), and Daniel Lawson’s sleek, interestingly textured women’s and men’s suits from The Good Wife. More casual design looks are represented as well, from shows like Parenthood (designer Diane Crooke) and Portlandia (Amanda Needham).

Costumes from The Good Wife, designed by Daniel Lawson

Costumes from The Good Wife, designed by Daniel Lawson (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Sharp tailoring on The Blacklist (costume designer Christine Bean)

Sharp tailoring on The Blacklist (costume designer Christine Bean) (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Sundance’s The Red Road is a contemporary series that includes some Native American elements. Designer Alonzo Wilson told me that he is “really happy that Mary Rose always tries to include some contemporary shows…. because a lot of times people think there’s not much design in that, but there’s a lot of design in them.” Wilson’s displayed work ranges from a traditional full leather dress to modern clothing with Native American accents like turquoise and silver jewelry or leather pouch necklaces.

Alonzo Wilson's contemporary & Native American designs for The Red Road

Alonzo Wilson’s contemporary & Native American designs for The Red Road (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The variety and nuance needed for a fantasy show is also showcased, with a display from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., by designer Ann Foley. Foley’s designs include everything from Grecian-inspired gowns to leather catsuits that must move with the actors as they perform stunts, as well as stylish tweeds and sweaters.

Ann Foley's diverse costumes from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Ann Foley’s diverse costumes from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (photo by Brianne Gillen)

This year, even theatrical costumes are included, from the live television production of The Sound of Music, by designer Catherine Zuber. Zuber’s work involved colorful 1930s costumes, as well as a wedding dress that had to be donned in an incredibly short behind-the-scenes quick-change.

Costumes from Dallas (designer Rachel Sage Kunin)

Costumes from Dallas (designer Rachel Sage Kunin) (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Part of the beauty of this exhibit is, as mentioned earlier, the chance to take a closer look at details that might not show up on screen. Rachel Sage Kunin’s stylish work for Dallas includes custom western belt buckles and statement jewelry. A gold skirt worn by Judith Light’s character featured a stunning painted design. American Horror Story: Coven, which earned designer Lou Eyrich an Emmy nomination, has a unique, vintage-inspired look. Many of the costumes were black, in varying styles, with a standout red ensemble for Frances Conroy’s Myrtle Snow. Her fingerless leather gloves were particularly striking, with their pleated wrist detailing.

Painted detail on a skirt from Dallas

Painted detail on a skirt from Dallas (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Detail of interesting red leather gloves from AHS: Coven (costume designer ___)

Detail of interesting red leather gloves from AHS: Coven (costume designer Lou Eyrich) (photo by Brianne Gillen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Television series connect with audiences in a uniquely intimate way, as audiences learn about and identify with characters while watching in their own homes. Costume design is a huge part of what helps define these characters, often without the conscious knowledge of the audience. The FIDM Museum again shines a spotlight on the diverse and immensely talented designers currently working in television.

Designers also featured in the exhibition: Marilyn Vance (Bonnie & Clyde and Lizzie Borden Took an Ax), Jennifer L. Bryan (Breaking Bad), Luke Reichle (Castle), Mandi Line (Pretty Little Liars), and Jenny Eagan (True Detective).

The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibition runs from July 22-September 20, 2014, at the FIDM Museum & Galleries, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90015. Gallery hours are 10 a.m-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.fidmmuseum.org.

*This review also appears on the costume design site Tyranny of Style.

The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibition at the FIDM Museum

Every year, in the lead-up to the Academy Awards, the FIDM Museum puts together a wonderful exhibit of some of the year’s best in costume design. I had the great opportunity to attend the opening of the 22nd Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibition this past weekend, and I highly recommend it. On display are costumes from more than 20 films from the past year, and they are a stunning tribute to the hard work of some very talented designers. All five of this year’s Oscar nominees are featured, as well as last year’s winner, Jacqueline Duran, for Anna Karenina.

Catherine Martin's Oscar-nominated costumes from The Great Gatsby (photo by Alex J. Berliner / ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Catherine Martin’s Oscar-nominated costumes from The Great Gatsby (photo by Alex J. Berliner / ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

There are, of course, many period and fantasy films on display, but this year also shines a spotlight on many of the new innovations in sci-fi and contemporary costume design. I spoke to FIDM Fashion Historian Kevin Jones, who told me that a growing trend in moviemaking is “the technology for a lot of these types of materials that you’re never going to find at your local fabric store, [that are] made to act, they’re made to respond on cue.” Not only are these techniques being taught at FIDM, but the creators of the exhibit also felt that it would be something the “public is going to love to be educated about.”

Innovative costumes from Man of Steel (photo by Alex J. Berliner / ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Innovative costumes from Man of Steel (photo by Alex J. Berliner / ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Detail of the new Superman suit from Man of Steel (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Detail of the new Superman suit from Man of Steel (photo by Brianne Gillen)

It really was fascinating to see these costumes up close. There was so much texture involved, and you can clearly tell that the costumes allow for movement while looking futuristic and otherworldly. One of the highlights of the exhibit is the updated Superman suit from Man of Steel, designed by James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson. It still has the traditional cape made of rich red fabric, but the suit itself has a structure molded to actor Henry Cavill’s body shape, and a fluid, honeycomb-inspired texture. It is a wonderful blend of the classic look with a modern sensibility.

Costumes from After Earth (photo by ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Costumes from After Earth (photo by ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

The materials used by designer Amy Westcott for After Earth were also very unique. The men’s suits had an almost rubber-like look, molded in interesting patterns that looked both functional and stylized. The women’s dresses on display had a beautiful red and white ombre pattern. Michael Kaplan’s designs for Star Trek Into Darkness followed this same blend of style, texture, and function. Leonard Nimoy’s etched-pattern ensemble had a heavy weight, but still draped attractively. Benedict Cumberbatch’s leather jacket had a highly structured collar, with pleats that made it look simultaneously earthy and otherworldly.

Star Trek Into Darkness costumes (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Star Trek Into Darkness costumes (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Also on display were costumes from Thor: The Dark World (designed by Wendy Partridge). These combined armor with elements of ancient Greek and Roman fashion. The women’s dresses were layered and draped beautifully. One of the highlights of seeing these costumes up close was the detail. The fabrics had an almost watercolor effect to them, with many subtle patterns. The armor on Jaimie Alexander’s costume had small patterns stamped around the edges, giving it an interesting depth.

Costumes from Thor: The Dark World (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Costumes from Thor: The Dark World (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Armor detail from Thor: The Dark World (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Armor detail from Thor: The Dark World (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The exhibit rather seamlessly transitions from the sci-fi into more traditional design realms with costumes from fantasy films Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Marlene Stewart’s designs for Hansel & Gretel had so much interesting detail. I have not yet seen the film, so I’m not as familiar with the characters, but the costumes for the witches had amazing texture and fascinating accents like a collar made of ram horns and a small, childlike face mask on a belt.

Witch costume with mask detail from Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Witch costume with mask detail from Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (photo by Brianne Gillen)

It was wonderful to see Trish Summerville’s Hunger Games costumes up close as well. On display was an ensemble for Jena Malone’s character that did not get a lot of screen time in the film, but was so interestingly made. A bronze corset layers over a full bodysuit texturally painted to look like the bark of a tree. I also loved the feather detailing on Katniss’ party gown, and the custom-painted blue fabric of her iconic Mockingjay dress had so much more detail than even shows up on the screen.

Trish Summerville's costume design for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Trish Summerville’s costume design for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The textured bodysuit from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The textured bodysuit from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Detail of the distressing on Chiwetel Ejiofor's pants for 12 Years a Slave (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Detail of the distressing on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s costume for 12 Years a Slave (photo by Brianne Gillen)

I was very impressed with the surprising detail on the costumes from the most recent adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. Carlo Poggioli’s designs included a beautiful blue gown with a glittering celestial pattern, and a beautifully made, delicate mask to match. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Oscar-nominated costumes from 12 Years a Slave were equally as detailed in their simplicity. Patricia Norris created a neutral color palette, and had to do a great deal of aging and distressing for some of the costumes. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s pants were torn and patched, and it was interesting to see up close the way they were not just ripped, but also looked as if some of the tears had been re-sewn to give the effect of darning and repair.

Oscar-nominated designs by Patricia Norris for 12 Years a Slave (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Oscar-nominated designs by Patricia Norris for 12 Years a Slave (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Carlo Poggioli's celestial-inspired gown from Romeo & Juliet (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Carlo Poggioli’s celestial-inspired gown from Romeo & Juliet (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Mask & detail of Romeo & Juliet gown (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Mask & detail of Romeo & Juliet gown (photo by Brianne Gillen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another highlight of the exhibit is the display of costumes from American Hustle. Oscar nominee Michael Wilkinson attended the opening, and graciously chatted with me for a few minutes about his wonderful designs for the film. The costume design was an important component of the story, and Wilkinson gave the characters so much more than just some flashy 1970s fashion. “The thing about these characters is that they’re all very idiosyncratic and out of the box,” he told me, “and so they really needed some very idiosyncratic and quirky costume choices…” The exhibit features a great range of these choices – from Christian Bale’s velvet suit to Jennifer Lawrence’s wild print dresses with gaudy jewelry, to Amy Adams’ plunging necklines and sleek attempts at sophistication. Wilkinson used some actual vintage pieces, as well as designing many of the costumes from scratch. “The script offers this situation where they all have such a close relationship with their clothes,” Wilkinson said. “They’re using clothes very consciously as part of their hustle, to reinvent themselves and become the people they always wanted to be, so it’s a lesson in what effect clothes have on the people around you.”

Michael Wilkinson's Oscar-nominated costumes from American Hustle (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Michael Wilkinson’s Oscar-nominated costumes from American Hustle (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Costumes for Jennifer Lawrence & Amy Adams in American Hustle (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Costumes for Jennifer Lawrence & Amy Adams in American Hustle (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The exhibit is rounded out by costumes from many different period pieces, including Daniel Orlandi’s designs from Saving Mr. Banks, which involve both the warm tweeds on Emma Thompson’s character and the darker-toned, beautifully beaded turn-of-the-century ensemble worn by Rachel Griffiths. Designer Caroline Harris’ costumes for 42 featured intricate detailing on the women’s and men’s suits, plus the great historical accuracy of the heavier 1940s baseball uniforms. The Invisible Woman (designed by Oscar nominee Michael O’Connor) featured traditional and beautiful 19th-century gowns and suits, while fellow nominee Catherine Martin used a mix of 1920s fashion with current designer elements for The Great Gatsby. I also loved getting a close look at Gary Jones’ work for Oz the Great & Powerful, with its fanciful, bright colors and exquisite beading.

Costumes from Saving Mr. Banks (photo by ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Costumes from Saving Mr. Banks (photo by ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

The bright color palette from Oz the Great & Powerful (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The bright color palette from Oz the Great & Powerful (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Once again, the FIDM Museum has put together an impressive sample of the best in costume design for the past year. It is always so wonderful to see designers get recognition for the incredible, and sometimes unnoticed, effort they put into helping tell these stories. Kevin Jones summed it up very well: “one of the reasons why we like to do this [is] because not only are we teaching the next generation of designers…but the fact that there’s so much that’s put into the costumes solely for the character, for the actor…” and there are “hidden design aspects to so many of the costumes.” Audiences don’t always realize the importance of costume design, not just for the look of a film, but in the way they help actors get into character. With this exhibit, the public can see part of that process, as well as the extraordinary skill and innovation that goes into creating each piece.

Michael O'Connor's Oscar-nominated designs for The Invisible Woman (photo by Alex J. Berliner / ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Michael O’Connor’s Oscar-nominated designs for The Invisible Woman (photo by Alex J. Berliner / ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Costumes from 42 (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Costumes from 42 (photo by Brianne Gillen)

It is a wonderful show, and if you are in the Los Angeles area, I hope you get the chance to visit. It opened this week, and runs through April 26, 2014, on the campus of FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90015. Visitors’ hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit the FIDM Museum website.

Disney’s Frozen: A Costume Review

Disney has had a huge success on its hands this holiday season with the studio’s latest animated feature, Frozen. It’s a fun film, with as much for adults to enjoy as for children. To me, one of the biggest surprises about the movie was the attention that was paid to costumes, which usually take a bit of a backseat in animation. While the pantheon of Disney princesses has produced some iconic gowns, usually they are relatively one-dimensional, and most characters only have one or two costumes throughout their story. Frozen breaks out of this mold, to great results.

Elsa

Elsa

I did a little digging about the look of Frozen, and was unable to find specific costume design credits. (If anyone does come across more information, please feel free to leave me a comment.) But I did discover that the animators did extensive clothing and fabric research, even dressing up and venturing out into wintry, snowy conditions to observe how the fabrics would behave. The Hollywood Reporter put together a fun behind-the-scenes piece about the film, in which they talk to co-director Jennifer Lee about the attention to detail that went into creating the looks for each character. Though the film doesn’t appear to have one specific designer, Lee reveals that many of the usual elements of the costume design process (character development, seasonal functionality, etc.) were taken into consideration by the directors and animators.

Elsa

Elsa

Frozen is a very loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and centers around two sisters and the struggles that stem from one sister’s ability to create ice and snow with her hands. Elsa, who becomes the Snow Queen, begins her story arc in hiding, trying to conceal and stifle her powers. Her early costumes reflect this – she is almost entirely covered up, with long sleeves, gloves, and a high-necked cloak. I was struck by how beautifully the animators captured the look of black velvet for this ensemble. During the musical number, “Let It Go”, as Elsa’s character sheds her inhibitions and lets loose with her powers, her costume also undergoes a fun transformation. By the end of the number, she is wearing an ice-inspired, shimmering gown. The character artists gave her skirt and cape a fluid quality, and her bodice looks like it is made of icicles. I especially love the glittery snowflake detailing on her cape.

Anna

Anna

Elsa’s sister, Anna, also wears a series of captivating costumes. Throughout the film she wears a variation on the same bodice, with different colorful skirts and accents. She almost always has floral-inspired detailing on her clothing, part of the animators’ effort to use the beautiful Norwegian painting technique of rosemaling throughout the movie’s production design. Anna’s dress for her sister’s coronation has a pretty, green striped skirt, which starts out soft and flowing, but ends up humorously (and realistically) stiff and crunchy after an encounter with icy water and snow. The winter gear she wears during a large part of the story seems simple on first glance, but really has quite a lot of nuance. Her bright pink cape and blue skirt are cheery and colorful, but animators made sure they also looked functional, and heavy enough to endure the winter conditions. It was an interesting choice, too, to have this outfit reflect Elsa’s pre-transformation costume. While Elsa’s ensemble is a bit more sophisticated, and the colors were more muted, Anna’s is more fun and youthful. But there is enough similarity between the two, mirroring Anna’s desire to be closer to her sister.

Frozen Anna & Hans

Anna & Hans

Kristoff

Kristoff

An enormous amount of detail went into the costumes in Frozen. Even the primary male characters had a great deal of intricacy in their wardrobes. Prince Hans’ silhouette was streamlined but regal. Kristoff’s clothing was much more utilitarian, but still artful. He wore thick, bulky fabrics to ward off the cold, and illustrators did a beautiful job of making the fur that lines his jacket look realistic. His embroidered red sash gave him a pop of color, and helped create a piece of visual unity between him and Anna.

In addition to the leads, there were many peripheral characters and “extras” in both fancy dress and winter woolens. The movie has a huge scope, and a great look. It’s intriguing to see the constant advances in animation technology, especially as they begin to involve the elements of costume design more and more. As animators are able to add more layers, detail, and realism to their art, there are greater opportunities to incorporate clothing into character development, and go further with costumes than ever before. I’m curious to see where it continues to go from here. It should be a fascinating evolution.

A Special Behind-the-Scenes Look at Television Costume Design

I recently got the chance to preview the 7th annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibit at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit runs through October, and is absolutely fantastic. The curator of the exhibit was Mary Rose, president of the Costume Designers Guild, and a costume designer herself. She put together the showcase based on some of the most talked about television shows and movies this past season, some of which received nominations for this year’s awards. The show is a great blend of fantasy and period pieces, as well as some modern offerings, which don’t always get the same attention, but still require great skill on the part of the designers.

I attended as part of a special preview for bloggers, and I’d like to extend a special thanks to my tour guide, FIDM spokesman (as well as designer & Project Runway alum) Nick Verreos. Nick was kind enough to give me a tour of the exhibit, and offered some great scoop and insight into the designers’ processes.

There was so much beauty on display, I hardly know where to start! Costumes for television are particularly unique. The designers create for characters who have the chance to develop over time, yet must hook us right away in order to pull us into the story and keep us there. Nick and I talked about how much feeling and information a piece of clothing must convey immediately on our screens. The costumes are so essential to an actor’s performance as well. In my own work I’ve had so many actors tell me how much they love getting into their costumes because it helps them really become their characters.

The interesting blend of styles on Game of Thrones (photo by Brandon Clark/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

The interesting blend of styles on Game of Thrones (photo by Brandon Clark/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

I also think television is almost more intimate than film, since we invite these stories directly into our homes on a regular basis. We get to know the characters and the stories they’re telling on a deep level, and that makes some of the costumes even more memorable. Despite that intimacy, many of the details can still be lost, even with HD, so it was exciting to get a closer look at all the careful attention put in to these works of art.

Sansa's Shakespearean dress from Game of Thrones (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Sansa’s Shakespearean dress from Game of Thrones (photo by Brianne Gillen)

I recently read a piece about all of the unique embroidery done on the costumes for HBO’s Game of Thrones (last year’s Emmy winner and a nominee again this year), and I loved being able to see that up close and personal. Nick told me that the costume designer for GoT, Michele Clapton, tries to keep the time period vague, since it’s a fantasy world. There are elements of Shakespeare and Robin Hood, and even ancient Egypt. I saw a beautiful gown worn by the character Sansa that had a Shakespearean influence with some unique twists. It had the full skirt and silhouette of a Renaissance gown, but unlike many dresses from that era, it was sleeveless. It also had small touches of armor-like metal at the hips of the skirt, giving it an appropriate feel for difficult, war-prone times. Clapton really did an excellent job of giving each character his or her own look, yet still keeping all the pieces unified. And here’s a fun piece of costume trivia – for one character who is continually at war, the costume department did not wash his robe for extended periods of time to make it more realistic given the difficulties of battle. It started to smell quite horrible, but the actor felt as if it helped him really embrace his character’s struggles.

An array of costumes from Downton Abbey, including looks for Maggie Smith (2 on far left) & Shirley MacClaine (center 3) (photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

An array of costumes from Downton Abbey, including looks for Maggie Smith (2 on far left) & Shirley MacClaine (center 3) (photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

You’ve heard me talk about my deep and profound love for the costumes of Downton Abbey, so needless to say, I was extremely excited to see the large display of nominated costumes from the show. They did not disappoint, either! Caroline McCall, Downton‘s designer, put an impressive amount of detail into her creations. The beauty of these pieces is astonishing. So many details that can’t be seen from our couches went into the costumes. It was great to see the different styles too, from the more conservative (and somewhat stuck in the past) Dowager Countess Violet (played by Maggie Smith) to her contemporary, Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson, who is far more stylish and modern. Nick and I had a great conversation about how her character probably reads Vogue and can get away with taking more fashion risks because she is an American, and would have been more apt to embrace the changing times than her British counterpart.

Lady Edith's Wedding Gown from Downton Abbey (photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Lady Edith’s wedding gown from Downton Abbey (photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

The delicate hand-rolled hem on the sleeve of Lady Edith's wedding gown (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The delicate hand-rolled hem on the sleeve of Lady Edith’s wedding gown (photo by Brianne Gillen)

 

And then there were the wedding dresses! Lady Mary’s and Lady Edith’s dresses from this past season were on display, and as beautiful as they were on screen, they were even more stunning up close. Both had the style and silhouette of the 1920s, and each was different and special in its own way. Nick told me that McCall took inspiration from Lanvin catalogues of the time period, as most women at the time (especially those with higher social standing) custom-ordered their clothing. It’s almost impossible to find actual 1920s fabric still in good enough condition to use, but she was able to at least make the shape and cut of the dresses true to the period. Edith’s dress was gathered at the side waist with some beautiful appliqués and embroidery that were also featured on the skirt and train of the dress.  And McCall also put in detailing that we at home would not have been able to see, but makes the dress even more special – the sleeves had a hand-rolled hem, done with silver metallic thread that caught the light in just the right way.

The stunning wedding clothes for Downton Abbey's Lady Mary & Matthew Crawley (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The stunning wedding clothes for Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary & Matthew Crawley (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Lady Mary’s dress was exquisite as well. It had a squared-off train and panels of delicate lace with hand-beaded trim that any bride, past or present, would love to wear. McCall again used metallic thread in this dress, this time in gold. The hem involved several parallel rows of impeccable gold stitching. The fine, lightweight tulle of Mary’s veil was tea-dyed to give it a creamy, vintage look.

The train of Lady Mary's wedding dress (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The train of Lady Mary’s wedding dress (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Hand-beaded lace detail on Lady Mary's wedding dress (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Hand-beaded lace detail on Lady Mary’s wedding dress (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The beautiful hem stitching on Lady Mary's wedding gown (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The beautiful hem stitching on Lady Mary’s wedding gown (photo by Brianne Gillen)

And from all that subtle, delicate beauty I now turn to the wild, extravagant excess that was Behind the Candelabra. The costumes from the HBO movie were a marvel. Nick told me that Emmy nominee Ellen Mirojnick only had five weeks (!) to re-create Liberace’s signature looks. The costumes would have been stunning no matter how long they took to construct, but the fact that the film’s costume department was able to accomplish all that detail in such a short amount of time makes them even more impressive. (Needless to say, I’ll be surprised if they don’t take home the award in September!) Mirojnick also had less creative license with Liberace’s costumes because there are so many iconic photographs of him, and she had to recreate the looks in a less expensive, but still visually stunning, way. The detail “behind the candelabra” was incredible.

The 75-lb. coat from Behind the Candelabra (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The 75-lb. coat from Behind the Candelabra (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The entertainer’s suits were hand embellished with staggering amounts of beading, rhinestones, and sequins. His famous pink “Neptune” suit and cape were covered with pearls, and the stripe down his pants had the feel of nautical rope. The cape was lined with multi-layered seaweed patterns and coral embroidery, and the collar looked like the set of an Esther Williams movie. And then there was the iconic white fur coat trimmed with rhinestones…the film version weighed 75 pounds. (The original, made of real fur, weighed over 100!)

The over-the-top costume magic of Behind the Candelabra (photo by Alex J. BerlinerABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

The over-the-top costume magic of Behind the Candelabra (photo by Alex J. BerlinerABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Liberace's elaborate "Neptune" costume from Behind the Candelabra (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Liberace’s elaborate “Neptune” costume from Behind the Candelabra (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Detail on Liberace's "Neptune" costume - note the pearled rope detailing & layered seaweed/coral patterns (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Detail on Liberace’s “Neptune” costume – note the pearled rope detailing & layered seaweed/coral patterns (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The jewel-encrusted shell collar of Liberace's "Neptune" cape (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The jewel-encrusted shell collar of Liberace’s “Neptune” cape (photo by Brianne Gillen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other 20th-century period pieces were on display as well. Ring of Fire, the recent June Carter Cash biopic (Lifetime) designed by Rhona Meyers, featured many real vintage pieces that were specially tailored and adjusted to fit Jewel and the other actors wearing them. Kathleen Detoro, the costume designer from CBS’s Vegas, used a mix of custom-made pieces and items from costume houses. The men’s suits in particular often came from wardrobe houses. Some of the coats and fur pieces for the women had to be recreated, though, as pieces like that have become worn with time and would look too shabby for the characters. The same is true for the fur pieces from Smash on NBC (designed by Joseph G. Aulisi). On display was a fur coat worn by Katharine McPhee’s character that needed to be white. Since most vintage white pieces have yellowed over time, Aulisi created a new, vintage-inspired faux-fur coat that made a more Smash-ing impression.

A sampling of the vintage pieces from Ring of Fire (photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

A sampling of the vintage pieces from Ring of Fire (photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Katharine McPhee's white coat from Smash (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Katharine McPhee’s white coat from Smash (photo by Brianne Gillen)

A custom coat from Vegas (photo by Brianne Gillen)

A custom coat from Vegas (photo by Brianne Gillen)

The exhibit provides a great balance between the elaborate period and fantasy looks and modern-day costumes, which require just as much thought and consideration but don’t often get the credit they deserve. Even though the designers are doing more shopping than creating from scratch, they still have to carefully think about what items they choose in order to convey the right messages about the characters. In Netflix’s House of Cards, Robin Wright’s character is a modern-day Lady Macbeth, and her costumes reflect that with crisp, harsh lines and bold yet dark looks. They convey immediately that she is a powerful force to be reckoned with. The black cocktail dress she wears when we meet her in the first episode is a designer piece that was altered to better fit her character. But costume designer Tom Broecker doesn’t just give his female characters a lot of time and attention – Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood wears suits from Savile Row, and the designer spent eight hours on fittings for the actor’s dress shirt alone, so that it was exactly the perfect fit for his body, as well as his careful, deliberate Congressman.

Costumes from House of Cards, including Kevin Spacey's custom-tailored shirt & Robin Wright's cocktail dress (photo by Brandon Clark/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Costumes from House of Cards, including Kevin Spacey’s custom-tailored shirt & Robin Wright’s cocktail dress (photo by Brandon Clark/ABImages, courtesy of FIDM Museum)

Scandal, set in a similar political world, also relies heavily on designer pieces. On display were some of Kerry Washington’s signature looks from the show, ranging from elegant evening gowns to stylish power suits, and one of my favorite ensembles, a white sheath with black lace accents and a gorgeous matching coat. Lyn Paolo puts Washington’s Olivia Pope in everything from Stella McCartney to Tom Ford. While most women in Olivia’s profession probably wouldn’t be able to afford quite that many expensive pieces, Paolo tries to keep her grounded in reality by reusing and mixing-and-matching some of her separates, as well as having her carry the same few handbags.

Two stylish black & white ensembles for Kerry Washington in Scandal (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Two stylish black & white ensembles for Kerry Washington in Scandal (photo by Brianne Gillen)

In addition to all of these gems, FIDM’s exhibit showcases the fantastic costumes from 2 Broke Girls (by FIDM alum Trayce Gigi Field), The Americans (Abigail Murray & Jenny Gering), Girls (Jennifer Rogien), Mr. Selfridge (James Keast), Nashville (Susie DeSanto), Parks & Recreation (Kirston Leigh Mann), and Rectify (Ane Crabtree).

The collection is such a wonderful showcase for the talented costume designers working in television, who do not get nearly the attention they deserve. So much time and effort goes into both the period and the modern pieces, and it’s exciting to see the results of that effort in person. FIDM and the Academy do these designers a great honor and service. The show runs through October 19 at FIDM’s Downtown LA facility (and it’s free!), so don’t miss it.

For more details & directions, please visit the FIDM Museum’s website.

Profile in Style: Gene Kelly

Kelly's casual look in An American in Paris

Kelly, casual in An American in Paris

One of my all-time favorite classic movie actors is Gene Kelly. In addition to his charm and unbelievable dancing skills, Kelly also had a unique sense of style. He always managed to make even the simplest clothing look effortlessly cool. No one sports a soaking wet tweed suit and fedora better or with more joyful abandon. In the number, “I Got Rhythm” in An American in Paris (1951) he wears a basic crew-neck sweatshirt and baseball cap and somehow looks anything but ordinary. With a red scarf, his signature penny loafers, and the sleeves rolled way up his arms, Kelly takes what could look like a boring or sloppy outfit and gives it a stylish edge.

Kelly's costume risk in The Pirate

The fantasy sequence in The Pirate

He also took a great deal of fashion risk with some of his costumes. During a fantasy dance sequence in 1948’s The Pirate, Gene wears a costume that most others would probably not be able to pull off – a sleeveless black shirt, torn black shorts, boots, and a head scarf. The outfit was quite edgy, especially for the time period, but achieved the goal of showcasing the incredibly powerful dancer’s muscles in his legs. The audience is fully aware of just how much strength and athletic ability Kelly had, while seeing his character through the filter of Judy Garland’s imagination.

"You Were Meant for Me" from Singin' in the Rain

“You Were Meant for Me” from Singin’ in the Rain

While The Pirate was perhaps one of the most extreme examples of the way Kelly dressed to show off his physique, he quite often appeared in a toned-down version. In many of his movies he wore shirts with fitted, shorter sleeves, and pants that were flexible enough to allow for his movements, but yet were not too flowing. He often successfully attempted an all-white ensemble, which is never easy, but still looked athletic and stylish, as in the “You Were Meant for Me” number in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. While his contemporary Fred Astaire often chose a more classically dapper look with suits, Kelly looked more like the “everyman” and was more casual. He spent a great deal of Summer Stock (1950) in jeans with rolled cuffs. Of course, that’s not to say Kelly couldn’t carry off a more elegant look as well – he looked dashing in his tuxedos in movies like Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) and Singin’ in the Rain, and perfectly at home in a sailor’s uniform on several occasions.

Kelly's signature look

Kelly’s signature look

And of course there were Kelly’s signature penny loafers. More often than not, he wore the soft, broken-in shoes to dance heavy tap numbers, lyrical ballets, and even stunt-heavy routines that involved jumping across rooftops. I imagine he must have had his loafers custom-made, as ordinary versions don’t strike me as particularly comfortable. But he made them his own, and dancing in them looked beyond easy when he did it.

Gene Kelly brought a unique style to the screen that we don’t often see today. Treat yourself to some of his classics, but also some of his more obscure films. No matter what he did, I never find myself disappointed in his style.

*An American in Paris featured costumes designed by Orry-Kelly (along with specialty costumes by Walter Plunkett & Irene Sharaff); Tom Keogh designed the costumes for The Pirate; Walter Plunkett designed both Singin’ in the Rain & Summer Stock; and Du Barry Was a Lady featured Gile Steele’s designs.

The Art (and Fun!) of Dressing a Zombie

In light of the recent huge popularity of zombies, I thought I’d step outside the box a little and focus on the art of making those brain-obsessed creatures look just right. Because it can be an art – and a very fun one. While mad props go to the makeup artists for turning good-looking actors into gross mutants, the costumers have their work cut out for them too. It takes precision to distress clothing, so that it looks genuinely filthy and bloody and is ripped in just the right places so as not to show (or show, depending on the piece!) too much skin. The 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead features a host of zombies in varying states of dress and undress. While some of them are a mess, others are actually quite clean considering their diet. But all are creepy.

The "Walkers"

The “Walkers”

The Walking Dead (AMC) does a great job with its zombie “fashion”. The “Walkers” are often dressed in a more neutral color palette, with varying degrees of blood and dirt. The costume department also has to contend with creating realistic holes left from zombie bites, and sometimes even missing sleeves or pant legs to accompany long-gone limbs. In addition to dressing the masses, they get to create some individualized Walker characters, like a little girl who needed to look both childlike and scary at the same time.

Some of my undead designs from Elle

I actually have some personal experience dressing the undead. One of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on came when I was the resident costume designer for Meh-Tropolis Dance Theatre. It was a modern retelling of the ballet Giselle (our version was called Elle). The entirety of Act 2 was set in a graveyard, as the title character fought to keep from becoming one of the zombie-like creatures of the underworld. Said creatures rose from the ground in a chilling dance number, and the all-black costumes for each dancer reflected the era in which they died. We had everything from a nineteenth century woman to a WWII soldier to a faded Flapper. I also gave them each a splash of red indicating how they had died. (And given that they were supposed to have died violently, I spent a morbid but useful evening coming up with possibilities!) My particular favorite: red claw marks from an animal attack. Our production had the added challenge of double-cast dancers, all of whom had been living humans in Act 1. Since we didn’t have time to give thirteen people full body makeup during intermission, we dyed a bunch of old tights gray and cut holes in them to make them into “sleeves” that mimicked their decaying skin.

From Elle: The Queen of the Underworld & her zombies

While audiences thoroughly enjoy watching zombies, we costume designers often have a blast dressing them as well. So next time you get your fill of mindless brain-hunters, have a little extra fun taking note of what it took to make them perfectly hideous!

*The costume designers for The Walking Dead are Peggy Stamper (2010) and Eulyn Womble. Night of the Living Dead does not list a costume design credit.

Timeless: When a Period Piece Looks More Like the Era in which It Was Made

I always love a good period piece. More often than not, they can be detail-oriented and historically accurate. Janie Bryant gives the actors on Mad Men 1960s-era undergarments, even when we won’t actually see them, to make sure the clothes have the right fit.

A beautiful look from The Tudors

A beautiful look from The Tudors

But I always find it interesting when the costumes and hair reflect the time in which the piece was made. Sometimes it’s intentional – I read that while working on the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley, Jacqueline Durran took some of her inspiration for the nineteenth century drama from the silhouettes of the 1950s. And while the stunning costumes for The Tudors were mostly accurate, designer Joan Bergin did incorporate some slightly modern touches to make them more accessible to the audience and put a unique stamp on the look of the series. Sometimes I wonder if some past classics were as intentionally modern, or if they simply didn’t put as much stress on history.

Angela Lansbury with 19th century '40s glamour in The Harvey Girls

Angela Lansbury with 19th century ’40s glamour in The Harvey Girls

I seem to notice that trend a lot in 1940s & 1950s films, especially when it comes to hair and shoes. An actress will have a beautiful Elizabethan gown, but a distinctively ’40s roll to her hair. Or satin pumps with a 19th century saloon dress, like in 1946’s The Harvey Girls.

Doris Day, looking quite '50s in what is supposed to be the '20s

Tea for Two’s Doris Day, looking quite ’50s in what is supposed to be the ’20s

While 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain is a masterpiece of 1920s fashion, Tea for Two (from two years earlier) often looks much more like a modern 1950s movie. Most of the film takes place in the 1920s, but is bookended by present-day scenes featuring the main characters’ children. It always cracks me up to see them dress up in their parents’ old clothes from the ’20s and make a point of teasing them about how out of date they look. Throughout the bulk of the flashback story, Doris Day’s outfits are much more modern (though still pretty!). There are times you might not even know you’re looking at a period piece.

The '80s meet the '60s in Dirty Dancing

The ’80s meet the ’60s in Dirty Dancing

One of my favorite more recent examples is the 1987 classic Dirty Dancing. While so much of the film reflects the fashions of the year in which it was set (1963), there are definitely some ’80s touches. Lisa definitely looks the part of a Jackie Kennedy wannabe, and Johnny’s DA hairstyle is great. But Penny’s rehearsal leotards are more the high-cut style not popular till the ’70s and ’80s. And Baby’s curly hairstyle and tank tops have a more modern feel.

I wonder if audiences twenty or thirty years from now will look back at our current period pieces and say the same thing – that they so reflect the early 21st century. It doesn’t seem as prevalent now as it did in other decades, but you never know!

*The women’s costume designer for The Harvey Girls was Helen Rose; Singin’ in the Rain featured Walter Plunkett’s designs; Tea for Two‘s costume designer was Leah Rhodes; and Dirty Dancing was designed by Hilary Rosenfeld.

Profile in Style: Barbara Stanwyck

Every once in a while, I’d like to profile an individual with great style.  First up: the marvelous Barbara Stanwyck.  Throughout her long career, she was always sophisticated and stylish, and got to wear some fantastic clothes in her films, particularly in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Wearing sharp sunglasses in Double Indemnity

Wearing sharp sunglasses in Double Indemnity

The 1944 classic, Double Indemnity, featured Stanwyck as a femme fatale.  When we see only her feet coming down the stairs, she is wearing an ankle bracelet, which caused sales of the jewelry to soar, just as Clark Gable plummeted undershirt sales when he went without one in It Happened One Night (more on that fabulous and fashionable film on another occasion!).  Stanwyck’s fierce character had a wardrobe to match.  Many of her clothes were tighter-fitting, and even her hair was harsher than usual – she went blonde for this film, and had curled bangs.  And those fantastic sunglasses in the scene where she meets Fred MacMurray in a store! Not too many women wore sunglasses in the films of the 1940s, but they looked just right on Stanwyck in this one.

At dinner with Henry Fonda in the Lady Eve

At dinner with Henry Fonda in the Lady Eve

In two of my favorite Stanwyck films for fashion (interestingly both from 1941), her characters were more likable.  The Lady Eve is a great sample of ‘40s style. The film is full of beautiful looks, from elegant evening wear to cute resort-style casual outfits. On the ship where her character, Jean, first meets Henry Fonda’s Hopsie, she wears a gorgeous 2-piece black evening ensemble that (modestly, of course) bares her midriff.  I once read that designer Edith Head, who had a long-standing collaboration with Stanwyck in her films, often used tricks to enhance Stanwyck’s unique figure.  She had a longer waist and a low backside, so Head tried to conceal that.  Her two-piece gown is a prime example – the high waist of the skirt gave her a long look, but the short beaded top and bare midriff pulls attention higher.  Her shoes got special attention in this scene too, as she breaks her heel when tripping Hopsie, and brings him back to her cabin so he can help her into a new pair.

Sparkling in Ball of Fire

Sparkling in Ball of Fire

My other favorite is Ball of Fire, a contemporary take on the classic fairy tale Snow White.  We’re first introduced to Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss O’Shea at the nightclub where she sings.  She wears a stunning sequined dress that almost blinds you when it catches the lights.  Again, the waistline is higher and bears her midriff, and the slits in the skirt allow her to show off her legs.  She also shines in a simple, classic, light-colored day dress, which she wears while teaching the kind and sheltered older professors how to dance.  I especially love her white shoes in this scene – they have the silhouette and thick heel so typical of the 1940s.

Whether she was manipulating the men in her orbit or trying to outrun them, Barbara Stanwyck was always fashionable.  Her characters often had an edge to them, but her clothes were usually sophisticated and beautiful.  Even as an invalid confined to her bed in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), she manages to look stylish yet vulnerable. And as the misleading Martha Stewart-type in Christmas in Connecticut (1945), she gets to wear some great long, full skirts.

Turner Classic Movies is featuring Stanwyck as their Star of the Month this month, so be sure to check out some of her movies if you get the chance.

*Edith Head designed the costumes for Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire, and Sorry, Wrong NumberChristmas in Connecticut featured Milo Anderson’s designs.

A Follow-up with Under the Streetlamp

Last night I had the chance to see Under the Streetlamp, who you may remember from my recent men’s style blog, in concert in Santa Barbara. They were super-stylish as usual, even including a costume change. In addition to the silver suits, their wardrobe for the first set featured classy black suits with festive red accents, including their signature individual ties. If they pass through your town on their holiday tour, be sure to go see them – they put on quite an entertaining show!

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With the gentlemen of Under the Streetlamp after the show

Dyed-to-Match Shoes

The dyed-to-match shoe.  In modern times, this has become something associated with weddings and Payless Shoes, and even at that it’s getting harder to find.  But in the 1950s and 1960s, it was quite popular, and usually done in an artful way.  In a season 3 episode of the TV series Mad Men, Pete’s wife Trudy wears a beautiful teal cocktail dress, and I was impressed to see her shoes as she curled up on the couch.  They were an almost perfect match in color to her dress (and a beautiful satin style as well).   Unfortunately, to see more evidence of this great trend, you have to go back further, to classic films.

Vera-Ellen & the gentlemen in White Christmas’ “Mandy” number

No one did dyed-to-match better than designer Edith Head.  Some of her best examples of this are actually on the men she dressed.  In many of her Technicolor movies, she created a seamless line for the men by matching their shoes exactly to their pants (and quite often, even the socks blended in!).  One of my favorite examples of this is 1954’s White Christmas.  The first evidence comes when Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby perform in their show-within-a-movie wearing light gray slacks and matching oxford shoes.  In the musical number, “Mandy”, Head takes it a colorful step further, with all of the male dancers in varying shades of green tuxedos.  And, of course, the shoes and socks match the pants, in those shades, perfectly.

Gene Kelly & Donald O’Connor’s suits and matching shoes from Singin’ in the Rain (photo by Brianne Gillen)

Walter Plunkett also employed this technique in Singin’ in the Rain.  I got to see some of his work up close at Debbie Reynolds’ 2011 costume exhibit, where Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s shoes were on display.  The green and white spectator-style oxfords were a great match to their suits from the “Fit as a Fiddle” number.  The women in Singin’ got some great shoes too, especially in the fashion montage in “Beautiful Girl.” Most of the ensembles had colorful shoes to match them, from blue lace-up flats with a bathing costume to bright pink satin shoes as part of an evening ensemble.  Even the chorus girls got to wear lavender shoes that were the same hue as their floaty dresses.

Another great, although lesser-known, example is My Blue Heaven (1950).  Betty Grable shows off her famous legs with some fantastic shoes in all kinds of colors.  And because of those legs, we get lots of long shots that provide for great shoe-viewing.  It’s a great picture for signature ‘50s fashion, and the shoes are particularly remarkable.

Leslie Caron & other dancers from the ballet in An American in Paris

One of my favorite types of dyed-to-match shoes are ballet shoes.  The silhouette of a pointe shoe is so beautiful anyway, but add some color and it takes it to another level.  Leslie Caron had some gorgeous colored shoes in An American in Paris, both in an early dance montage and then in the classic ballet.  Vera-Ellen had what appeared to be black leather pointe shoes in On the Town.  For several years I costumed a dance company, and I loved when we could work colored shoes into the dances.  For a ballet set in modern times, we even transformed some of the slippers to look like athletic shoes.  (And FYI – rather than going out and buying messy or even expensive fabric dye, try colored Sharpies.  They work wonders on satin pointe shoes, and you can even have some fun with special designs!)

*Janie Bryant designs the costumes for Mad Men; My Blue Heaven was designed by Charles Le Maire; the costume designers for An American in Paris were Irene Sharaff (ballet), Orry-Kelly (general costumes), and Walter Plunkett (Beaux Arts ball); and On the Town featured Helen Rose’s designs.