July 13, 2012
After four seasons as a devoted fan of AMC’s gritty critical darling, Breaking Bad, Jennifer Bryan took the reins as Costume Designer to produce looks for the fifth and final season (premiering this Sunday, July 15th). Though she was eager to put her own creative touch on a series she loves, Bryan focused her knowledge of the story arc and Albuquerque, N.M.-influenced wardrobe into preserving the stylistic ambiance Bad fans expect.
“It’s a fine balance coming into something well-established, while still being expected to put your own spin on it,” Bryan says. “You’re expected to change the mold without breaking it.”
At its basic premise, Bad follows the increasingly dark trespasses of Walter White, a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher who produces meth to ensure the financial stability of his family as his health deteriorates. Like series creator Vince Gilligan, who employs strategic color correction to drive mood and plot twists throughout the drama, Bryan utilized the power of color and developed a more extensive, heightened wardrobe palette for the main cast. In addition to intensifying hues (blues permeate Walter’s looks this season, while character Hank Schrader’s looks have been amped by oranges), Bryan was tasked with re-creating the meth “cooksuits” worn by Walter and his protégé, Jesse Pinkman (actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, respectively). The cooksuits were incinerated in the meth lab explosion of the season four finale, so Bryan used their fictional demolition as a springboard for a redesign. Season five’s cooksuits needed to follow the heavy, industrial-yellow, “crunchy” look of past seasons without squeaking and squelching too loudly. “Suits like that are typically made of Tyvek, which is incredibly noisy on camera,” Bryan says. She cut at least a dozen coated and uncoated, woven and unwoven fabric blends before finding a relatively quiet and more breathable option for Walter and Jesse’s suits. Aside from the revamped cooksuits, Bryan says she was delighted to design looks for a new female character whose style is “highly sophisticated, minimalist, and clean,” a stark contrast to the rest of the cast.
Staying true to the show’s highly-stylized look will continue to be Bryan’s first priority through 2013—season five, which has been split into two eight-episode blocks, resumes filming this November. The series films on-location in Albuquerque and costume styles are heavily influenced by the actual culture and climate of the city, in addition to the meth and cartel culture elements pervading the script. Bryan, who’s designed for comparatively flashier series like The Vampire Diaries—which would include elaborate looks from several historical eras and settings in a single episode—says she enjoys the pressure to capture a niche culture via costume.
“Designing for this show is a pleasure because it’s not far-reaching, high-costume-drama, however it is quite specific,” she says.
“In [high-costume-dramas] you have a wider artistic cornucopia to work from. But it takes just as much thought and discipline designing for a series like Breaking Bad because you have such a narrow field of vision. I took it as a challenge. . . and I am very proud of the result.”