The season 4 premiere of Mad Men is less than a week away and I, along with thousands of others, can no longer control the excitement. While many of the obsessed fans have been trying to figure out the latest clues from the sneak peak photos and videos, I've been dreaming about sheath dresses and kitten heels. The genius behind those costumes is designer Janie Bryant.
Bryant is already having quite a year: getting nominated for her 2nd Emmy for the pop culture phenomenon that is Mad Men, launching her own clothing line, and penning her first book.
Below, I talk with Bryant about the ensembles we can expect this upcoming season, her new clothing line, and where, oh where we can get that Mad Men look.
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Nour Akkad: First of all Janie, congratulations on your Emmy nomination for outstanding costumes for Mad Men! How does it feel?
Janie Bryant: It feels great. I'm really excited.
NA: What kind of fashion can we expect this season? Are we going to see the fashion go mod? Will the hemlines be shrinking? Will Peggy shock us all and wear a miniskirt?
JB: [Laughs] Well, I wish I could tell you about this season but I can't say anything. I can tell you a couple of things but I really can't go into too much about what the audience will see. I think as far as our principle characters, their costumes and their styles are established. I talk a lot about how change takes time and I always like to mimic that subject within the costume design. For new styles, I always like to implement the new fashions with the new characters, new day players, and really use it that way. With the principle cast, I think it's like everyone's closet -- you get new pieces, you keep the old, you combine the two -- and that is really how I approach my job as costume designer.
NA: Is there one character whose style will be changing the most?
JB: We'll definitely see new things for Betty and we'll definitely be seeing new things for Peggy. There's a little bit of a shift for Joan as well, and for Jon Hamm (Don), and for Pete. It will be interesting to see what the audience notices. You know I always think the show is subtle and the subtleties are what make is so great. That's true within how Matt (Weiner) writes the show, how the production design works with the costume design, and how the cinematography is. I think it all works together in its subtleties.
NA: Speaking of change, the sneak peak photos are out for season 4 and people are buzzing about Peggy's new hairdo! How does that represent a change in her life?
JB: I think for every season, Peggy is the character that really shifts the most and I just think that really continues.
NA: How do you think fashion in general represents change in people's lives?
JB: That's a good question, Nour. Do you mean Mad Men style specifically or do you mean fashion in general?
JB: I think that there has been a real shift in people wanting to dress up more and I love that because I love dressing up. I think it's great that it has really caught on and I think that people express themselves through fashion. It really communicates a story about somebody. We often see how people put things together, if it's a real passion for them, or of they don't really care, or maybe they don't know. There are so many different aspects to how fashion communicates.
NA: What about in terms of Mad Men?
JB: I think people have really responded to the Mad Men style so much because of the beauty of that period -- like all of the printed silks, and ladylike silhouettes, and the minimal streamline aspects of the men's suit and tailoring -- I think it's a really beautiful, elegant period. Also, still, those silhouettes are very accessible today. They are really the classics, unless you go into the real vintage, the more architectural silhouettes of Cardin, and Courreges, and Givenchy of the iconic sixties silhouettes that are more structural.
NA: Do you think that is why people have resonated so much with the show and your designs?
JB: I think so, I do. I think that people have really discovered that dressing up and looking great really is fun and also, I think that when you feel great you have a different perspective on your day.
NA: What has been your biggest costume challenge?
JB: There's so many on a day-to-day basis of Mad Men. I always feel the pressure when there are a lot of characters in one scene -- a lot of the principle characters with the day players with a lot of the background. I always think of that as a well-coordinated dance and just to have all those elements working together are usually the most high-pressure times. It gets complicated, and then if one thing is out of place it can bug me a little, but I guess the audience will never know, right?
NA: Does Matt (Weiner) notice?
JB: [Laughs] You know sometimes he does. Sometimes he'll point out some things and I'm like, ugh, God I know, that didn't happen that day. But we all try our best and it all works out very well.
NA: In a recent interview with LA Times Magazine, Christina Hendricks said the undergarments in Mad Men have given a her a little war wound, why were underclothes in the 1960's so uncomfortable?
JB: Well, the materials. They're wearing girdles and also underneath the girdle is a little garter sewed under the girdle and that garter rubs the skin sometimes.
NA: I know you've talked about how you think it's so important for the actors to not only feel the characters from the outside but from inside as well.
JB: It's true. I think it's an interesting thing for actors to transform themselves and to go back in time. I always feel it's very important to me for them to have that experience -- to go through what a woman would go through during that period. I've said older actresses always tell me "Oh my God, we weighed twenty pounds and we still wore our girdles." You wouldn't go out of the house without your proper foundations. And it's also important for the fit of the clothing. Vintage clothing is constructed differently than our clothing today and that's how the garments fit properly over the figure.
NA: Everyone, and I seriously mean everyone is so excited because your new collection called Mod is launching in September on QVC. What was your inspiration behind your clothing line and how much of it was influenced by Mad Men?
JB: It's definitely vintage inspired and I just designed pieces that I really love from periods of the 50's and 60's so it's not Mad Men, it's vintage inspired but the pieces are real statement pieces and I think they can change one's look in an instant. The pieces are really fun. I love the jewelry. I love the handbag too.
NA: In your line you have about 10 to 15 pieces of jewelry and one handbag, correct?
JB: Yes and then outerwear, and jackets, and cardigans. And there is a pair of cigarette pants as well.
NA: Also you wrote a style guide due out this fall titled The Fashion File. Can you give us a little preview of the kind of advice Mad Men fashionistas can expect from the book?
JB: The book really is about how to become your own leading lady and how to express yourself through style. There's a chapter on vintage. There are also a lot of tips like how to have the proper undergarments, the right fit, inspirations and advice that I use in my own personal experience, and mainly I really feel like the book just has an overall message about feeling great about yourself.
NA: Where are your favorite places to shop for vintage clothing and accessories?
JB: Well, of course for Mad Men I use the rental houses a lot and there are so many special surprises there because they have a huge collection for our industry. I've met a lot of vendors from the Rose Bowl (flea market) that happens once a month here in Pasadena. And I go to a store called Hubba Hubba a lot. I go to Playclothes a lot but the Rose Bowl is a great place.
NA: Is there a certain piece of clothing or accessory you can't live without?
JB: High heels in general, for sure. And I love big necklaces but I'm always changing what that is. It sort of depends on my mood. This year I've been wearing them a lot. I'm sort of fickle but definitely high heels are always the mainstay. People always make fun of me on set, "How do you wear those?" I'm not sure if it was because I was a ballerina as a child or what. I pretty much tell my mother that I was born with high heels.
Mad Men premiers Sunday, July 25th at 10pm/9C on AMC.
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