Although I only recently started watching the addictive period drama Mad Men, I’m hopelessly hooked—and majorly psyched for next month’s Season Five premiere. So when I heard that the AMC show’s costume designer Janie Bryant would be in NYC for Fashion Week, I jumped at the chance to chat with the woman responsible for Don Draper’s dapper attire. Read on to learn how the Emmy-winning designer gets her cast into character, gathers fashion inspiration and cares for those impossibly delicate vintage garments.
Lucky: First of all, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I just started watching Mad Men last month. But I’m even more embarrassed to say that since beginning, my social life’s all but vanished.
Janie Bryant: Oh, don’t feel bad. When I met my husband, he’d never seen the show either. And then we probably spent two weeks at the beginning of our relationship watching Mad Men. He was actually the one who kept wanting to watch another, and another….
Doesn’t surprise me at all! So how do you start brainstorming ideas for your characters’ costumes?
It’s all about research. I read old magazines—Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping—and look at old newspaper clippings and vintage photos. But really, it all starts with the script itself. As a costume designer, you’re trying to tell a story about each character, and the tone of the script should be reflected in how they dress.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
For me, it’s all about the fittings. That’s when I really see the actors transform into their characters. So many of the cast members will walk down the street completely unrecognized, actually, because they look so different when they’re in character.
Who would you say gets the most into their fittings?
One of the amazing things about our whole cast is that they all love to play dress-up just as much as I do. But I’d say Alison Brie [who plays Trudy Campbell] is always especially ecstatic while in the fitting room. We have tons of fun together.
What’s your one favorite piece that’s ever been worn on the show?
Definitely Betty Draper in what I like to call the "sad clown dress" in Season Two, in the episode where her character just falls apart. It’s an example of amazing storytelling through fashion. During the dinner party scene, she’s styled to perfection and you just see how hard she tries to look perfect all the time. Then, her unraveling is conveyed through the wrinkling of her dress over the course of the night.
That dress was one of my favorites, too. I also have to mention Joan Holloway’s gold pen necklace, though…several of us at Lucky are obsessed with it.
That’s a piece I found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, actually. I was there one weekend just visiting different vendors, and I found that necklace piled up amongst hundreds of other pieces of jewelry—it was calling to me! But there was only one, and in the film industry it’s obviously so important to keep multiples of everything. Luckily, we found a company online that offered a similar style—almost the exact design of the vintage original—and we ordered the whole lot that they had in stock!
If someone’s looking to get the ’60s-era Mad Men look for themselves, which specific pieces would you recommend picking up?
Definitely start with a sheath dress. I think it’s just the most classic silhouette you can go for. A good stiletto pump—one without a huge platform like the ones you see today—is a great foundation piece. Pearls were a big part of the ’60s, too, and it’s easy to make them modern through layering. The same’s true of bracelets, which look beautiful and very Mad Men when stacked together. And finally, a good cocktail ring or two.
You’ve recently teamed up with Downy Wrinkle Releaser. Tell me a bit about what makes this fabric spray so special that you decided to endorse it!
I use it all the time, both personally and professionally. It’s so easy—you just spray it on and smooth the fabric with your hand, and the wrinkles just fall right out, plus it refreshes the whole piece and saves you a trip to the dry cleaners. You know, you’re not actually supposed to dry clean clothes very often, since the process is so harsh on delicate fabrics. You can even use Downy as a substitute for ironing by using it along with a hand steamer.
You’ve also written this cute Fabric Care Guide for the company, complete with original sketches.
And aren’t the swatches cool? As a designer, I love seeing fashion illustrations next to swatches because it gives you that tactile experience and really brings the clothing to life.
More on Luckymag.com:
- Banana Republic’s Mad Men Collection Returns for Spring 2012
- Eight Days of Outfits From Mad Men‘s (11-Year-Old!) Kiernan Shipka
- Twitter People I Like to Follow
- 10 Fall 2012 Gowns We Think Michelle Williams Should Consider for the Oscars
- Fashion Chat: The Cobra Starship Boys Think High-Waisted Pants are Sexy
Keep up with the Lucky team on Twitter: Follow @LuckyMagazine