With Mad Men season five on its way (early 2012, we’re told!), the LCBO (Ontario’s liquor kingpins) hosted a ’60s-inspired gala this past February at Toronto’s swanky Carlu venue to introduce its new line of classic cocktails.
Adding to the event’s authenticity quotient was special guest Janie Bryant, MM’s own costume designer extraordinaire, who hosted an exclusive Q&A. Answers to fashion’s greatest dilemmas were not all she packed along for this visit; to our delight a selection of her favourite looks, direct from the show’s wardrobe vault, came along for the trip.
Getting the chance for a tête-à-tête with this fashion maven proved a difficult feat between the cocktail soirée and promoting her new book The Fashion File (Grand Central Publishing, $29.99), detailing the cornerstones to creating your at-home signature ‘60s-inspired getups, including tips on the perfect red lip, flawless and functional undergarment selection, and how to dress for your body, not the trend of the moment.
We did finally manage to catch a moment alone with the Madison Avenue mastermind — dressed to the sky in gold Giuseppe Zanotti platform heels and a Venetian-inspired St. John gown, no less — to talk of the challenges and inspirations of period-specific styling.
How long have you been designing for the show?
Since the second episode of the first season.
How did you get involved?
I knew the director of the pilot Allan Taylor, and he recommended me to the producers.
Creating a concept for a single editorial is one thing, but how do you go about pitching a creative brief for an entire show?
I used to design Deadwood, and like any job I had to prepare a presentation and bring my portfolio.
Production-wise, not quite like any other job! Do you ever feel daunted at all by the level of detail required?
I have always been very passionate about period design, so I was really excited about designing the show. I wasn’t anxious at all, but more inspired.
It must have been at least the most challenging job you’ve had to date, considering the level of detail. Are the male or female characters harder to dress?
They’re challenging in their own ways. The menswear is all about tailoring; it’s all about the details of the collar or the colour of the shirt, or choosing that character’s accessories, even the socks. If you think about it, there [are] a lot more pieces to the men’s suiting and shirts and ties than to a woman’s dress. For women, it’s more about the foundations and the undergarments and finishing with the accessories. For me, it’s all about variety.
It’s the accessories that catch me, I’m always stunned by the jewellery. I’m guessing they’re authentic from the era itself. Where do you source them?
A lot of different places: from vintage stores, a dealer that I work with who collects from all over the country, or even just the rental houses. Sometimes I’m lucky and find an amazing piece at the Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
Favourite style moment from the show?
Probably one of my favourite style moments was last year for Betty Draper when she was wearing the jewelled neckline dress that was silk/wool in a pale blue, A-line shift. (When Don Draper is out with Bethany at the restaurant and Betty goes into the bathroom to smoke cigarettes in the stall, crying).
Not the best moment for Betty, but yes, that was quite an outfit. How many people work with you in the costume department to create such great looks?
I have an amazing crew of nine people. My costume supervisor Lee Dawson works below me, I have an assistant costume designer and set costumers that take care of the actors on set, as well as a cutter/fitter who works directly on the pieces.
What’s the process for getting the actors through their fittings?
The first initial fitting for the season for each principle actor takes about three hours. Then we’ll have additional, shorter fittings throughout the season.
How does accessibility (the vintage boom) play into the execution of costume design?
Costume design is a really challenging job, but it’s also rewarding when you’re allowed to put forth all your creativity. I think that most costume designers are fanatical about details. I don’t think having accessibility to materials has much to do with it; you can’t miss that perfect pair of shoes!
Broadening out, favourite costume design in film history?
That’s a hard one. It’s toss-up between Moulin Rouge and Gone with the Wind.
Favourite contemporary womenswear designer?
Do you know who I’m kind of obsessed with right now? Marchesa.
Favourite red carpet style star?
Do the leading ladies ever ask you for your input in terms of off-set style?
No, not really. They usually work with their own stylists, you know. But I think that all the three women, on the red carpet, really want to express their own personalities. It’s not about expressing their characters on the show. They want it to be different.