“Food Network Star
The Next Iron Chef
Halloween Baking Championships”

June 12, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

When it comes to reality television there seems to be a general impression that contestants and judges just show up dressed. “But let’s face it, most of them don’t know how to dress very well,” chuckles Louise de Teliga Harding, Costume Designer on such projects as The Iron Chef Gauntlet, The Next Food Network Star, Halloween Baking Championships, and Holiday Baking.

The easy, extemporaneous appearance of these shows is the result of many hours of effort on the part of Harding and her team. She feels her approach works because it is based on the character of the contestants themselves.  “We have to work with their personalities and use their individual look. We basically take their personal style and enhance it,” she explains. For example, with David Rose, who calls himself ‘The Biker Chef,’ Harding tried to create a motorcycle-themed look in a way that was flattering, not bulky. Another contestant, a grandmother, was transformed into a chic grandma. As the season progresses, the opportunity for Harding to develop and refine contestant personalities unfolds.

Unlike other reality shows, costuming for The Food Network has a specific focus. “These are people who have real talent,” Harding says. “They’re not some bachelorette or airhead. These are serious people in serious professions. They are very knowledgeable, and yet their lives are on the line.” This means Harding sometimes has to be both Costume Designer and psychologist, employing an arsenal of tricks and techniques. Getting the male talent to wear Spanx, for instance, requires diplomacy. “They wear them once and they’re like, ‘Oh…!’ Our Man-Spanx orders go up as the season continues.” Also, cooking under pressure, on camera, and under bright lights is sweaty work, so Harding uses wipes from Western Costume called Drybody to control the situation.

When it comes to the rest of the cast, Harding takes note of their quirks and how they need to balance each other visually. The judges on the programs play off one another, and so must their clothes. “They each have their own personality, of course, but I make sure that they’re complementary to each other.” Making it look natural is most vital aspect of the work. “When you look at it, it’s got to be clean to the eye. That’s what the audience doesn’t notice. And if they’re not noticing something, that’s good.”

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