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Hare Krishna Robes And Never-Nudes: The Costumes Of “Arrested Development”

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

The timing of the cancelation of “Arrested Development’ provided an unexpected opportunity for the series costume designer Katie Sparks.  Having been steadily employed since the late 80s, she decided to take a professional break and focus on the needs of her young daughter and family.  Seven years later and ready to rejoin the workforce, her first call was to work on a Netflix series called:  “Arrested Development.”

“I went from ‘Arrested’ to ‘Arrested’, from everyone carrying bottles of water on set to iPhones,” said Sparks. “I didn’t have the chance to witness that technology change – it was like stepping through a time warp!”

While many had kept hoping that a return of “Arrested Development” would come to fruition, Sparks was surprised it was returning after a seven year hiatus. She knew Mitchell Hurwitz, the show’s creator and head writer, had raised the bar for himself to trump the material that made “Arrested” a cult phenomenon. Everyone who returned – all the key actors and a few department heads, were fully committed to Hurwitz’s vision, and Sparks was especially excited to jump back into a few months of dedicated work.

“It went longer and we did more shows than I thought,” said Sparks. “Mitch was under so much pressure. There was so much anticipation. A lot of decisions were made in the last second, and everyone on the show rose to the occasion.” In situations where a script may be unfinished or revised, Sparks feels the best course of action for both the cast and crew is to “control the fear and learn how to be fluid and flexible” in finding solutions. Working with a base knowledge of a storyline that would span multiple continents (including India and Mexico), time jumps to the past, and virtually every scenario imaginable, from college dorm life to Irish bagpipe rock concerts, Sparks amassed an ample wardrobe collection. In addition to handcrafting items, she also obtained pieces for locations including Nordstrom Rack, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, flea markets, Itsy (an online artist collective), the Fox Costume Department, even pieces from her own personal collection such as a sari she brought at a Hare Krishna store in Venice a decade ago. Five offices were overflowing with costumes to pull from. The most important aspect of every piece she gathered was that it be true to the character it was intended for.

“I always think of the character and what kind of person they are,” said Sparks. “What kind of car do they drive? What do they like to read? It’s important to think of the person as a whole.”

Putting together a great crew to assist her was as important as pulling the pieces. Out of touch with the business for seven years, Sparks turned to the Art Directors Guild for an availability roster, reviewing people’s credits. She met with the people she brought on to ensure everyone would work together well no matter how thick or thin the pressure became. While seldom united in one group, they worked together as a well-oiled machine, overseeing last minute fittings, establishing background wardrobe, and handling the demands of an intricate storyline.

Continuity also became a major challenge the costume department had to manage. Each episode circled back to events in previous episodes. There were jumps back and forth in time as well. The costume department developed an elaborate timeline that broke down the details of the wardrobe. They also made notes in each day’s call sheet to ensure the correct costumes were included.

“If we pulled that list out now, it would be maybe 100 feet? More? I don’t know, it would be so huge,” said Sparks. “The continuity was so complicated; every crew member was coming to us for tips on what was being shot that day.”

Adding to the challenges of managing continuity was working with the actor’s schedules. Many of the lead actors were involved with other projects, preventing them from attending fittings before shooting. There were also a number of guest stars with busy schedules who were unable to come in for fittings. Sparks relied on photos and other information she was able to gather on the internet to make educated guesses as to sizes, styles and color choices that would work.

The internet also played a part in fulfilling last minute needs. Sparks marveled at how its use has become a double-edged sword for many creative departments.

“If you need fabric printed overnight, you know you’d have it the next morning. This is great, until you realize you have to make that jacket that morning,” said Sparks. “It’s permeated all departments. With such great logistics, there’s an expectation to have more readily available.”

While Sparks had her share of workdays that went well beyond 1:30am creating last minute preparations, she loved all the creative problem solving that came with ‘Arrested Development.” She’s marveled at the fan’s devotion to the show, calling merchandise sold in stores, particularly shirts with the Bluthe frozen banana stand logo “surreal.” While the new series may not span an iconic wardrobe piece such as Tobias’ (David Cross) “Never nude” shorts – a skimpy pair of woman’s shorts Sparks knew would fit Cross in an odd and funny way, she’s thankful she was able to reteam with Hurwitz and the cast.

“It was nice to be back with them,” said Sparks. “It was like seeing an old friend and having a cup of coffee. We all worked so hard on this, I feel it is a feather in the cap.”


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