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Costume Designers Vying for Emmy Glory Crafts Garments to Fit Demanding Shows

In TV’s new world of HD cameras, tighter-than-tight deadlines and all-angles shooting, costume designers must strive to withstand the kinds of physical and technological strains that could pull their creations apart.

Whether making a wardrobe for performance shows including ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” NBC’s “The Voice” or VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race”; for sketch comedies such as NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”; or scripted dramas like Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” costume designers must contend with HD and what it means for their color and fabric choices.

“Purple is a perfect example of how HD can affect what you’re doing because it’s a mixture of red and blue so you don’t really know how it’s going to look on camera, and we don’t do camera tests because there’s no time, and sometimes we get a request for something on a Friday that will air on Saturday,” says costume designer Tom Broecker, a 2014 Emmy winner for “SNL.” “For us it’s also a whirlwind because of how fast things change in politics, and the writers will want to do something with that right away.”

For “Unfortunate Events,” HD means going the extra mile to get that lived-in feeling for the clothes. “We use this wonderful, sticky stage dirt to give them a fantastic disgusting look because we wanted everything to be of this place,” says costume designer Cynthia Summers.

Then there are also physical performance challenges for some shows that only add to the excitement for designers. If someone will walk a runway or do a big dance number in a costume, then they might have to make an adjustment at rehearsal. But they also always need to add some glitz and help a dance contestant or drag performer make a showy case for their work.

 “Sometimes we don’t realize there’s going to be a low camera angle or that one of the dancers is going to swing over another dancer, so we have to do some last-minute lace to cover up something that’s showing that shouldn’t,” says Daniela Gschwendtner, who has been Emmy-nommed twice for her work on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“The costumes have to move with the dancers so we’re always working to see how we can give them something that works with the song, the style of dance and steps they will do.”

Erin Hirsh, costume designer nominated twice for her work for NBC’s “The Voice,” tries to help contestants find a look that will give them confidence while they compete. She often adds embellishments for an extra pop. Zaldy Goco, who has worked with RuPaul for many years, also aims for impact.

“[RuPaul] wants to look like a goddess,” says Goco, last year’s Emmy winner in the category for variety, nonfiction or reality program costumes. “The fabrics, the design, it all has to work and be glamorous at the same time because drag doesn’t sit still.”

(Pictured above: Actor Jordan Fisher and partner Lindsay Arnold in “Dancing With the Stars”)

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