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‘Gotham’ Costume Designer Lisa Padovani Creates Villainy With Style

In the world of “Gotham,” time moves a little differently. “It’s yesterday, it’s today, and it’s tomorrow all at the same time,” creator Bruno Heller has said of the Fox drama’s gothic setting — and that aesthetic is evident from the city’s architecture all the way down to the inhabitants’ clothing, allowing Emmy-nominated costume designer Lisa Padovani to create a style that’s unique to the series.

“Even though it’s not a period piece, per se, it’s a concept piece, so everything is very particular,” Padovani says, admitting she tries to produce the majority of the show’s costumes inhouse, especially for characters like Jada Pinkett Smith’s villainous Fish Mooney, whose wardrobe is as integral to her character as her killer instinct. “It’s a problem for costume designers in TV because you’re at the mercy of whatever’s going on in fashion. That’s why I like to control my product.”

For inspiration, Padovani focused on the “timelessness” of the story. “I took the idea of the original graphic novels mixed with elements of ‘Blade Runner.’ And punk rock actually played a big part in it,” she notes.

Padovani is a four-time Emmy nominee for her work on “Boardwalk Empire” and “Mad Men” whose aesthetic was honed on features (“The Departed,” “Far From Heaven”), which demanded costumes that could withstand close scrutiny on the bigscreen. “My sensibility as a film designer is never settling and designing the very best you can; you have literally a split second to make the decision. You can’t be wishy-washy.”

As a result, Padovani admits that the biggest hurdle on “Gotham” was the broadcast TV model — most notably the time constraints: “Keeping the best quality for 22 episodes, which was really a whole year with the pilot — that was mentally, emotionally, physically challenging.”

But Padovani says her job is made easier by stars like Ben McKenzie, who plays Gotham City’s last good cop, Jim Gordon. “Ben McKenzie has a really good eye and was very much into the fact that I was making him his suit,” she notes. “It fit him like a glove. He could run and do all his action. He felt extremely comfortable and knew he would look good from every angle. That’s important for an actor. He’s in every bloody scene!”

Pinkett Smith’s performance also helped inspire her costuming as crime boss Fish: “She brought a lot to it; a real fierceness that wasn’t on the page. (Fish) was a ruthless woman so I didn’t think she was much of an environmentalist. We did a lot of animal skins and feathers and leather.”

In her Emmy-nominated episode, “Under the Knife,” Padovani’s team transitioned from the suit and tie aesthetic of Gotham P.D. to a formal occasion, as young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) attended Wayne Enterprises’ charity ball.

“In our concept meeting about the episode, I wanted to give it a theme, even though it wasn’t on the page,” Padovani says. She suggested Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White ball as the main inspiration. “I wanted some society ladies with that ’60s big, beehivey hair (and) Dior straight coat dresses and gloves — but mixed in with some contemporary. It still gives you that feeling of ‘When is this?’”

The ball was a particular coming out for Bicondova’s Selina, who wore one of Padovani’s custom creations. “For my little Catwoman, this is the first time we’re seeing her out of her street wear. I wanted her to look like a fairy princess but with some edge. We created this big beautiful tulle skirt over this tight bodice with little cap sleeves, but it’s lined in leather. And we made her little lacy mitts like her leather mitts,” Padovani reveals. “If you really look at it she’s wearing fishnet stockings and these interesting ruby slippers that are very modern. I don’t skimp, because you never know what you’re going to see.”

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