“Chicago Fire”

April 19, 2013

When it comes to designing for a show like “Chicago Fire,” Costume Designer, Susan Kaufmann must always take into account safety, function and style. Every week, Kaufmann breaks down the script to determine which characters will be near to the fire and what the end result of that will be, how many multiples are needed, whether the clothes should be fireproofed and what damage will be done to the clothing: singed, burned, dirtied, etc. She and her team then take the garments through a process of dyeing, over dyeing, aging, airbrushing, dirtying, and sometimes actually burning. Oftentimes, this process is repeated over and over, sometimes up to 10 times, all for one costume.

“Chicago Fire” is made up of an ensemble cast and oftentimes many of the cast members and extras are on camera at one time, whether in the background at a fire or in the firehouse. “One of the initial challenges of the show was having a large cast in uniform and clearly defining their characters and personality,” says Kaufmann. It was important that the uniforms not only honor the real look of the Chicago Fire Department, but also work for production needs such as shooting in Chicago in the winter. Kaufmann found that the real station coats were not warm enough for the actors to wear for long periods of time in negative temperatures, a problem that real firefighters do not necessarily have to endure, as they are not faced with the re-takes that occur when filming a show. Kaufmann also worked tirelessly designing her own t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and jackets using different styles so as to be consistent with the looks that had been created for each character.

One distinct look that has remained the same throughout the first season is that of Kelly Severide, played by Taylor Kinney. Severide’s look is a bit edgier- almost like a biker or rock-star. Because Kaufmann could not use real rock t-shirts, she designed and aged her own, which Severide wears with distressed, worn-in jeans and the perfect leather jacket, which has managed to stay intact throughout the entire season- even in the cold, rough weather.

Another interesting challenge of working on a show such as “Chicago Fire” is creating and developing the looks to go along with each episodes’ different disaster theme. Most often, these scenes include actors, stunt-people and dummies- all of whom need to be dressed to fit the scene. For example, one episode began with a stampede at a rave party, which included more than 60 extras, stunt-people and dummies all dressed in rave clothes piled six feet high in a doorway. Kaufmann worked hard to combine color and texture so that they would blend and all look like ravers. She also needed to make sure that the focal character in the scene not only looked like one of the party-goers but was also dressed for safety as he is seen in a window two stories high and needed enough coverage to hide a harness and stunt pads. Another episode was centered around a person having a seizure at a Halloween street bash in which random extras are covered in bloody costumes, so it made it difficult for the paramedics to pick out the real victim. “In this episode, we really had our work cut out for us,” says Kaufmann who, when asked if she had time to review each and every look exclaimed, “it’s been mostly trial-by-fire.” Pun intended!

“Chicago Fire” airs on NBC every Wednesday night at 10/9c.

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