STYLE

Mad Men's Costume Designer: "Mad Men Has Never Been About Fashion"

18/04/2012 17:56 | Updated 22 May 2015
Mad Men's costume designer: 'Mad Men has never been about fashion'Mad Men style: (left) Janie Bryant, (right) Joan Harris. Photo: AMC

Mad Men is, without a doubt, one of a the most stylish shows to appear on our tellyboxes in recent years so it was with surprise that we listened to the show's costume designer Janie Bryant tell us "Mad Men has never been about fashion!" With Mad Men-themed collaborations including a clothing line with Banana Republic, a vintage-inspired lingerie collection with Maidenform and a super-chic Barbie doll line with Mattel that couldn't possibly be true... could it?

Read on to find the answer to that conundrum as well as Janie's favourite season 5 outfit and the bittersweetness of watching little Sally Draper morph from adorable little girl into stylish young lady:

We're on to the fifth season of Mad Men now - what keeps you coming back?

That's a good question - nobody's ever asked me that! I can only say it's my great love for the show and for Matthew Weiner [the show's creator]. I love being the costume designer for the show and I love the cast and my amazing crew. From the first moment it's been such a magical project - from the first time I met Matt Weiner in the elevator with a box with a plant hanging out of it.

Really?

I was lost and he was moving into his office - I was coming to meet with him and our studio is quite the maze. I was totally lost, running around like crazy and happened to get into an elevator and saw this guy holding this box with a plant hanging out of it and he had on this great plaid blue sports coat. I was like "Hey, nice sports coat!" and he was like "Hey, nice belt buckle!" Then he said "Are you Janie?" and I was like "Are you Matt?"

This season's costumes have really flagged up the generational divide between characters - was that deliberate?

Oh yes, of course. I think we really began to see that at the end of last season with the brewing of Don and Megan's relationship and to me Megan was always that character who is young, modern - who represents the younger generation. There are so many things brewing at that time culturally with the Vietnam War and the social unrest and all of what's to come - Watergate, Nixon... The whole decade you see from this time of innocence to the fall of innocence.

Mad Men's costume designer: 'Mad Men has never been about fashion'Megan and Don Draper. Image: AMC

Is it hard to keep the fashion in sync with the show's timeline?

To be perfectly honest Mad Men has never been about fashion. With Rachel Menken she was a character who lived in the fashion world [she was the head of a department store] so she was specifically designed to be very elegant and I always saw her as going shopping in the stores in Paris. Her costume design was about being in the fashion world but as a costume designer it's my job to tell a story about the characters through their costumes. Fashion has never really been the intention of the show.

Even now when so many people are talking about the show's style?

I love it that people do associate the series with fashion but the sixties was a different time when people really dressed up. It wasn't like they were walking around in tshirts and sweatpants. That's one of the reasons I love designing period pieces. it's about the fantasy of different periods and being immersed in that specific time and the customes of that time. I love that people think of it as a fashionable show but as the costume designer that was never my intention, people just see it that way. I love that about the show too - it's taken on a different life.

Mad Men's costume designer: 'Mad Men has never been about fashion'Betty, Joan and Peggy. Image: AMC

We must admit it's one of our favourite forms of TV eye candy - Mad Men is gorgeous!

To me that's the highest compliment because that's one of the things I love about period design. if you look at old movies it is beautiful and I think that is the magical element of cinema and filmmaking. It can be beautiful. I'm a big fan of eye candy.

Do you make a lot of pieces for each season or is it more of a gradual thing?

It's always a challenge to have the season's progress seamlessly. I always take the approach that even though time has passed it's not like people are getting entire new closets. It's like how we are in real life and we buy a few pieces here and there. It's not like you're rebuilding your entire closet just because there's a new trend on the runways. It's about working with the characters who have their set costume design and building from there.

Joan for instance is definitely stuck in that late 1950s, early 60s silhouette of the hourglass figure and the sheath. I never saw that character walking into the office with an A-line shift - that would ben terrible! Never in a thousand years!

Mad Men's costume designer: 'Mad Men has never been about fashion'Image: AMC

Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper) is really popping up on our style radars now - what's she like to work with?

It's so fascinating to me that so much time has gone by. I just saw a clip of Kiernan from season one when she was just 6 years old and every time she walks into my fitting room my heart sinks a little bit because she's gotten so much older. She's really becoming quite the young lady now - it's hard to take! I always tell her mother: "Oh my god, she's getting so big!" I can't take it!

She brilliant as Sally too...

I know! I love that Kiernan Shipka. As time progresses her costumes have definitely changed from that classic little girl moving forward to season four - so many A-line dresses with her little knee socks. I had this amazing pair of green vintage penny loafers that I loved. I always try to implement the colours opposite of Betty [Sally's mother] just because they're always in such turmoil. Their relationship is quite feisty.

Mad Men's costume designer: 'Mad Men has never been about fashion'Mini fashionista, Kiernan Shipka. Photos: Getty

Are there any looks still on your Mad Men wishlist?

There is this one dress I am dying to use. It is a long black gown - velvet and chiffon with ostrich feathers on the sleeves and on the hem. I bought it from one of my vintage vendors two years ago and I knew that in the future this was going to be on some character. I can't wait until Matthew Weiner writes something for this dress. It's such a wonderful garment. Beautiful.

You've always said Betty's 'sad clown' dress was your personal favourite - any others?

Let's just talk about the Zou Bisou Bisou dress [worn by Don Draper's second wife Megan in the season 5 premiere] for one! I knew that was going to be a hit! And I have so many favourites of Joan's and of Peggy's - it's funny how there are so many iconic costumes from the show isn't it?

Is there any chance of a Mad Men costume exhibition in the UK?

Oh! I did an exhibition last year in Australia of costumes from the show that was very successful so we'll see. If that happened again it would be amazing.

We reckon the V&A would be the perfect venue...

That would be a dream - it's one of my favourite places in the world! Tell them to invite me!

Mad Men season 5 is currently airing Tuesdays on Sky Atlantic

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