Costume Designers Take Their Talents from the Screen to the Street
By Valli Herman
There were jeweled headbands, boots tinted to look perfectly aged, show-stopping colorful jewelry sets and even supple elbow gloves that radiated refinement.
The goods were arranged like a showroom in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s Museum and Galleries as part of the first-ever holiday pop-up shop featuring the work of costume designers–but the work wasn’t of their on-screen designs.
This shop collected the designers’ latest individual collections and collaborations with manufacturers, retailers, and jewelry designers of items available for sale to the public.
Judy Yaras, the FIDM store director, was excited about the prospects for the shop because it represented the largest grouping she’s ever seen of retail clothing and accessories created by costume designers.
“The public likes to have a piece of the show because they’re big fans–and they like the look of a show,” Yaras said. “There’s so much literal product out there–T-shirts and mugs–but this is really something different.”
At FIDM, eight designers showcased their wearable work, including:
• Guild President and “The Mindy Project” designer Salvador Perez and his vivid jewelry collection sold by Bauble Bar;
• “The Good Wife” designer Dan Lawson’s chunky necklaces, produced by PONO Jewelry;
• “Selfie” designer Danielle Launzel’s monogrammed jewelry produced by Sarah Chloe Jewelry;
• “Scandal” designer Lyn Paolo’s collection of Gaspar Gloves;
• “Reign” designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack’s jeweled headband “crowns” created in connection with Amanda Judge Jewelry;
• “Revenge” designer Jill Ohanneson’s one-of-a-kind ponchos;
• “Pretty Little Liars” designer Mandi Line’s latest clothing collection for Aeropostale;
• “Step Up All In” designer Soyon An’s lace-up boots, manufactured by pskaufman.
The shop also featured the paintings of “Big Love” costume designer Chrisi Karvonides and the book, “The Fashion File,” by “Mad Men’s” Janie Bryant.
The emergence of costume designers into the commercial mainstream has been aided by a combination of higher public awareness and better private support. The recent surge of commercial collaborations can be traced to Bryant and her chance meeting with a founder of Matchbook Company, a New York talent consulting and communications firm.
When Bryant was making a public appearance at Nordstrom, Matchbook partner Kristi McCormack asked who was representing her.
“No one. I’m a costume designer,” came the reply, according to Linda Kearns, Matchbook’s co-founder. By the fall of 2009, the partners were representing Bryant, their first-ever costume designer client.
“Kristi and I believed in Janie’s potential, talent, vision and energy, and I loved ‘Mad Men’ and her work, so it was a no-brainer for me to work with her,” Kearns said. They combined Kearns’ experience in apparel, fashion and media with McCormack’s in casting, talent, publicity and entertainment to connect the dots for their clients–the fashion designers of the entertainment industry.
Bryant was a fortunate–and savvy–choice as a first client. “Our press for her made her success visible to brands and to people at the networks, studios and other costume designers, so we started working with a few others who came our way…and had a few more successes,” Kearns said.
The acceptance of costume designers into the stream of fashion creators has grown steadily among Matchbook clients. “A few years ago, we were working on two to three deals a month; now we have 10 to 12 during that time,” Kearns said.
Stores and manufacturers are becoming more receptive and eager to work with costume designers as the collections work like product placement in reverse. “They can benefit retailers and brands with increased buzz, new customers, sales traffic, social media and brand interest,” Kearns said. “And shows or movies can benefit by reaching a broader audience, engaging fans and getting…excitement about a new property.
“Also, costume designers are talented designers who can expand their reach, leverage their expertise and experiences and venture into new areas. Some have strong social media and most have broad reach via their influence. Often brands see them as more authentic representatives than many bloggers and an alternative to work with.”
Other collaborations have included Jenn Rogien, Costume Designer for “Girls” and “Orange is the New Black,” who teamed up for American Eagle’s Aerie undergarment brand, The Gap and Sorel Boots, and Lawson, of “The Good Wife” who worked with Andrea Cohen for their 35-DL collection of women’s business attire.
Costume designers are natural partners for licensing deals because they frequently collaborate with third-party manufacturers. Amanda Judge had already worked with Markworth-Pollack who pulled items for “Hart of Dixie” television series. She returned to the studio seeking custom work for her characters on “Reign.”
“We can use them for the show and sell them to fans,” said Judge, who offers the $45 to $95 Gilded Collection on her website, amandajudgeny.com.
Perez also had frequently dressed Mindy Lahiri of “The Mindy Project” in the vivid gems of Bauble Bar that he was able to expand his vision into a larger special collection that was a featured shop on baublebar.com.
Costume designers are often adept at adapting clothing and accessories for special uses, so technical construction challenges don’t deter them. The lace-up boots An created with the input of shoe manufacturer and designer Paul Kaufman allowed both of them to explore new territory. An stretched further into retailing while Kaufman used a construction technique on the $375 boots that dates to the 1860s.
“I’m on a Quixote mission to keep it alive,” said Kaufman, who is selling the boots at his new downtown Los Angeles boutique, pskaufman.
Of course, costume designers often have the double pressure to keep working on their hit show or movie while also attending to their outside collaborations. When Line began developing her five collections for Aeropostale, she took red-eye flights from L.A. to New York for 10 Fridays in a 20-week span so that she could meet with her collaborators over the weekend. She also got a quick refresher course in manufacturing, making use of her FIDM degree in product development.
“The reward is hearing from fans,” Line said. “They post online when they get their outfits and where they’re wearing them.” The social media feedback also provided rich feedback about which pieces were hits were hits among fans, and why.
For Ohanneson of ABC’s “Revenge,” creating a fashion collection was a creative outlet. She and her show’s seamstress made the collection of brightly colored and embellished knit and woven ponchos on their own time. Only a few were directly inspired by “Revenge.”
“I want to design things that many people can wear,” Ohanneson said. In approaching design for the public, Ohanneson calls on the same talents and insights that she uses for actors.
“How we dress an actor helps tell the story. And people in the real world, that’s what they’re doing every day, telling the story of who they have to be that day,” she said.
“That’s what I love about this. People have to get dressed every day, and now I’m able to reach people of all ethnicities, shapes and sizes.”
On screen and on the shelf, costume designers are proving one of Perez’s long-held beliefs about his colleagues: “We take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.”
The FIDM Holiday Pop-Up Shop continues through Dec. 20 at the FIDM Museum Shop at FIDM Museum and Galleries, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.