Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that Janie Bryant is the costume designer for Mad Men, responsible for dressing Christina Hendricks’ curves, turning January Jones into a style icon and inspiring countless catwalk collections. Being obsessive Mad Men fans here at ELLE, we jumped at the chance to chat to Janie when she hit London for a flying visit last week. Here’s what she had to say…
Do you love London?
I do. My first trip I was 15 years old and I was here with my all girls boarding school. It was my first trip to Europe and London was my first stop, and goodness we got into a lot of trouble. Since then I’ve always loved it.
Where do you always try to visit?
My favourite place to be is the V&A because I always love to see the costumes there, I’m obsessed. It’s such a beautiful museum
How did you get into costume design?
I studied fashion design and I was working on 7th Avenue in New York for a fashion designer. I had met a lot of film people being in New York at that time and I just started getting interested. I always had a passion for old movies and I’d also studied costume history when I was at school and it was a natural progression to go into costume design. I got a job with a designer for a movie and then it just grew from there.
Why do you think Mad Men has had such an impact on the fashion world?
I think it’s because the period is so accessible, it’s still modern and still quite relevant. Am I surprised? I think it’s more like it makes me happy, you know? And I’m flattered, and it’s exciting.
Do you design the costumes from scratch or source vintage?
It varies every season depending on what’s going on in the script but I’ll design things from scratch, I’ll shop vintage, I’ll redesign vintage. And then we do a lot of rentals at the rental house in Los Angeles and I’ll also collect from different vendors across the States, so it’s always that combination of building, renting, buying.
Do the characters’ wardrobes change depending on their storylines?
Yeah, that happens a lot. We see that with pretty much all of the characters, they’ve all had shifts and growths and I think that that is real life - it’s not about always implementing the new fashion but it’s about telling a story. A lot of the actors have pieces in their closet from season one, as we do, we have things in our closet for years we don’t throw everything away, and then new pieces are implemented into their closet. I think that that can illustrate the growth of their character and also the time period changing as well.
Specifically I think that you can see a lot of changes through Peggy’s costumes, she’s had a lot of different arcs and she’s gone through a lot of different phases and her silhouettes have changed a lot as she’s grown in the company, her costumes have changed as well. Betty Draper’s costumes have changed from the façade of being a perfect wife to the outside world and then also the transformation into being a politician’s wife. I always felt that she would really be influenced by Jackie Kennedy at that time and so this is the next façade that she’s going to present. I think that she’s a character who pays attention to what’s going on in fashion as well and that’s about that façade of being perfect. I love to play around with those ideas in the costumes.
Do you have a favourite character?
People love to ask me that question, it’s so funny, I think it’s because the audience gets obsessed with a single character and for me it’s more about the change of what’s going on in the script - I love variety. I have favourite outfits instead. Let’s see, you know Joan had some amazing costumes in season four, probably some of my favourites. I loved the blue and white dress with the flounced sleeve and the ruffled collar. And also I love the costume that Betty Draper wore at the end of season two, it was this little beige brocade with mink trim, it was a two piece ensemble with dress and jacket, it was gorgeous.
Do you try on the costumes?
I try on everything, that’s the policy! I remember one time January was coming down for a fitting and I’d got some vintage peignoirs and I was trying them on over my clothes. I remember her walking in and she was like, ‘Janie what are you doing?’ I was like ‘Just having a little dress up time’. I model everything, I do.
What are your tips for dressing a Christina Hendricks-esque, hourglass figure?
It’s about wearing proper shape-wear and accentuating your waist, I always find that that is the most figure flattering for that hourglass. It’s funny because I think that for such a long time women wanted to hide that figure or they felt that it wasn’t beautiful and I always think, when did the hourglass ever go out of style? I mean, that’s the iconic symbol of a woman’s figure.
How did your partnership with Maidenform come about?
(Janie is the Wardrobe Advisor for the lingerie label, helping them to trawl their archives and pick vintage styles to upate.)
Well as you probably know I have an obsession with intimate apparel and that really started when I started designing Deadwood (the Victorian TV show on which Janie first made her name). That was really about making the corsets and all the different layers of the petticoats and the bustle pads and how all those underpinnings really affected the way that a period costume looks. It’s just been interesting to cut to almost a hundred years later designing Mad Men. It was such an important aspect to me when designing the costumes, that the actors wear the proper foundation garments, so their whole world is about longline bras and garter belts and girdles and stockings. For that period in time it’s not the most comfortable but today we can be more comfortable and still get that great silhouette and still feel secure and shaped and smoothed without wearing a girdle with new fabrications.
And what are the TV shows or films that most inspire you?
We were talking last night about Barbarella. I can’t say it’s my favourite but I love that film. One of my all time favourites is Guys and Dolls with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, I love it so much, I was always obsessed with that film. Probably because in that scene where they’re singing Luck Be a Lady, where Marlon Brando’s singing and all the guys are dancing and they’re all in their beautiful menswear with their contrasting bright socks and matching shirts, I always thought that’s amazing. That is the power of costume design, just to notice all of those details and see something different every time. And Gone With the Wind, I just watched that again recently and I have to say that’s one of my all time favourite films costume-wise.
Mad Men series 5 is expected early 2012