The breadth of costumes displayed from 24 popular television shows at the Television Academy and FIDM’s ninth annual “Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design” exhibition launch on Saturday seemed to visibly depict exactly why a crucial change to the 2015 Emmy costume categories — grouping work by period rather than show format — was implemented.
“There were always two categories; we just shifted from genre to costume type,” said the Television Academy’s Costume Design & Supervision Peer Group governor Sue Bub of the new groupings, which will recognize outstanding costumes in “period/fantasy” and “contemporary” categories, rather than under “series” and “miniseries/movie” umbrellas. Instituted so as to give contemporary shows “a more balanced opportunity and playing field” in an arena populated by a growing number of period pieces, Bub was happily able to decree, “There will be at least one contemporary show that will win an Emmy this year.”
That show could possibly now be the “The Mindy Project,” whose boldly patterned plaid suits, jackets and dresses brought pops of color to the exhibit, and whose costume designer Salvador Perez had never before been nominated — despite his soon-to-be four seasons with the show. “I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t opened up the categories,” said Perez, who received the news from Mindy Kaling herself after he couldn’t download the announcement. “Mindy doesn’t call, she texts,” he recalled. “And so she called, and I thought it was a don’t worry about it/next year kind of a phone call. And she’s screaming, and I’m like oh… ohmigod! The fact that Mindy called to congratulate me was the most special part of this.”
In the contemporary category – which together considers series, limited series and movies — Perez is up against costume designers from “Empire” and “Transparent,” as well as “Olive Kitteridge’s” Jenny Eagan and “Gotham’s” Lisa Padovani, both of whose work was on display in the eclectic show of the year’s craftsmanship curated by former Costume Designers Guild president Mary Rose prior to the nominations.
For Padovani, who’s been nominated four times — in ’08 for “Mad Men,” and for “Boardwalk Empire” in ’12-14 alongside John Dunn, now competing in the period category – a win for new show “Gotham” would be extra sweet. “We created a brand, so being recognized for that is astronomical,” she said. Padovani got the gig after pitching her ideas (“I thought blade runner, modern, ’80s, punk, rock & roll”) in a 10-minute phone call with exec producer Danny Cannon, who responded, “Yeah, that’s it – okay, you want the job?” She particularly loves “her penguin” (“he’s got a lot of eras going on at the same time”) and the challenge of keeping Jada Pinkett Smith chic but warm (“Jada is the biggest trooper ever, however, it’s freezing [in New York], so I have to provide some kind of coverage for her — even though she was outside with nothing on a lot!”).
And, after detailing how she fashioned a coat with 1940s vintage monkey fur and adhered real croc pieces to a dress, she agreed that the new categories are “more fair” to modern but deserving work. “I’ve got to tell you, contemporary stuff, it’s hard! Anybody who thinks it’s not hard just doesn’t understand what it takes.”
Eagan had her own pressures working on the passion project of actress Frances McDormand (which scored a slew of nominations, including lead actor and actress, supporting actor and actress, writing, directing and editing). “It’s her baby; (Frances) had been putting this thing together for six years. And when somebody like that, who’s as talented as she is, comes at you with everything that they have, everybody else wants to jump in and give as much,” said Eagan, who went from “True Detective” to outfitting a simple woman from Boston who she’d imagined to make her own clothes with organic fabrics and textures, and whom they padded as she aged. “Olive Kittridge, she really is in all of us a certain way. We may look at her and think ‘oh, she’s a horrible, awful woman.’ But she was a very helpful woman, and really it’s just a story about life.”
Season 5 “Breaking Bad” designer Jennifer Bryan felt her new project “Better Call Saul,” which garnered myriad nominations if not for costume, had a similarly relatable element. “There is a bit of an everyman’s story in there. We want to stay within the lines, but sometimes we do want to bust out!” she said. Her costume challenge was the prequel aspect: “(Jimmy) starts off as a lowly lawyer, and we know he’s going to end up being Saul Goodman, the big flashy lawyer … And he has a certain penchant for flashiness, but back then he didn’t have any money.” Her solution was double-breasted brown suits; brown because it’s “a poor man’s color,” and the “rich guy” double-breasted style, because it hints at the affluence to come.
What did come was a second season, and Bryan attributes it to the fact the actors bring so much of themselves. She recalled how, just the other day onset, “Bob (Odenkirk) had everybody stop, and he gave us an amazing pep talk. He thanked everyone for season 1, and he said, ‘We didn’t know how this show was going to be taken, but we still want to have that little bit of fire that keeps us going into the unknown.’”
Venturing into the known was FIDM graduate and “Whitney” costume designer Mona May, who exhibited three glitzy gowns. “When you have to work with iconic characters, you never want to lose the persona, because people have emotional attachment to the person, and Whitney, she’s beloved!” said May, who noted that Whitney was chic but never risqué, so used textures like sequins rather than anything short or inappropriate across her 100 outfit changes.
May was also celebrating the 20th anniversary of something else that’s come to be iconic, the movie “Clueless.” “I knew that when I got the script from Amy Heckerling, she wanted me to look into the future and bring what’s on the runway at the time to high school and translate it into the girls,” she said. “A lot of plaid, over-the-knee stockings, Mary Janes — we never put them in stilettos — headbands, white cuffs, really classic stuff, and I think that’s why the movie lives. I’m the queen of big fashion movies!”
Another celebrated designer showcased was Ellen Mirojnick, who won the Emmy in 2013 for miniseries “Behind the Candelabra,” and whose new show, “the Knick,” has racked up various Emmy noms. “Our story is eccentric, it’s modern, it has an edge and it’s gory at the same time that it’s beautiful,” said the costume visionary, who keyed her monochromatic black-and-white-type palette off a Thomas Eakins painting, and suggested to star Clive Owen that his arrogant, rule-breaking addict-doctor character wear green, the antithesis of red (blood). “And (Clive) said, ‘Yeah, how about green velvet?’ Because he’s a romantic. And we said, ‘Yeah!’ And he said, ‘So I can be David Bowie?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, you can!’”
Mirojnick called winning the Emmy for “Candelabra” the best day of her life, largely because of the late Jerry Weintraub, “a wonderful, wonderful, genius magic man — beyond belief, the most magical man you ever met — who was our producer.” She added, “He brought us into the Liberace Foundation. We saw things that no one in the world probably will ever see again. And he presented me with the Emmy.”
Winning was also a crowning moment for Lou Eyrich, who “felt like the Queen” when she won in the miniseries category last year for “American Horror Story,” but whose costumes, per the new rules, will now be competing against heavy-hitting period dramas “Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Downton Abbey” and “Wolf Hall.”
“I was really excited when I heard I got nominated… and then I went, but wait, I’m up against those? I don’t stand a chance! But I’m thrilled to have the nomination,” said the previous “Glee” designer, who feels lucky to start with a clean slate each season as the show changes themes, and who particularly loved developing comfortable styles for the disability-challenged “freaks.” “Ryan Murphy is just so out there and he surprises everybody every season and I think people get addicted to that, that suspense,” she added, noting that “American Horror Story: Hotel” will be the scariest season yet — even at the price of competing in what she termed “the big time” category.
Period/fantasy pieces add theatrics to the display, by way of opulent royal “Wolf Hall” garb (“Henry VIII wore purple, because only kings and queens wore purple,” explained FIDM rep Nick Verreos); slick “Agents of Shield” superhero suits (“it was so well-received we brought them back again,” said museum director Barbara Bundy); and a fantastical “Peter Pan Live!” welcoming parade at the entryway (“Have you seen the dragon?” exclaimed Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum).
But will the new contemporary-honoring change be permanent? Will the classifications be applied to other Emmy categories, like production design, in the future?
“It was something that needed to change, so this was an opportunity we had to see if it got everybody what they wanted,” said Bub of the amendments, which also opened up the TV Academy to new members in the costume community, and allow for more than one winner in each 2015 costume category. “We’ll see what happens.”
The “Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design” exhibit runs at FIDM Museum from July 21 – September 26.