September 9, 2016
In FX’s Atlanta, creator Donald Glover stars as Earn Marks, a Yale dropout who teams up with his cousin Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) to enter the hip-hop world. “I think Donald definitely wanted the show to be set in Atlanta for a reason,” says Costume Designer Kairo Courts. “He feels Atlanta is a glimpse of the world. It is sort of a melting pot, there’s a little bit of everything, and it’s someplace everyone can relate to.”
To flesh out this world, Courts began by talking with the actors to see if their personalities gave insight into the characters. To submerge herself in the reality of the location and to give her design a regional feel, she rode the bus through the city and paid close attention. “I listened to folks and tried to see if their life is parallel to the characters that are portrayed in the show, and that helped quite a bit,” she explains.
“It is gritty and real, but there’s still some television magic going on in the show,” Courts notes, “even in a low-income neighborhood, there are trendy folks, and people do very much care about their image. We try to play with all of that as well.” She keeps the color palette muted as a reflection of the daily economic struggles in the community. She also looks to the music industry and social media for inspiration, and has several rap stars she takes stylistic cues from.
Courts particularly relishes imbuing each character with a realistic patina, even when the clothes are bought new. Sometimes she adds vintage pieces to create texture. She keeps Earn’s look consistent throughout the series to emphasize the stagnation of his character as he attempts to figure out his life. In contrast, Paper Boi starts the show with more ordinary garments but Courts develops his personal style over the season as he delves more deeply into the entertainment industry. “Also, there’s a unicorn, Darius (Keith Stanfield), and he is like the comic friend who makes no sense but is super intelligent,” chuckles Courts. “He’s fun to dress and evolves from the beginning. You never know what he’s going to have on.”
“I like to think about the character a lot. Even before I get a script, I create each person’s story—do they have a mom? Did they have a bunny rabbit growing up? These details all come out in the clothes. Of course I adjust after I get the script, but I keep my story in mind before I invite other people’s visions to incorporate into what I’m doing.” Courts adds, “I think a lot of the things that I have done have been pretty, so Atlanta is actually a breath of fresh air because you get the realness when you look at people.”
Atlanta airs Tuesdays on FX.