February 7, 2014
In HBO’s new original series, “True Detective,” Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star as Louisiana State Police detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart , respectively, who are being interrogated in 2012 about a 1995 homicide they were involved in solving.
Written and created by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the series’ multiple time frames challenged Costume Designer Jenny Eagan to create realistic costumes that reflected the characters, the eras and the range of fashion in Southern Louisiana.
“The more research I acquired, the better,” she said. “I covered all the walls in my office with research photos. It was a huge inspiration. The director and crew would come down to get inspired,” she said.
To keep the detectives authentic, Eagan stocked their closets with the kind of basics her characters would wear in real-life Lafayette, Louisiana. McConaughey presented the larger wardrobe challenge at the start of prep because he had just wrapped his role as the bone-thin, H.I.V.-positive Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
“I couldn’t be sure what kind of weight he would gain before we began shooting,” she said. Eagan had the costumes for both characters custom made, and left extra seam allowance for McConaughey’s clothes to allow for last-minute tailoring.
To create McConaughey’s look, she considered the character’s working-class background and impatience with fashion—and authority. “He wears a tie, because he is required to, but it’s always loosened, and his collars were always open,” she said. “Cohle is a difficult guy to describe. He’s an introvert with a sordid past, but spent years as an undercover narcotics cop,” she said.
Guided by a technical advisor who was a Louisiana homicide detective during the story’s timeframe, Eagan was well versed in the dress code. She built a wardrobe for McConaughey’s Cohle character with muted colors, corduroy blazers, high-waist pants and textured ties—a look that was simple, accurate and also reflected the dark and gritty story line.
With only two weeks from first fitting to the start of filming, Eagan prepared by lining up K&P Costume Company in North Hollywood to make the pants and sport coats and Anto to create the shirts and ties.
“I made Matthew’s ties, because I couldn’t find any ties of the period that were subtle enough, but with texture. I didn’t want to distract from his performance,” she said.
She avoided the high-waist, pleated trouser style that was popular during the 1990s and instead chose a sexier, flat-front cut. With the sport coat design, she kept functionality as a main priority.
“Detectives must conceal their weapon when they’re canvassing or interacting with civilians in questioning, but they need easy access to their weapon,” she said.”A double-breasted sport coat would have been far too flashy for a detective and could have hindered their ability to get to their weapon.”
Eagan added her costume designer magic to the wardrobe to give it added authenticity.
“I aged everything, from their sport coats to their shoes, to give them a lived-in look. We did a lot of washing, sanding and painting. We had multiples of each piece in the closet that we rotated so that they would have equal wear. Because we shot the show like a film, with one director over a 100-day period, we had to be equipped with challenges that could arise during shooting,” she said. To ensure that the custom-tailored coats and trousers remained stable throughout aging, wet weather and laundering, she prewashed and soaked the fabrics.
When the story switches to 2012, McConaughey’s Cohle is older, less concerned with appearances and living behind a bar. That bit of costume design became simpler.
“At this point, he just doesn’t care. There is no thought behind [what he wears]. It became functionality over fashion.”