Emmy-winner Lou Eyrich rose up to the rank of costume designer on Ryan Murphy’s “Popular” just over two decades ago and has worked with the prolific producer ever since. Three years ago she was promoted again, and now acts as a costume design producer across all of his series. This Emmy season alone that includes “9-1-1” and its spinoff “Lone Star” for Fox, limited series “Hollywood” and the first season of “The Politician” for Netflix, and both “American Horror Story: 1984” and the second season of “Pose” for FX — all while also working on projects for next Emmy season, too. Those soon to premiere series include “Ratched,” “Boys in the Band” and “The Prom,” all for Netflix.
What went into adding producer to your already long list of responsibilities?
It shifted about three years ago when he started working on multiple projects overlapping. We had down three or four in a row — I think we ended with “Feud” — and I was really worn out. I went to him and said, “Hey, I can’t keep going at this pace. What if, because there are so many shows at once, I start the shows, get the looks going to your approval, and hire a designer that will step up and then they’ll take it over and I’ll move onto the next one?” So he made me a producer to oversee the costumes on every show.
How does that change your process?
I decide who I think the designer should be judging by the period and the content. For “Hollywood,” for example, I hired Sarah Evelyn, who also designed “American Horror Story: Cult.” We meet with Ryan, he goes over the color palette and the tone of the show. Ryan is so specific, down to movie references, photographer references. Because he is also involved 100% in the writing of these scripts, so he knows the tone and when I meet with him for the first time, there’s a whole template already in place by him. And each one is so specific per the show. So he breaks down what he wants and then we go and put our mood boards together for each character and the tone of the show. Then we meet back with him and he’ll expound on the boards. And sometimes we go back a second time with reworked boards. But I hire designers based on what Ryan’s specific ideas for the look of the show are.
When you are working in such a way, pulled in so many different directions, what is the most important thing you need to do to keep track of it all?
The biggest and most important is getting images in front of Ryan when he also is so busy. So on “Hollywood,” Sarah and I worked closely by the hour, by the day, and I would get the boards in front of Ryan at video village where he was on set with me for “The Prom.” Getting the answers quickly for Sarah, so it doesn’t slow them down on that end, is important. Also, setting up a Google Doc or a way of sharing so I can constantly be looking at the photos and help guide them in their decision-making. Sarah doesn’t really need my guidance, but it helps because we all know that Ryan is the guiding light here and we want to make sure that he is getting the show that he wants. So I’m kind of used as the dispatcher.
What has been the biggest adjustment for the way you personally work?
I’m a control freak and I’m all about details, so it’s really hard for me, when I entrust a designer to do a show and I look at it going, “Well I would add a belt and I would put a flower on a lapel.” But there is an element of, “Can I tell another designer what I think it should be when I’ve entrusted them to be the designer?” That’s been a hard thing for me to know when I can speak up or not. The other thing is the political part of it — when there’s a problem with a crew member, having to be the voice of reason. I’m used to just going to a producer, but now I’m the one who has to help them handle it. And the budgets — making sure that every show is staying on budget. I’m very much of the creative mind, so all of the numbers and the accounting side of it and the organizational side of it, it’s not my strongpoint, so I’m learning to use new muscles.
Going back to what you were saying about when to speak up, what is the deciding factor in if you do?
It’s the relationship and knowing if it’s what Ryan would want. I try to step out of my own agenda and say, “Would Ryan be happy with this?” So, how important do I think this is? If I think it’s important I will say, “This is what I think it’s missing.”
“The Politician” centers on a high school student but one who is so ambitious he can’t be wearing jeans and tee shirts all the time, if at all. What were the inspirations?
On “The Politician” I hired a designer — Claire Parkinson — so Claire did the bulk of the characters on the show. I was really on there for the first episode and then had to move on. Ryan’s references for the show, the overall vibe, was “’70s California, wealthy family with old money.” And Payton, Ben Platt’s character was “idealistic, dressed for success, presentational.” JFK was a reference, Robert Redford in “The Way We Were” and “The Candidate.” There were some fashion books and editorials as references for Payton, too.
The world of “The Politician” is opulent but modern day. Did that mean you could find most pieces to buy or rent, rather than having to make looks from scratch?
Because it was contemporary a lot of it was able to be purchased outright. Claire did mix in a lot of vintage pieces on the kids. For Jessica Lange, a lot of her stuff was from costume houses and goodwills -— more found. Georgina, for Gwyneth [Paltrow], was a lot of high-end finds from showrooms that were loaned to us. So it was a big mixture. I would say 80% shopped.
Was “Hollywood” a reverse experience, given the period nature?
In L.A. we have a lot of costume rental houses, so we are able to rent, but at that time there were four or five other shows in the exact same period as ours so it was slim pickings. So we scoured the United States and Europe for vintage finds. Coming out of “Ratched,” it was the same time period in post-World War II, so we wanted to make sure we had a very specific, different look and feel. It’s hard to find good ’40s pieces because it’s very old now and things are falling apart. So we used a lot of patterns and made things. We had a phenomenal tailor shop in-house, and I would say they made at least 50%. Also because body shapes have changed quite a bit: Men are taller, women tend to have bigger chest sizes and foot sizes. The shoes were the toughest part because it’s hard to find them as they’d be falling apart and it’s rare to have a size nine or 10.
There is also more of a diversity of wealth in “Hollywood.”
We wanted to make sure that for Jack and Henrietta, their looks definitely showed their rank. They lived in a small apartment, he was an aspiring actor who became a reluctant call boy in order to reach his dream, and she was a waitress. And then we wanted to gradually show his turn of events in becoming an actor with a contract. Same with Archie and Raymond, we had to start in one world and slowly build it up. And yet, you had Patti LuPone and Rob Reiner’s characters who had to come out of the gate always looking together and monied. So there was the look of the power players and the look of the aspiring, and you should definitely see that gap.
At the end of “Hollywood” the characters attend the Academy Awards. How did the actual 1948 ceremony inform the costumes?
I was full-on doing “The Prom” at this point and setting up “Pose” and “The Politician,” so Sarah and the team pretty much ran that whole show. Sarah would show me photos and I would help her through it. But Ryan wanted to recreate the actual 1948 red carpet and arrivals and presenters and winners. Everything had to be made. Ryan wanted a very strict color palette for that: He wanted the women all in pastels — dreamsicle colors — and all of the men in cream tuxedos with a splash of black tuxedos here or there. And it turned out to be beautiful, but they only had about four days to pull it all together. Every costume house and tailor shop in town was pumping out tuxedos and dresses, and I know she had to build Queen Latifah’s dress over a weekend. And as they were prepping it, there were other scenes being shot at the same time, like the big funeral scene, so they had to work around the clock to get it done.
Do you have a favorite character aesthetic or specific look from the shows you’ve worked on this year?
Not really because costume designers are storytellers and every character is important in the telling of the story. I don’t really have a favorite in the big picture, but I might be closer to some. I dress a lot like McAfee; I wear suits and blouses and tee shirts, and when we started dressing her I realized we were dressing her the way I dress myself a lot. But that didn’t make it a favorite, I just had to be careful not to make her too much like me. I will say that when you bounce back to “American Horror Story,” doing so many seasons, I may have some favorites in hindsight, but not when I’m in it because you have to keep your eye on the big picture.