We went behind the seams with Mad Men's Emmy-winning costume designer Janie Bryant, who sourced, sewed, and dreamed up a whole new wardrobe for last night's season six premiere.
What were you going for with Megan Draper's Hawaiian look? Megan is the character who is most modern and fresh. Or mod, I should say, and gorgeous. I wanted her costume design to be about her being new, but also have a relaxed, romantic, yet still strong feel. All of the colors were all about having that element--purple being rich and royal but also having that natural feel.
It seems like some of the cast has undergone a '50s to '60s transition. I'm glad you noticed--Matthew Weiner will be happy. That's always such big challenge to costume designing the show. That's how it happens in real life: slowly. Not everyone changes but some people change. It has to happen subtly. Megan and Joan definitely had a little bit of a shift. With her new partnership, Joan has more income, so I wanted her to have a bit more of an update and to not always be in her classic sheath dresses. She definitely needed a little bit of a change. I designed her premiere costume so that instead of her wearing a suit, she wore all-purple separates: a vest, a-line skirt, and a blouse. It's still body conscious, but it gives a sense of her being in a new position. Both Joan and Megan wore purple--it was such a popular color during this period. A big inspiration for me is Jimi Hendrix. Being emerged in the music of the period and what that mood evokes, gives both characters a mod feel.
And what about Ms. Peggy Olsen? Peggy is staying on that professional track. She's not a fashion plate. Her character has never been about that. She's taken seriously in the office now. Last season we would see her in her red power suit. I continued with that look throughout the first episode. Then there's Betty, who is dressed like the perfect politician's wife.
Sally Draper is finally growing up this season--this is the first time we've seen her not wearing a jumper. I loved both of the girls' dresses in that scene. Sally's friend Sandy's dress is one that I designed for her--it's pink lace with a collar, and a big satin bow. It was very important that her dress was shown in contrast with Sally's to show that she's a little older. Sally's dress is more youthful; Sally's mother made her dress up for going to the theater in a blue velvet dress with that inverted pleat in the front. I redesigned it and added the lace details. It's a dress that Betty would buy for her, but that I'm sure Sally would hate wearing!
It seems that you did a lot of custom designing this season. Is it usually that way or do you use a lot of vintage pieces too? It varies for each episode depending on what's happening. I do design a lot, but we also rent a ton of vintage pieces. We have amazing costume shops here in Los Angeles, so sometimes I'll buy vintage pieces and redesign them as well. It varies and it really does take a village.
We noticed another contrasting wardrobe situation during the New Year's Eve episode. I love the subtleties of the three wives. Megan was the most modern in her hostess loungewear, which hugely contrasted with the neighbor's wife. And Sylvia--being really old fashioned and stuck in the late '50s--wore her black New Year's Eve cocktail dress. The subtleties of those three women turned out amazing.
Then the third moment of contrast was Betty visiting the city tenement. As I watched that again, I thought, "That's a world that we've never seen on Mad Men--and it was such a huge part of New York city at that time." We had to fit all of the background actors and everything had to be distressed, dirty, grimy, and gritty. Everything had to be broken-down and nasty. It's funny that nobody has really talked about that, but I think it's an important part of what is happening in New York at that time. There was this real sense of decay that was happening in the city, yet the characters' lives aren't really touched by that. We see Betty entering that world which is so different from how she lives day-to-day. That super-high contrast of Betty's world meeting these homeless kids' world, runaways really, wasn't the pretty side of Mad Men, but it was fun to accomplish that. The production design is amazing as well. Also, for a woman like Betty to go into that neighborhood back then would have taken a lot of courage.
What were your favorite looks from the show? They were two of Megan's outfits. She had so many--trust me, I know. Megan's tapestry-cut velvet suit ensemble--I It was the coat in the miniskirt that she wears during the flashback to Jonesy's heart attack. I wanted that color to be really strong in that scene because she comes rushing down the hallway and there's a sense of emergency and panic. Megan being in that bright orange and green really sets the tone for that whole scene. After the flashback, we see her coming into the doors again. She's in her fur coat and her mod mink cap. You wouldn't leave the house without wearing the gloves and your hat and your stockings--especially to go on a plane. Plane travel was very glamorous. I'm trying to bring that back through costume design!
Lastly, the Hawaiian wedding scene: My Aunt Linda gave me her wedding gown from 1967. I had no idea that I would use it in the show, but I used it for the girl on the beach. It was so sweet to see it on screen; I immortalized her wedding gown! It has family significance.
Without giving anything away, what else can we expect to see this season? You can see that Joan and Megan have changed a little bit. Some people change and some people don't--that's how real life is.
Janie Bryant shot by Bonnie Tsang