Nothing Freaky About It: Costume Designer Lou Eyrich Thrilled By Her AHS: Freak Show Emmy Nom

Costume designer Lou Eyrich and her team had to create costumes for a wide variety of characters in “American Horror Story: Freak Show”. Photo credit: FX Networks

They began working together in the late nineties, when Ryan Murphy co-created the television series “Popular” with Gina Matthews. At that time, costume designer Lou Eyrich never expected their collaborations would result in three Emmy nominations (“Glee” in 2010 and 2011, “American Horror Story: Asylum” in 2013) or an Emmy win last year for “American Horror Story: Coven.” After winning a Costume Designers Guild Award in February 2015 for “American Horror Story: Freak Show”, she felt there could be no further praise – until she was informed she was once again nominated for an Emmy.

“I never imagined any of these would happen. It honestly is such a surprise and such an honor,” said Eyrich.

Set in a small Florida town during the early 50s, “American Horror Story: Freak Show” focuses on a traveling carnival comprised of “freaks.” Initially expecting to focus on a dusty palette, Eyrich revised the decision early on, deciding to focus on a more “technicolor” array of blues, yellows, reds and golds. The first hurdle Eyrich and her team had to maneuver was sourcing period pieces for all members of the cast; all within the confines of a television timeline and budget. Due to the nature of the show, a majority of the pieces had to be made. Large swatches of vintage material is not readily available, so the costume department had to start their process by having fabric made to order. Patterns and material was selected based on extensive research the costume team had done on clothing work in Florida during the late 40s and the outfits worn in traveling circuses and carnivals.

The second major challenge in providing costumes for the cast of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” was building pieces that accommodated unusual physique; either real or digitally created. In some cases, such “Lobster Boy” Jimmy Darling, played by actor Evan Peters, the costume department had to work in conjunction with a practical application of large, grafted fingers. The opening of his sleeves had to be adjusted to perfectly fit over the prosthetic piece which required precise measurements. The costume department also had to make actress Chrissy Metz, who played 500 pound Barbara, appear to have her character’s hefty girth. The extra large garments hid padding and created the illusion of extra bulk. For Sarah Paulson’s two headed character, Bette Tattler/Dot Tattler, the costume team had a unique and unusual challenge surrounding each dress design.

“Each dress had to be made three times. We had to do a build for when the right head was shot, a build for the left head, then a build for the two head shots,” said Eyrich. “It was very labor intensive.”

In some cases, Eyrich and her team had to create small detailed items in addition to larger wardrobe pieces. A chicken hat – complete with chicken feathers, was designed for one quick stage scene. For another specialty actress who walks on her hands, Eyrich built glovers that protected the actress’ hands from getting cut and injured by the harsh gravel.

With all costumes, Eyrich remained focused on relaying important character traits and details. For bearded lady Ethel Darling, played by Kathy Bates, Eyrich designed dresses that helped emphasize her female qualities to illustrate her position amongst the members of the traveling show.

“It was important to try to keep her feminine, despite that mass of hair and the beard,” said Eyrich. “She is a mother image. She’s the person that holds the group together. The dresses we designed were meant to depict her mama side.”

While each season of “American Horror Story” provides a new anthology, many of the actors re-appear from season to season, portraying new and unique identities. Knowing these actors sizes and dimensions gives Eyrich an obvious advantage in designing pieces in advance. However, Eyrich also notes the additional benefit in knowing the actor’s tastes and tendencies. They are able to bounce ideas off each other that result in costumes that appear natural to the actor, and enhance a natural portrayal of the character. She feels especially blessed to have forged such a long standing relationship with Murphy. While the two understand each other’s taste and sensibilities, Eyrich always looks forward to hearing what Murphy is cooking up.

“If he is looking for something specific, I usually know what he wants, but he still manages to surprise me,” said Eyrich.

Up next: Eyrich is currently working on “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Reluctant to give away too many secrets, she hinted that it takes place in Los Angeles, has a very specific look, and will be a real visual treat.

To read about Emmy nominated “American Horror Story: Freak Show” composer Mac Quayle, click here: http://variety411.com/article/freaks-screams-and-normal-hearts-composer-mac-quayle-4142635/