“This Is Us”

September 30, 2016

Anna Wyckoff

NBC’s This is Us is one of the most highly anticipated new series of the fall television lineup. That buzz required a herculean effort by Costume Designer Hala Bahmet to be discreet. “Now that the pilot has aired, I can reveal one of the secret twists,” she enthuses. “Not only do we have a contemporary storyline, but we also have one in period costume. We’re going to track our main characters through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s—so it’s really several shows in one.”

Each week Bahmet is amazed by the plot twists and time periods hurtled her way. But once the script is in her hands, she has only a few days to prep. Each episode brings a different director or directing team and new writers, as well as a new set of actors to play the contemporary leads at different ages of their life. Bahmet focuses much of her efforts toward creating a visual through line through Costume Design, and keeping the characters recognizable through their many incarnations.

In this complex, ever shifting storytelling landscape, good communication is essential: creator Dan Fogelman, show runner Don Todd, and many of the executive producers serve as touch stones for Bahmet. She is in a constant dialogue with the key players, sending fitting photos of pivotal costumes and important looks for the leads. Despite the constant interaction, Bahmet feels completely empowered to design the show. “There is a lot of trust because we have created these characters, they [the producers] know that I’m not deviating from them and the storyline. But there are just too many costumes in too short a period of time to actually have anyone approve everything.”

Bahmet works at a virtuosic, breakneck speed. She credits her assistant designer Marina Ray and her team for their support. “Everybody is trying really hard. Marina is just at the top of her game, she has an almost an academic approach to understanding the characters. She’s a really good partner for me because both of us like to focus on the backstory, symbolism, and what we’re trying to convey with each piece.”

Their goal is to support the narrative using subtle cues in the clothing across the many actors playing the same character. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) is straight laced and preppy with a pinch of Brooks Brothers. In contrast, his brother Kevin (Justin Hartley), sexy as a disgruntled reality TV show star, wears sleek fashionable, high-end clothing. Their sister Kate (Chrissy Metz) is overweight but is always chic, with elegant shapes and beautiful accessories. Bahmet uses a specific color palette, but she occasionally dips her brush into the colors of the time period she is recreating. For example, when Kate is a child in the 80s, she wears more bright pink and bright yellow. Then as an adult, she is dressed in jewel tones.

“It is a costume dream job,” Bahmet says. “My process starts with the storytelling and the characters. Before the actors even open their mouths and say their lines, I want to make sure the costumes are giving the audience clues about the person. This what brought me into the film business in the first place: a new character and a new way to tell the story through the physical wardrobe, the costume symbolism, and color. For me, these are the most important and enjoyable things.”

This is Us is on NBC 9:00 pm Tuesday ET

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