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Costume Designer Karyn Wagner Brings Sharp Silhouettes to AMC’s ‘Preacher’

Costume designer Karyn Wagner was browsing in a comic-book store when she stumbled upon “Preacher,” the popular 1990s graphic-novel series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

Smitten by the bizarre, satirical tale of outlaw Jesse Custer, who returns to his Texas home to take over his dad’s church as his body becomes possessed by a strange force, Wagner began searching for colleagues who shared her enthusiasm for the story. She embarked on a personal crusade, pitching “Preacher” as a concept to producer friends.

Then she learned that the property had landed a TV-series commitment from AMC, with producers including Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

“I went a little bit crazy,” Wagner admits. “I sent the producers flowers and notes, I was so eager to get that job.”

In her quest to score the position of costume designer, Wagner created an extensive lookbook emphasizing the individuality of the comics’ leads, including supernaturally tainted priest Custer, ex-girlfriend Tulip O’Hare, and hard-living Irish vampire Cassidy.

Wagner got the job, continuing on the path of Laura Jean Shannon, the costume designer for the pilot. The series premiered in May; in June, AMC renewed it for a 13-episode second season that will air in 2017.

Part of Wagner’s mission was to give the show’s costumes a universal quality.

“In [movies], you can really pay attention to the details. But in television, you have to be more focused on the style and shape, and make sure those aspects linger.”
Karyn Wagner

“We reference that [the show is set in] Texas, but I wanted to give the characters an Everyman feel,” Wagner says. “This would allow the viewer to believe it could be happening anywhere, including just down the street.”

Creating garments for the first season, Wagner balanced reimagined concepts with those defined in the books. Looks pulled from the comics include two angels who dress like classic film cowboys, and Custer, played by Dominic Cooper, whose clothes are adorned with silver tips.

With every garment she designed or altered, Wagner paid particular attention to the silhouettes of the actors, focusing on creations with a slim fit and sharp, angular shoulders.

In movies, “you can really pay attention to the details,” says Wagner, whose film credits include “The Green Mile” and “The Notebook.” “But in television, you have to be more focused on the
style and shape, and make sure those aspects linger.”

Wagner says she particularly enjoyed reinventing the character of Tulip, played by Ruth Negga. Street-smart and worldlier than the small-town Texas folk around her, Tulip has a strong sense of fashion and color; her wardrobe draws a sharp contrast to the thrift-shop apparel worn by most of the show’s other characters.

Negga is often in action sequences, so Wagner had to ensure that the costumes would allow her to perform physical stunts such as jumping over fences.

Meanwhile, to create costumes for Cassidy, a 115-year-old vampire played by Joseph Gilgun, the designer had an innovative approach: She imagined the character wearing whatever items would fit him from the church’s collection box.

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