Janie Bryant Is The “Mad Men” Costume Master Mind
For the past two years, Katherine “Janie” Bryant has been living with “Mad Men.” As costume designer for the critically acclaimed drama, she’s responsible for creating a believable style that reflects the personalities and motivations of the series’ characters.
“I deal with every character on an individual basis per episode,” said Janie. “The design happens naturally in accordance to the storyline. It’s a step by step process that follows Matt’s (Matthew Weiner, series creator/director/writer) development of the characters.”
Heading into its third season, the leads of “Mad Men” have dealt with personal and professional changes. Janie likes to define the character’s evolution with choices in color and style.
“In season two, Betty discovered herself,” said Janie. “As she began standing up to Don and started coming into her own more, we had a color palette change to illustrate her strength. We used whites, beiges, pale yellows, grays, and blues.”
“Peggy also went through a lot of changes. She got a promotion and gained more independence. We still wanted to maintain her modest style, so we modernized her designs to illustrate that she had become more mature,” said Janie.
In addition to relating the outfits to the story lines, Janie also collaborates with set decorator Amy Wells and production designer Dan Bishop to ensure there is a balance between the character’s wardrobe palette and the sets and locations. “I love creating a balance between all these elements,” said Janie.
Janie feels working with color is a key element in highlighting the drama of each episode.
"Colors tell the story of who each character is," said Janie. "Each individual has a color palette. The costume designer has to create a balance of all these colors working together. This does not only apply to the principle characters, but also the day players."
"In the sixties, there was so much color. If you look around now, it’s nothing compared to colors people wore then. There were bright, vivid colors even in the winter work suits that women wore. Not so much for men, however," said Janie.
Although men’s outfits don’t have the same rich palette found on the women, the colors are still very important. Janie spends a great deal of time on the men’s wardrobe.
"The men have so many details to focus on," said Janie. “What type of suit, what color the suit should be, the cufflinks, tie clips and shoes. Shoes are a thorn in my side! I’m very particular about the shoe. It says so much about the character. If I see a contemporary shoe, it’s like a fingernail scratching on a chalkboard for me."
Janie insists that all shoes have leather bottoms in keeping with the time period. She prefers to acquire vintage whenever possible. If the shoe is not the color necessary for the scene, it will be painted by a set painter (this occurs with handbags as well.) If good condition vintage footware can’t be found, a replica will be made.
With each new episode, Janie and her assistant designer will spend at least two weeks researching specific garments and accessories that are accurate for every element of the storyline. They utilize the library at Western Costume Company, a 97 year-old Hollywood institution credited as having the world’s largest collection of costumes, to check styles, fabrics, and colors. They’ll also reference period books, magazines, catalogues, movies, and any other item that depicts 1960s contemporary fashion. Vendors across the US are utilized to acquire the various costume pieces needed. During the past year, a new source for vintage items emerged: fans.
“We started receiving donations of items from fans,” said Janie. “We’ve received some beautiful jewelry and amazing furs. People who love the show send in pieces from their personal collections. It allows them to take part in the show and gives new life to a garment that they admire.”
In addition to new wardrobe selections, Janie likes to incorporate pieces that have appeared in previous episodes.
“Repeats allow for reality,” said Janie. “We don’t change our closets every year. That’s one of the beautiful things about ‘Mad Men,’ the series shows that change takes time. Peggy Olson started season two wearing a black and blue dress with a white color and cuff. This was an outfit that was worn often in season one. We’re doing the same thing with season three, utilizing a moss green and grey plaid ruffle skirt that was seen a lot in season two.”
Although Janie has been recognized with an Emmy for her period costume design for “Deadwood” and season one of “Mad Men,” she enjoys working with many types of scripts. The key to her success is understanding the characters.
“I approach every job in the similar way,” said Janie. “Everything is based on the characters and their progression through the story. I use a similar process to determine color and style; it’s just for different periods.”
Janie has enjoyed finding scripts that present different genres for her to work in, such as “Snow Days” and “The Hills Have Eyes II.”
“I enjoy finding things that aren’t the same, always having some variations,” said Janie. “As an artist, it’s just not fun for me if I can’t find something to challenge me.”