November 4, 2016
CBS’ new television medical drama Pure Genius is set in a state-of-the-art hospital established by Silicon Valley tech genius James Bell (Augustus Prew), as a way to reimagine health care treatment. Surgeon Wallace (Dermont Mulroney) joins a team of innovative doctors despite his nonconformist beliefs. Costume Designer Roemehl Hawkins thinks of Bunker Hill as, “if Mark Zuckerberg created a medical facility” where the clothing is as avant-garde as the medical techniques.
Hawkins is one of the few Costume Designers who started out by studying and working in medicine. Her employment has included stints at both John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Cedars–Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. These establishments represent extremes in socioeconomic groups and demographics. Her training, coupled with Hawkins’ familiarity with medical terminology and procedures, make her uniquely qualified to design the show. She delights in how her depth of knowledge informs her design. “I love that I’m able to work in this fictitious hospital that’s really cutting edge, and then bring in my medical background.”
Hawkins used the pilot (designed by Amanda Friedland) as a starting point to create the look of the hospital. She explains, “Everything is clean and precise. I won’t allow a wrinkle.” Hawkins accentuates this otherworldly quality by maintaining a strict tonal palette. Despite the rigor of the colors, close inspection reveals no silhouette in this world is ordinary. Lab coats have clean shoulders, elegant fit, and darts in the back. Scrubs can have details like asymmetrical zippers and necklines. Even patient gowns are stylized in fabrics like neoprene. Most items are custom made or tailored.
Dr. Wallace is originally from Cincinnati and Hawkins avoids extreme silhouettes on his character, instead focusing on texture and suits with great fit. In contrast, billionaire James Bell has an appropriately individualistic and casual flare. Hawkins is more playful with his linen suits and t-shirts, however she had to draw the line with his flip-flops, which she asserted would be a liability in any medical environment.
The patients who come to the hospital create the greatest contrast with the surroundings. Hawkins notes, “I have had people coming from Brazil, people coming from London, a rock and roll teenage girl…it’s all walks of life that come to Bunker Hill.” This dramatic tension between the futuristic microcosm of the hospital and the careful attention Hawkins pays to everyday people grounds the visuals in reality.
Given her background, Hawkins has always wanted to design a medical drama. She has worked with the producers previously on the television series About a Boy and shares a strong feeling of camaraderie and rapport with them. “It’s a gift,” she says. “I believe that if producers trust Costume Designers to do their job, then you’ll get the best work out of them. Because they trust me, I try to make whatever these guys want happen. I think that’s pretty special.”
Pure Genius airs on CBS Thursdays 10pm, ET/PT.