Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with Mad Men’s Emmy-award winning costume designer, Janie Bryant. She and her team have single-handedly reintroduced the notion that dressing well and looking good can be cool. A generation of men are relearning the rules thanks to a television show. So much has been written about the women’s fashions, understandably, but the show is called Mad Men. I wanted to speak with her about their costumes.
I’ve designed some of their suits, and then they’re made-to-order. On my team, I have a cutter-fitter named Joanna Bradley, an incredible tailor. I’ll design the suit, and time-permitting, she will build it to all the period specs. Otherwise, we send it out to industry-specific costumers, P&K or Western Costume, both of which have an amazing tailor shop.
What do you look for in a tie?
For this period, I love repp ties. They’re so classic. Solid ties as well. I love ties that have a single decorative embroidery in the middle of the tie.
Sometimes, depending on the storyline, we’ll need multiples, and our tailor does that.
That’s incredible! Are you familiar with a store here in New York, Freemans Sporting Club, that uses deadstock woolens to make ties?
Yes. They’re so great! You know who’s also doing that? Brooks Brothers, with their Black Fleece line.
I love it. I think it’s great. I’m humbled. I love to influence designers in my work. You know Deadwood was one thing, but Mad Men has been something else entirely!
It certainly has. Are there any other menswear designers that you’re into right now?
I’ve always loved Paul Smith. There is always such a great sense of color and fun going on. I love his details: the linings he uses, the finishing of his pocketing, the fabrication. Last year, he did this amazing purple Glen Plaid. I am obsessed with Glen Plaid.
I bet you are!
John Varvatos. I love the cuts of his suits as well. He pays close attention to the details. Everything looks very clean, very modern. Visiting his store a few weeks ago, I died over all the leather jackets. Colors, metallics done not in a flamboyant way, but in a gorgeous, sophisticated way.
When it comes to costumes, I’ve read Matt Weiner is a self-proclaimed “control freak,” and you think you’re a good match for him. What’s the one thing that brings out your inner “control freak” amongst the sea of actors you dress for each episode?
It’s the pants. I tell my team, “You tell those guys to have their trousers up to their bellybuttons.” They see me coming, and they’re like, “Janie, my pants are up!”
Eleven inches, baby!
Not ten, not twelve?
Oh, it’s about eleven inches!
Do the actors ever ask to keep anything?
That’s a good question. In the first season, Vincent [Kartheiser] needed a suit for an event. I had a black one in his closet in case I needed to put him in black, and he did end up wearing that, but he returned it. They don’t ever wear their costumes. It’s too much. They love their suits, but if you’re in your character all day, I would think it’s the last thing you want to wear when you get home. People ask me a lot, “Janie, do you dress up a lot in sixties clothes?” No… I don’t! Hence my current rocker look.
Oh yeah? I bet you and John Varvatos would get along really well.
I bet we would.
Join me tomorrow for part two of my interview with Janie Bryant when we’ll talk about the costuming for each of the Mad Men. That’s it for now. I’m all plaidout.