Emmy Award-winning Costume Designer Janie Bryant spent an hour fielding questions from FIDM Students before signing her new book, The Fashion File: Advice, Tips and Inspiration at the FIDM Museum Store on Wednesday. The upbeat designer traced her career trajectory from 7th Avenue Fashion Designer to top movie and television costume designer, advising students to understand what they want and then to go for it.
“It’s all going to be fine,” said the sympathetic designer, recognizing that the 20s can be a tough time. “It all works out. Just stay focused and ignore the negativity.”
Q. What are the differences between working on TV and film; which do you prefer?
A. I like them both. The main difference is the work pace. The pace for TV is extremely fast. With slower-paced film work, there is more time to create. Sometimes with TV, I will think of another detail, and it’s too late. The show is done filming.
Q. Can you describe your research methods for period costumes?
A. I love working on periods. My inspiration starts with reading the script. I feel the mood and pacing of the story and then I move on to other sources: old movies, the Internet, catalogs, family photos, old magazines like Time and Life, newspaper photos. Early inspiration for Mad Men came from the 60s movie classic The Apartment. McCabe & Mrs. Miller was instrumental in creating the look for Deadwood.
Q. Do undergarments matter?
A. Yes, the right garments create the shape for the garment to ride the body. For Mad Men I use reproduction girdles, long line bras, garter belts. Even if I find vintage pieces, they are no longer wearable since they lose their stretch.
Q. Any advice for how to start our careers?
A. I like making inspiration boards for my life goals and desires. I find that visualizing what I want helps me understand myself and stay focused. Right now, I’m focused on creating a lifestyle brand.
Q. Any advice to those of us who want to work in TV?
A. Most important is to maintain a sense of artistry while staying flexible. If an actor doesn’t like my vision, I try to get him to “just try it on.” Often he will change his mind. But if an actor insists that a costume isn’t right, I work out a compromise. You have to stay flexible.
My other piece of advice is to avoid gossip on set. When a team is working together for 17 hours straight, things can get strange. Have fun with your team but don’t go negative.
Q. How much of Mad Men is original design?
A. The costumes are 50% original and 50% rebuilt from vintage pieces.
Q. Do you have a favorite period?
A. I’m obsessed with the Baroque period (17th century). I’m really into menswear and I love that men were just as fancy as women. They wore ruffles, brocade, and lots of trim. I also love the Romantic period for similar reasons. Yes, I am unreasonably attached to (Victorian) leg o’ mutton sleeves.
Q. Any favorite costumes from Mad Men?
A. I do love Joan’s red Christmas dress and Betty’s riding costume. Let’s not forget Betty’s pink and white maternity dress.
Are you thinking of pursuing a Costume Design career? Explore FIDM's major in Film & TV Costume Design.