‘Mad Men’ Costume Designer Janie Bryant: “Manifest Your Destiny!”
Janie Bryant dishes about design techniques, the moment that changed her life, and what you need in your closet right now! You’d be ‘mad’ to miss this one!
For many of us, it takes years, if not decades, to figure out exactly what we want to be in life. But for Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant, her dreams began as a young girl in Tennessee with a love for Barbie clothes and classic Hollywood films.
Today, the extraordinarily talented Bryant has an Emmy award under her belt, along with two QVC capsule collections, a Banana Republic and Mad Men collection based on the hit series, and book titled The Fashion File ($10.40, amazon.com). It’s a perfect addition to any fashionista’s library!
We chatted with the leading lady of Mad Men’s costume closet about what she keeps in her purse, the one item you should splurge on, and those getups fans can’t help but covet!
You met a costume designer at a party who inspired you to design for film. Did you have any idea how much that meeting would change your life?
No. But making any big change in your life leads to new experiences. I have always loved movies, so when I learned about a career that blended my passion for movies with my love for design, I knew I had found my match!
Who are your design icons?
One of my favorite icons of inspiration is Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind. Just seeing her on screen makes me want to design beautiful garments from the Antebellum Period.
The runways for spring and summer were heavily influenced by the 60s and 70s. How can women integrate retro pieces into their everyday wardrobes?
You can play up the sixties style with the bright, bold colors that are prevalent on the runways for spring and summer. Color blocking, mini dresses, and accessories with bold hues are a great start. You can even create a sixties-inspired ensemble by matching your coat to your dress. For those spring showers, Burberry has a great transparent, sculptural weather cape that is a mod addition to any outfit. Pop it over your clothes and feel instantly transported!
These days, women usually don’t have tons of cash to drop on clothes. What is the one staple we should invest in and why?
Shapewear! It will make any garment you have fit better and look better.
Vintage shops are fun and great for scoring amazing finds. Which ones are your favorites?
Do you use period fabrics to create the wardrobe for Mad Men? If so, how do you find the fabric?
As much as possible, I strive to use period fabrics. Sometimes the yardage is not available or it may be too expensive to use, so I sometimes resort to cotemporary fabrics. However, a lot of fabrics used in the 60s are still available today.
Is it harder to create costumes for men or for women?
It really depends on the garment that is being made. A lot of times, it is more time consuming to create a men’s suit because of all the tailoring that is involved.
Is it easier to design costumes for a movie as opposed to a series?
Television series have much shorter time spans within which to work. Every week or so we are working on a new episode which means we need to work quickly to have the costumes ready.
Did you ever create a costume that you hated, but everyone else loved? If so, would you mind revealing it?
I really can’t think of one. It’s important not to have any costume regrets. Once a costume is in the can, you can only move forward!
Mascara and car keys behind, what is one (unexpected) item you always carry with you?
I carry a makeup bag with me that is glitzy enough to double as a small evening bag. I love being able to leave my day bag behind when I have spontaneous dinner or evening plans. When it’s time to leave everything but this small purse, I keep my makeup in one side and add my phone, keys, and cash to the other. Mine has a small wristlet so I can slip it on my arm and forget about it!
When you designed the (gorgeous) Mad Men collection for Banana Republic, was it difficult to bring the ‘60s into 2011? What are your personal must-haves from the line?
What I like about the Banana Republic and Mad Men Collection is that it incorporates vintage influences from the sixties with a luxurious, modern, and accessible design that is so evocative of Banana Republic. I love the leopard print trench and the pony hair pumps with the matching handbag.
When you were given the script for Mad Men, did you start designing the clothing based on the characters, or did you wait until you saw the actors?
I had the vision for each character before meeting the actors, but working with the actors allowed me to see the clothing on the body and work with the actors’ body types to truly evoke each character’s story.
Do you use color as a psychological or sociological indicator when creating costumes?
Colors really do help to tell a story about the characters and relate a mood about the character’s storyline.
You’ve worked on two period shows- Deadwood and Mad Men, does the attention to historical detail sometimes get in the way of designing costumes for the characters?
No, it enhances it!
We love Christina Hendrick’s curves. What are some tips for curvy gals who want to dress their best?
Shapewear is very important. It is all about creating an hourglass silhouette. To do this, you need undergarments that shape, smooth, and accentuate the waist. Maidenform has great pieces that help you create this feminine look. Two of my favorites are the Custom Lift Strapless Longline Bra and the Flexees Easy Up Thigh Slimmer. They meet at your natural waist to nip you at the smallest point of your torso and create your best curves.
What would you consider to be the hardest part of your job?
Mad Men dictates enormous attention to detail. Each episode is broken down into many scenes, complete with the principle cast, guest cast, and background characters. Each person must be costumed and fit, with no detail left unattended to. It is a great environment to be a part of, but days are long and ever changing!
Do you have a few words of advice for women who want to get into costume design?
Be focused on what you want and work towards those goals. Manifest your destiny!
Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.