By Susan JAMES
Every year the Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) opens its doors free to the public with a spectacular array of Emmy-nominated costumes from some of television’s most popular and some of its lesser-known shows. Nielsen ratings don’t measure the level of creativity in this year’s costume selection although “Game of Thrones” (HBO), “Empire” (Fox) and “Downton Abbey” (BBC) have done pretty well. From the flamboyant to the nuanced, this year’s selection of nominated costumes fulfills each designer’s goal that wherever the character goes, his or her wardrobe follows.
Daniel Lawson, Emmy-nominated for CBS’ award-winning show “The Good Wife,” explained that his business suits for attorneys Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) had to be elegant, feminine yet powerful.
“For Alicia,” Lawson said, “the goal was aspirational dressing. In the first season the look was mix and match, a woman separated from her husband, back in the job market, a little older than the others, finding herself again.”
Each season had a slightly different look as Alicia’s success took unexpected twists and turns. Lawson pulled pieces from vintage outlets and from high-end retailers like Oscar de la Renta as well as using less exclusive brands like J. Crew and Zara. His sharp, on-point suits reinforced the presence of an increasingly confident woman making her own way in a cutthroat world.
Each display encapsulates its own interpretation of the art of television costume design. Looking at the darkly subdued costumes created by Michele Clapton for “Game of Thrones,” one can almost hear Jon Snow muttering, “Winter is coming.” Contrasting monotone fabrics including Indian silks and intricate brocades rely on pattern and texture to reinforce the characters’ status. The swing of heavy draperies trimmed with fur and leather inevitably sets the scene for a Shakespearian world of tragedy and terror.
In another world altogether, Giovanna Ottobre-Melton’s designs for ABC’s “Agent Carter” recreate a 1940s reality with clean lines, pared-down shapes and primary colors. The ’40s working woman vibe of “Agent Carter” makes an interesting counterpoint to the 2016 working woman vibe of “The Good Wife.”
One of the flashiest set of costumes belongs to the characters in “American Horror Story” (FX). Designed by Lou Eyrich, everything from a leopard-patterned fur coat worn over fishnet hose to the opulent fuchsia silk gown created for Lady Gaga screams diva. Another stand-out creation, this one for the Civil War-themed “Mercy Street” (PBS), is a ball gown of embroidered burgundy silk trimmed with appliqué and black and gold lace. Amy Andrews Harrell, who designed the show’s costumes, spent weeks among the tintypes and documents of the period researching outfits worn by women who nursed the Civil War wounded. So did designers Ruth E. Carter and Diana Cilliers, who created the 19th century looks for “Roots” (History). Here the costumes had to incorporate Arab-influenced designs for West Africans as well as patterns for Southern plantation owners and their house and field slaves.
One of the most impressive groups of costumes was designed by Terry Dresbach for the 18th century Scottish drama, “Outlander” (Starz). A team of embroiderers created spectacular three-dimensional motifs and floral ornamentation that cover the heavy silk of the costumes. Dresbach used iconic Dior silhouettes from the late 1940s to inspire her looks and the results are something a real Scottish laird and his lady would love. Whether it’s the blood-stained wedding gown from Sherlock Holmes’ “Abominable Bride” (BBC), the playful whimsy of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (CW) or a delicately beaded dress from the final season of “Downton Abbey” (BBC), FIDM’s Emmy exhibition offers a costume extravaganza.
The Art of Television Costume Design runs through Oct. 15. Located at 919 S. Grand Ave., FIDM Museum hours are
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.