September 19, 2014
In “Manhattan,” the new original series from WGN America, secrets creep into every aspect of the lives of the scientists recruited to the covert Manhattan Project, the 1940s mission to build the world’s first atomic bomb.
The ensemble cast includes Rachel Brosnahan as Abby Isaacs, the wife of brilliant wunderkind Charlie Isaacs (played by Ashley Zukerman) and John Benjamin Hickey as Frank Winter, Daniel Stern as Glen Babbit and Olivia Williams as Liza Winter. Scientists and spouses are in a constant struggle between danger and deceit, truth and duty.
Costume Designer Alonzo Wilson puts subtle, telling details into his work for the drama series.
“In every show I do, every single costume has a narrative . . . an unspoken narrative,” he said. “You have to give people something they don’t even know they are getting.”
Wilson’s costumes illustrate the difficult social and emotional journey of Abby Isaacs, a wealthy, young Boston wife whose East Coast propriety is tested in isolated Los Alamos. Her attire slowly reveals how her life is changing.
In the premiere episode, Wilson selected a prim, collared shirt, cream cardigan and a box plaid skirt.
“When you see her, she walks up to a fence and the box plaid reflects the fences and the wall that they are going to be living behind,” Wilson said.
To illustrate Abby’s gradual transformation, Wilson created a series of dresses. He began with a dress in vibrant floral print; its colors a stark contrast with the landscape’s monochrome sand.
Wilson copied the style of the dress and remade it in different faded prints.
“It’s something that I felt showed her journey. She came there as this fresh woman with this idea that she’d be the wife of a famous scientist and she’ll be able to do what she did back East–wear nice clothes and be social,” he said. But the character slowly loses those ambitions.
“She’s like a fading flower in the desert,” Wilson said.
Abby is adapting, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Elodie, a French woman who has a little more style and flair, befriends her and invites Abby for a night on the town, but finds her friend’s wardrobe “fit for a grandmother.”
“In the scene where they go out together, we had to build a dress that looked like it belonged to Elodie–something very risqué and something that Abby would never wear,” Wilson said. He crafted a halter dress with a bold, floral bodice and black skirt.
“We made a coat so there’s a reveal. When she takes off the coat, she looks basically naked. She is very exposed in this place. And it’s the first time we see her let go,” Wilson said.
“She’s very aware that she’s not covered up and she’s uncomfortable,” Wilson said.
That costume echoes a consistent theme of the show. In the carefully constructed isolation of the Manhattan Project, even the clothes hold secrets.
WGN America’s “Manhattan” airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT.