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‘Feud,’ ‘The Crown,’ ‘Genius’ Costume Designers: Period Piece Gurus

From hollywood royalty and British regality to a dark dystopian totalitarianism and a time-bending Wild West theme park, this year’s Emmy nominees in the category of period/fantasy costumes for series, limited series, or TV movie were charged with bringing some of television’s most fascinating characters to life. Here, they reveal the tumult and toil behind outfitting some of the year’s best-dressed characters.

Feud: Bette and Joan
For “And the Winner Is … (The Oscars of 1963),” the episode of FX’s historical Hollywood drama for which costume designer Lou Eyrich received an Emmy nomination this year, she assumed the responsibility of recreating an entire Academy Awards ceremony — from a red carpet experience to a telecast. “At times, we had to copy — frame by frame — the real Oscars ceremony,” says three-time prior Emmy winner Eyrich of the daunting task.

This means that Eyrich, along with her assistant costume designer Hannah Jacobs and costume supervisor Katie Saunders, all of whom are nominated too, had to track down “red carpet-worthy gowns and tuxedos for 400-plus background actors.” They were also challenged to re-
create iconic looks worn by some of Hollywood’s greatest legends, Eyrich says.

“There was a lot of fabric dyeing, custom fabric printing and beading,” Eyrich says of the efforts to perfect the gowns worn by Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange), and Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones). “Joan’s dress took more time than planned, as we had to come up with a clever way to make her beaded dress on a TV budget. Kathy Bates’ character, Joan Blondell, wore a kaftan that had to be hand drawn and the fabric printed and sewn in a matter of days.”

National Geographic’s Emmy-nominated anthology drama proved to be particularly interesting to its costume designer, Sonu Mishra, because of the midseason transition from a younger version of Albert Einstein to an older one (played respectively by Johnny Flynn and Geoffrey Rush).

“There were so many different situations we needed to portray — from elegant dining rooms to bread lines, battlefields, scientific laboratories and political gatherings,” Mishra says of the complexity of the task at hand with “Einstein: Chapter Seven,” the episode for which she was nominated alongside assistant costume designer Martina Hejlová and costume supervisor Petia Krckova.

And it wasn’t just Einstein who was suddenly at a different stage in his life and a different period in history. Mishra had to make new costumes for “almost every character,” sourcing elements from shoes and hats to military uniforms from countries all over Europe. “We made almost every costume, except for the uniforms, in record time. My tailoring team worked ceaselessly to make it happen,” Mishra adds.

The Crown 
“The believability of the show, in a visual sense, hinged on getting the wedding right,” says costume designer Michele Clapton of “Wolferton Splash,” the season premiere of the Netflix historical drama, which featured the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith). “If the audience believed the wedding, for example, then they’d go, ‘Maybe that really happened in private.’ ”

Clapton, who has scored three prior Emmy wins, is nominated this year alongside assistant costume designers Alex Fordham and Emma O’Loughlin, as well as costume supervisor Kate O’Farrell. For Clapton, the key was in finding Elizabeth’s signature style. “Elizabeth was really the focus. We tried to humanize [her] — but you can only do that if you nail the real outfits,” Clapton says. “We needed to find her and then establish her relationship to those around her.”

The Crown” taps into an elegance of a bygone era, and in subsequent episodes of the show, Clapton was able to use a variety of colors and textures to showcase Elizabeth’s evolution as she rose to power as queen.

The Handmaid’s Tale
With any series, a pilot episode serves to introduce each character and build the world of the show from the ground-up. With “Offred,” the Emmy-nominated pilot of Hulu’s dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” costume designer Ane Crabtree helped to build Gilead, a new political regime that spurred distinct classifications of people — and dress. The titular handmaids had to be outfitted modestly, hiding their bodies and faces when in public, while the commanders and their wives could be more elegant, even if still conservative.

“America, as we knew it, and the clothing we wore, was destroyed,” says Crabtree, who shares the nomination with costume supervisor Sheena Wichary. “I approached each design element as if I were Commander Waterford [Joseph Fiennes] thinking on building a new empire, a new normal.”

Crabtree says she never could have guessed how resonant the show would prove to be, but she is “very proud of the large impact that it’s had on women’s political viewpoints and women’s rights.”

Costume designer Trish Summerville says she always wanted to do a western, and with HBO’s “Westworld,” she got to do that and more. “With this project I was able to do everything from gunslingers to saloon girls and natives, while also designing for a futuristic world,” Summerville says of Sweetwater and Delos, the twin settings served up in the series.

Having multiple environments to outfit, all while keeping the time period indiscriminate, was one aspect of the show — and the Emmy-nominated episode entitled “The Original” — that proved to be very unique for costume supervisor Lynda Foote. “The costumes needed to introduce the many layers of [the theme park], and each layer had to have its own uniqueness: The old west hosts needed to stand out from the guests, yet on first glance they may look similar,” Foote says.

One of the tools used to differentiate these worlds was color, Summerville says, keeping the western town of Sweetwater “in warm, welcoming tones and prints” while establishing Delos as “an icy cold, technical environment.” “The Delos world was the most fun and challenging,” Foote adds. “These characters all needed to convey a strange mix of the futuristic and a cold sense of where humanity has evolved whereby people seek out this kind of entertainment to actually feel emotions again. It’s the stifling world of a future where ‘real’ has to be bought.”

This is the first Emmy nomination for both and they share the honor with assistant costume designer Jo Kissack Folsom.

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