Hollywood often measures a costume designer’s success by bolts of fabric and yards of awards — the bigger the dresses, the greater the kudos. Designer Janie Bryant seemed to validate that theory when she earned three consecutive Costume Designers Guild nominations and an Emmy for her gritty crinolines and woolen suits on HBO’s “Deadwood.”
But Bryant bucked the trend when she moved to more contemporary turf on the AMC drama “Mad Men.” In 2009, her stunning ’60s-era shifts and slim suits for the Madison Ave. set garnered her a CDG award, an Emmy nom and Seventh Avenue’s admiration. Not since “Sex and the City” has a TV show exerted such sartorial influence.
“Mad Men” has become a style, applauded by audiences, fashion designers, retailers and the media. A recent Google search of “Mad Men fashion” turned up 16,200 entries, from the Wall Street Journal to Vanity Fair to Vogue.
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Fashion designers Michael Kors and Peter Som have referenced the “Mad Men” look in recent womenswear collections, but Bryant’s real influence has been felt in menswear, where style usually moves at a glacial pace.
Arthur Wayne, director of communications for Brooks Brothers, says menswear is “more evolutionary than revolutionary, but for the last two years we have seen a real shift in men wearing slimmer suits. I think what Janie has done for the show plays right into that.”
Brooks Brothers built some of the suits for season three and will announce a Bryant-designed “Mad Men edition” suit in late fall: a grey sharkskin number as sharp as conflicted adman Don Draper.
Bryant admits her costumes have been trendsetting, but thinks people are obsessed with the show because of “the richness of the characters.” She says “Mad Men” speaks to “the hope and desire that people can grow and learn and change.”
IN A NUTSHELL
Job title: Costume designer
Role model: “My grandmother Etoile Lillard Chestnutt. She made all of her clothes and all of my mother’s clothes. She just had impeccable taste.”
Career mantra: “It’s about living in the moment and really appreciating your days — having an attitude of gratitude.”
Leisure pursuits: Zumba class, a brutal Salsa-inspired exercise routine that makes you “sweat your ass off.”
Philanthropic passion: “An orphanage in Kenya, where 50 children live whose parents died from AIDS.”