By Anna Wyckoff, August 2, 2010
There couldn’t be a more apt title for the television show “Glee.”
The name evokes the sort of shrieking associated with adolescents motivated by an equal measure of delight and surprise. But while the world of “Glee” seems as lighthearted as a bubble, it gains credibility from the hundreds of amusing and detailed garments that Costume Designer Lou Eyrich tirelessly creates with a shrug of effortless whimsy.
Eyrich didn’t want “Glee” to be just another high school TV show. She and her team, which includes assistant Jennifer Eve and tailor Sara Daubney Kinney, are energized and exhausted by challenges Eyrich describes as “fun, exciting and daunting at the same time.”
Consider the Madonna episode, where every principle character had thirteen to seventeen costume changes, not including the nine Madonna dance numbers; or the Lady Gaga episode where Eyrich pays homage to Gaga, her stylists, and late couturier extraordinaire Alexander McQueen. To ratchet up tension, there are only four days to turn costumes from design into reality. We spoke with Eyrich to learn about her process, and find out if she sleeps.
“The [show’s] creator Ryan Murphy is very hands-on and visual. It’s definitely a partnership with him. We work closely together to develop the mood and tone for every script and every character,” Eyrich explains. To finesse the overall look of the show, she also confers with the art director, choreographer, makeup designer and director of photography.
Several weeks into the first few episodes, the creative synergy, dialogue and actor’s input led Eyrich to notice that the characters were becoming more refined. She subtly furthered this progression, and no element is too small for her consideration. For example, Emma’s costumes strike an almost fussy fifties note, like the delicate sweater chain which implies her natural conservatism. Kurt’s slim silhouette is peppered with sophisticated tailored pieces that exude his quietly flashy dapper dandyism. Rachel is a winsome preppy, from her knee-highs and schoolgirl skirts to her fitted thin-gauge knits. Each of the fourteen central characters is distinctive, and unlike the familiar paradigm of the flock of glamorous high school beauties, “Glee” makes idiosyncrasy an asset, celebrating individuality and geek chic. The term “gleek” has even been coined to affectionately describe fans of the show.
Elaborate dance numbers are yet another dimension of “Glee,” and Eyrich says she dreams of the day when she will be able to build all of the dance costumes in-house. “We have to run around to our area costume shops. Of course, that’s great because we give them some business too, but I wish we could have our own costume shop so I could control all of it.” But because of the scale and volume of the garments, she usually finds and reworks existing pieces, altering shapes, adding crinolines, or removing straps. The look often needs to flatter a range of sizes because the cast is eclectic. Choreography must be accommodated as well. “I’m a nut for tailoring,” adds Eyrich, “I kind of make everybody a little crazy, because I’m very precise about how a costume fits an actor.”
Her precision is the very thing that makes Glee’s costumes so delightful. The clothes are not approximations or near misses. Instead, they skate fancifully close to what they pay tribute to with tongue-in-cheek references, making the audience feel complicit and in the know. Take Kurt’s boots in the Lady Gaga episode. The Alexander McQueen Armadillo not only cost $5,000, they were a women’s shoe and never made in a size large enough for the actor. So Eyrich worked closely with a shoemaker to devise a solution that could be constructed within the show’s budget and timeframe.
With such a demanding eye, it is not surprising that on the topic of sleep, Eyrich jokes “I am a walking zombie, and as exhausting as it is, it’s like we’ve raised the bar for ourselves so we keep pushing to be better and better.”
Eyrich’s Emmy-nominated work is infused with a sense of fun that is contagious, thanks to a powerful combination of authenticity and audacity.