“Law & Order True Crime – The Menendez Murders”

September 26, 2017

Anna Wyckoff

Costume Designing a true life crime story that still lives in the minds of much of the audience means paying exquisite attention to the research. The murders of José and Kitty Menéndez took place over thirty years ago, but the 1994 trials gripped the nation and became part of 20th century American iconography. Costume Designer Hope Hannafin had to recreate those searing images at the whirlwind pace of television for Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Mendez Murders. “The approach, of course, was starting from reality,” Hannafin says. “We only had five weeks prep, which isn’t much when you’re turning out five hundred costumes a week. By the end, I think we might have hit ten thousand total costumes.”

The show takes place in the late 80s and ends in the mid 90s, moving from New Jersey to Beverly Hills. In order to create a shorthand for the viewer to underscore the changes in time and place, Hannafin portrayed California in paler and brighter colors and New Jersey is in tweedy, earth tones. “As the story progresses the costumes get darker and there’s more of a confluence of color, but there is no black and white in this story.” When she reviewed family photo albums Hannafin found the parents were often dressed in black, white, and red. She used as this a reference for the crime scene. “I created the flashbacks using that same palette, so those scenes refer directly to the last time they saw their parents.”

That wasn’t the end of her color strategies. Because the story is about the loss of innocence, Hannafin used the device of dressing the young boys in their tennis whites for many of the childhood scenes. The courtroom attire worn by the brothers became iconic. “I believe their attorney, Leslie Abramson (Edie Falco), gave them those sweaters to get them out of the suits they wore for their first hearing—so they’d look younger and more innocent,” she observes. As the story transitions between flashbacks and the action in court, She also used color to distinguish between the two brothers Lyle Menendez (Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Erik Menendez (Gus Halper). “When they’re testifying, Lyle is always in a shade of red and his flashbacks are in pink to red. Erik is in a variety of blue sweaters, and his younger selves are in shades of blue.” Without this intricate subplot of color it would be impossible to tell such a complex psychological narrative in an abbreviated timeframe.

Creating so many garments required a large and dedicated crew. “We have a talented group,” Hannafin enthuses, “Ivy Thaide (ACD) is superb in every way. I wouldn’t have accepted this job without an assistant Costume Designer. From the very beginning I wanted to tell the story of the real people in this story, otherwise, it becomes voyeurism. I feel the way to honor them is to have the clothes be as real as possible. So, this was not a fashion show. My team has worked hard to make it about clothes, not costume.”

Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Mendez Murders series premieres this Tuesday September 26th at 10/9c on NBC.

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