Road to the Emmys 2012: The Creative Arts Nominees

All the periods recreated by the Emmy nominees for hairstyling have looks that have endured in some recognizable form — but they also had off-putting, unflattering cuts better left on the salon floors of history.

Department-head stylists walk a razor’s edge between an almost scholarly devotion to period authenticity and sculpting period-referential styles that appeal to contemporary sensibilities.

The art is “to make ‘period’ fresh,” says Stefano Ceccarelli of “The Borgias.” “You can’t go too severe. Sometimes you have to compromise because the hairstyle has to go with the actor’s face.

“But you must always think of how what you do will be perceived by the audience. The challenge is a fresh look that could be accepted, making the audience believe that it’s true.”

Inspired by Renaissance paintings, Ceccarelli’s styles vary between various social classes and settings for individual characters. In courtly formal appearances, Lucrezia Borgia (Holliday Grainger), gets an intricately woven golden crown and cascading rivulets, but in boudoir scenes the character literally lets her hair down.

Anne Oldham’s work on “Downton Abbey,” set in Edwardian England, offers a similar contrast between an estate’s upper class and their servants quartered below.

One trick of the trade stylists acknowledge is to go more period with character actors and passing players than with the principals.

“We all do that to a degree,” says Oldham. “The main characters have to be instantly recognizable. But you can be a little playful with a character person.”

In “Mad Men,” a bar scene where mod singles approach Don Draper allowed stylist Theraesa Rivers to “throw in some interesting bubbles and beehives,” whereas series regulars sport an eye-catching range of perfectly plausible ’60s styles that Rivers adapts using magazine and pop-culture iconography, from “La Dolce Vita” to “The Twilight Zone.”

“We don’t want everyone to look glamorous and over-the-top,” Rivers says. “A good balance helps us stay focused on character.”

Styling mostly Prohibition-era men for “Boardwalk Empire” permits Francesca Paris to revisit what’s now known as the “fade,” a look so popular today that gangsters seem scarcely period but for pomade. Her style for Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) derived “from a combination of different historical haircuts” gave “edge to a pretty-boy face” — and became a modern sensation.

Did inventing something new cross the line? “I put a lot of thought into that,” Paris says. “I wanted a style that people could relate to.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Creative Arts Nominees
Sound | Hairstyling | Cinematography & Picture Editing
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