By Susan JAMES
To mark the upcoming Emmy Television Awards on Sept. 20, the Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) has just premiered its annual exhibition of the best in television costume design. The exhibition will run through Saturday, Sept. 26, and is free to the public. This season the awards for costume design have been split into two new categories: Outstanding Costumes for a Period/Fantasy Series and Outstanding Costumes for a Contemporary Series, a division more subjective than definitive.
How, you might ask, is “Gotham” on Fox reality? Quibble with the categories if you like but there is no quibbling with the quality of the costumes.
Twenty-four shows are represented and the exhibition has been divided into two halls that reflect the two costume categories. Mary, Queen of Scots, leads the welcoming committee in the first hall wearing Meredith Markworth-Pollack’s sumptuously detailed costume from the CW period series, “Reign.” Dueling sets of 18th century designs, one by Joseph A. Porro for WGN America’s “Salem” and the other by Donna Zakowska for the AMC series “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” dominate the hall. The theme this year seems to be detail, detail, detail, and the remarkable embroidery, ruching and appliqué on the period costumes offer exquisite examples.
On a display island set between the graceful lines of 18th century manikins, Catherine Zuber’s exuberant costumes for NBC’s “Peter Pan” dodge a life-size turquoise crocodile while fairy tale costumes created by Eduardo Castro for ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” demonstrate that designer’s ability to mix and match historical detail with fantastical flamboyance. A stunning all-white lace gown designed for Elizabeth Mitchell’s Ingrid looks like a glittering icicle next to the colorful gold peasant skirt and gold-laced teal bodice created for Merrin Dungey’s Ursula.
Fashioned on the same basic palette of reds and golds but representing two entirely different universes are the rough and ready costumes in coarse fabrics for BET’s slave drama, “Book of Negroes,” designed by Kate Carin, and Joanna Eatwell’s royal silk, brocade and velvet looks for Henry VIII and his first two queens in “Wolf Hall” on BBC/PBS. The elegant red silk of Anne Boleyn’s low, square-necked dress with its jeweled trim and gold silk oversleeves stands in stark contrast to the simple gold cotton pleasant blouse and torn red apron worn by actress Aunjanue Ellis’s escaped slave Aminata.
In the second hall featuring contemporary costumes, the cast of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” showed up at the exhibition’s gala opening to support their costume designer Ann Foley. Simon Kassianides, who played the evil Sunil Bakshi on the show, was enthusiastic about Foley’s accomplishments.
“Putting people in suits is one thing,” he said, “but how do you get those suits to pop? How do you give each one a signature? It’s the details that are so, so meticulous.”
Added Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays Simmons on the series, “We love the costumes. In the first season there was a very light palette going on and then, as the show got darker, the clothes got darker with it. Ann is so invested in the show and so invested in the characters that now (working with her) I watch TV shows completely differently.”
Costumes from Marvel’s other ABC series, “Agent Carter,” are also on display. Designer Giovanna Ottobre-Melton’s red fedora created for her lead character has become the iconic signature of the show. Ottobre-Melton explained that she has to make five copies of each costume for the actors and their stunt doubles. The outfit not only has to look good, it also has to be able to go into action. She uses period looks to define the era of the 1940s, when the series is set, but also streamlines the looks to make them visually appealing to modern tastes.
The first season of the show took place in New York in 1946 and the upcoming season with its new look will move to Hollywood in 1947. When asked how fashion could change in so short a time, Ottobre-Melton looked surprised at the question.
“Wartime rationing had ended,” she said. “There were more fabrics [in 1947] and a greater variety to use. Skirts got fuller. The looks were very different.”
With such intimate knowledge of a period and meticulous attention to detail this year’s costume designers have created visually stunning wardrobes for the inhabitants of the worlds that television explores.