FIDM's 10th Annual Art of Television Costume Design Exhibition

By Brianne Gillen - August 3, 2016

It's once again that time of the summer, in the lead-up to the Emmy Awards, when the FIDM Museum presents its showcase of the past year's highlights in television costume design. The Art of Television Costume Design exhibition, celebrating its 10th year, opened to the public August 2nd, and, as always, is a treat for costume lovers and television viewers. The display features an array of costumes from 23 series, including eight of this year's Emmy nominees in both the contemporary and period/fantasy categories.

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "American Horror Story: Hotel" - Costume Designer Lou Eyrich

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Game of Thrones" - Costume Designer Michele Clapton

 

The exhibition begins with a collage of images - sketches, mood boards, and inspiration photos - giving visitors a fascinating glimpse into the featured designers' artistic processes, before seeing the results of their labor inside the galleries. The first gallery includes a mix of many of the exhibition's period costumes. The costumes on display from Ruth E. Carter and Diana Cilliers' visually powerful, Emmy-nominated designs for Roots reflect a broad spectrum of history, from Kunta Kinte's traditional African clothing to the stark contrast between the rich silks and hoop skirt of Nancy's costume and the rough, distressed fabrics worn by Fiddler, Kizzy, and Miss Ellen.

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Roots" - Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter & Diana Cilliers

Next to these, visitors can find some of the Victorian-era costumes from Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. Sarah Arthur mixed both the traditional with the playful in her designs, which include a marvelous women's wool riding suit and a certain iconic deerstalker hat. As a particularly fun Easter egg for viewers, Arthur even added a red buttonhole to Sherlock's coat, mirroring the same detail found on his coat from previous modern episodes.

 FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Sherlock: The Abominable Bride" - Costume Designer Sarah Arthur

 

The details are always one of the main highlights of this exhibition. So many nuances often get lost when taking in the bigger picture of a television episode, so it's wonderful to be able to take the time to appreciate costume designers' attention to these details in person. Another of this year's Emmy nominees, Outlander's Terry Dresbach, put a great deal of thought into her designs for the drama series, from the Dior-inspired 18th-century suit made for time-traveler Claire to Jamie's leather coat, passed down from father to son. But a true highlight of the show's display is the coat worn by Master Raymond, featuring an extraordinary amount of intricate embroidery that helps tell the story of the character's profession as a healer. (For much more about Dresbach and her team's process, including their massive embroidery efforts, check out our interview Outlander Costume Design by Terry Dresbach)

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Outlander" - Costume Designer Terry Dresbach

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Outlander" - Costume Designer Terry Dresbach

 

The exhibition also features beautifully embroidered costumes from PBS's Civil War drama, Mercy Street. These stand beside the more sensible clothes worn by the characters working in the show's hospital scenes. Designer Amy Andrews Harrell took the time to speak with Tyranny of Style at the exhibit opening, sharing the responsibility she and her team felt in following in the footsteps of shows like Downton Abbey and wanting to be as historically accurate as possible with the costumes. Harrell liked designing for such a diverse array of characters, saying that "they're all real strong characters, and we have a lot of strong women, which makes me so excited to get to do." She specifically shared some of the thoughts that went into designing one of the displayed costumes, a ball gown for conservative head nurse Mary: "I love that...instead of being a princess, I felt like she was the castle, because it's very architectural, and it's not fussy [because] she's not fussy."

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Mercy Street" - Costume Designer Amy Andrews Harrell

 

Moving into the 20th century, the FIDM Museum presents an interesting, side-by-side contrast between two very different (and both beautifully designed) post-WWII series. Giovanna Ottobre-Melton's designs for Marvel's Agent Carter are bright and playful. Even the villainous characters wear bold, striking colors, and the costumes for the women strike a balance between the traditional femininity of 1940s fashion and the utilitarian strength and freedom of movement needed by the characters.

 FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Marvel's Agent Carter" - Costume Designer Giovanna Ottobre-Melton

The costumes from The Man in the High Castle, designed by Audrey Fisher, are much more somber, as needed for the alternative history presented in the show that examines what might have happened had the Nazis won the war. The styles and silhouettes are similar, but Fisher uses darker and more neutral colors, and works in several subtle patterns and textures. (For more insights on both of these talented designers and their fascinating work on these shows, check out our interviews The Costumes of Marvel's Agent Carter! and Costume Design for an Alternative History: The Man in the High Castle.)

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "The Man in the High Castle" - Costume Designer Audrey Fisher

 

As always, the museum also presents the work of outstanding designers of many contemporary shows, showcasing the effort that goes into important costume choices for their characters. Daniel Lawson, Emmy nominated for the seventh and final season of The Good Wife, was enthusiastic in sharing with us some of what goes into his design process. Many of his costumes are "understated, there's nothing flashy...but there's a deceptive amount of design that went into it, and it's such hard work, to make it look sort of natural...and constantly support the changes and the evolution that happened to all the different characters." In order to help audiences identify with or accept a character, their costumes have to be believable in ways that will probably never even be noticed. Lawson explained that the smallest details matter when making design choices, saying, "I can't tell you the number of times I've changed the buttons [on a costume] because it just didn't feel like the character."

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "The Good Wife" - Costume Designer Daniel Lawson

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Jane the Virgin" -Costume Designerer Rachel Sage Kunin

Empire's Paolo Nieddu, also an Emmy nominee this year, makes similar choices. On display are a couple of Cookie's over-the-top ensembles, as well as a custom-made suit for Lucious. Nieddu uses a mix of pieces from well-known fashion designers as well as costumes created specifically for the show. For the characters that are musicians, he strives to show both a distinction and a unity between their performance clothes and their casual, everyday looks. The exhibition features one of Jamal's performance costumes, and Nieddu told Tyranny of Style that the character is "our most casual, [so] this is his silhouette, but...I wanted it to have just a little bit of the pizzazz so I went with the glittery jeans from a designer called Faith Connection." He further explained a subtle but important design choice he always tries to make with Jamal: "I unsnapped his cuffs, because a lot of the times when he grabs the mic I like it to fall and you see his wrists; I don't want him to be buttoned-up."

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Empire" - Costume Designer Paolo Nieddu

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Scream Queens" - Costume Designer Lou Eyrich

 

A prominent theme of this year's exhibition is the creation of character, and Transparent designer Marie Schley shared that an exciting challenge she has faced has been the creation as well as the evolution of her characters' looks as the series progresses. The Emmy nominee told us that with "a lot of projects I've worked on in the past, you kind of develop that character and it stays with them for the whole series. But on this show...especially for season two, everything had to change..." Schley explained how important it was to honor the experiences of families of transgender men and women, in using her costumes to tell not just the story of transitioning character Maura, but also Maura's entire family and the changes they face.

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Transparent" - Costume Designer Marie Schley

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" - Costume Designer Melina Root.

 

Once again, the FIDM Museum has presented a masterpiece of an exhibit. Television is a uniquely intimate viewing experience, and it is always exciting to be able to examine some favorite characters' costumes up close and in person. It is also a wonderful tribute to the creative and hard work these talented designers have done over the past year. If you're in the Los Angeles area, be sure to check it out. (And don't miss the fantastic Man Mode: Dressing the Male Ego exhibition in the adjoining gallery, offering a tour through the history of over-the-top male fashion, not just a modern phenomenon!)

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit -"Defiance" costumes by Costume Designer Simonetta Mariano

FIDM Museum's Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit - "The Walking Dead" - Costume Designer Eulyn Womble

The 10th annual Art of Television Costume Design runs August 2 - October 15 at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), located at 919 Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90015. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.fidmmuseum.org.