CMU School of Drama

Friday, March 31, 2017

‘Big Little Lies’ Costume Designer on Contemporary Looks for HBO Show

Variety: Costume designer Alix Friedberg’s meticulous work guides the viewer into the world of five women — Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Renata (Laura Dern), and Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) — caught up in a town where daily life is all about appearance.

“People often dismiss contemporary work in costume design, even though designers put as much research and thought into it as they would in period,”


Sarah Boyle said...

I agree that the research behind contemporary costume design work is not recognized as much as period work, but it is differently difficult. I would imagine the general public would have more of an opinion about contemporary costuming, because that level of historical research isn’t needed. Some aspects of fashion communicate more about character in contemporary work, like the brand names. It’s cool that she got enough scripts beforehand to get a better sense of the characters and plan for character development. If I rewatch a show, I’m always surprised by how different some of the characters looked when the series began, but it is also interesting watching their character develop when you know what they are building towards. I like the idea of the director making a playlist for each character, it’s a sense of that character’s taste and personality without prescribing anything visual. I like reading about designer’s processes and inspiration.

Marisa Rinchiuso said...

It was very fascinating to read about costume design in TV work. I often forget that TV employ designers similarly to live theatre. I see how contemporary work is less recognized that contemporary designs. However, I think it could be even harder because people can easily recognize flaws in pieces if they are similar to what we wear everyday, rather than someone noticing a flaw in a 18th century dress. One thing I found incredibly interesting was the fact that she had the script for al seven seasons. I guess since it was an HBO show, they were able to foresee the success of the show more finitely rather than a cable program. I also thought it was interesting to hear that the director had made a playlist for each characters; I thought it was a very original way to get into their world. I wonder though how working with major stars like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon affect the design. I'm sure they aren't high maintenance divas, but if they don't like something, I'm sure they have the power to sway the production. Overall, I loved the designer's discussion about how to create clothing that is representative of their characters, but also accessible for viewers.

Tahirah K. Agbamuche said...

One of the great things about this article is that it immediately debunks the myth that designing for modern day television is an easier task than a period peice because it really is not. If not equal, a harder job actually because unlike period peices, what has been done is done. A pair of pants in the 80’s is not going to go out of style. Once you are familiar with that period, you have a pretty good stock idea of what one may need when designing that piece. With current TV, a designer needs to be on his/ her toes when it comes to trends and designers in fashion. This is where the commercial and entertainment world meet, in my opinion. In addition to telling a story for each character, the designer must also be savvy enough with modern day fashion to know what brands the characters would wear, as well as the style. Another key difference that I was not fully aware of was that many costume designers for TV do not have a finalized script when they begin, so they are not able to track the story arc of their characters the way a designer for a recurring broadway show is able to.

Zak Biggins said...

Let me start off by saying, I 10000% agree with Tahairah. I think there is kind of a stigma associated with designing for modern television or contemporary theatre. Well, let me start off by saying clearly the proof is in the pudding- cause that stuff isn't easy. This article immediately made me think of all the great designs of contemporary work i've seen: Pretty Little Liars, The Devil Wears Prada, Gossip Girl. Those costume designers not only have to design costumes but have to act as a stylist as well finding the perfect designer apparel (on a costume budget) to dress their actors in head to toe. If I were to ever pursue costume design this is the very area I would be interested in. You can tell so much about a character by what type of bag she carries. (If she's wearing a Chanel Cross-body she's classic with old money, if she's wearing a birkin bag she's on some next level of rich. While a Balenciaga or a Celine mini tote would be more typical of an affluential teenage girl) I loved this article and look forward to more like it.

Ali Whyte said...

I think this article was very well written, made many good points, and was very well structured. I especially liked how it stared off with the general statement that contemporary designs require just as much thought and effort as period ones, because they do, but instead of just leaving us with that, the article goes on to describe exactly how much and what thought processes went into this TV show. I think, no matter what the time period or story, the characters all have to be treated the same way: finding out who they are, what they might value, and where they're trying to go. I would also just like to say I think the choices made for each character sound kind of perfect and I would really love to go watch this show to see how well they actually play out combined with all of the other design elements involved.

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