Gotham - Costume Design Origins For Some of The Comic World's Best Loved Characters

By Joe Kucharski - April 25, 2014

Lisa Padovani is an award-winning costume designer who has worked on such diverse television productions as Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men and Oz. Most recently she designed the costumes for the much-anticipated series, Gotham. Gotham is being described as the origin story behind Commissioner James Gordon's rise to prominence in Gotham City in the years before Batman's arrival. There is already a great deal of buzz around the show, and the initial set photos that have leaked to the Internet have only fanned that fire. I recently had the chance to ask Padovani a bit about her designs, and she shared with us a little teaser of what we can expect when the show premieres this Fall.

Young Bruce Wayne, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Tyranny of Style: You have worked on several big projects as an assistant, associate, co-designer, and costume designer. Can you tell us how you came to work on Gotham and a little about the pre-production and research phase?   


Lisa Padovani: After five years on “Boardwalk Empire” I was looking for a new project. My agent told me that she received a call from Warner Brothers requesting my availability for the pilot of “Gotham.” My background is mostly period or character driven projects so I figured they must want a costume designer as opposed to a stylist. Danny Cannon, the director and executive producer called me and we had a short conversation. After reading the script, the first reference I had was “Blade Runner.” It just so happens that Danny had the same reference, so I was hired from that conversation.

Young James Gordon, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Young Harvey Bullock, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

The idea was to make Gotham its own world. When people ask me what era it’s set in I say “Gotham time.” It’s a hard, cold city, not unlike NYC in the 70’s and 80’s; gritty, but also very exciting. The cars and technology used in the show all hover around 1991. I used modern clothing on many of the characters but the silhouette is classic, which blurs the line. I also mixed it up-vintage pieces with contemporary shapes.

Young James Gordon, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Young James Gordon, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.


T/S: Can you tell us a bit about the rubber meets the road of how you brought this world to life?

LP: I was determined to design and make costumes for some of my actors, not easy to do given the quickness of shooting TV. The show starts from the inception of Bruce Wayne- his parents are killed in front of him which starts his journey toward becoming Batman. The criminals in the pilot are what I call “baby gangsters”- young and just starting out in their life of crime. Oswald Cobblepot who later becomes “The Penguin” is in his early 20’s and works for Jada Pinkett Smith’s character, Fish Mooney, in a burlesque theater. There have been so many different renditions of The Penguin, I tried not to be too stuck on what has already been done and tried to look at his character in a fresh way.

Young Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin), Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Young Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin), Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

I am a big believer in mixing up eras and that’s what I did with his costume- he’s a complete custom build except for some accessories. He wears a one-button tux jacket influenced by the ‘20s, a vest based on a teens tux vest, a tux shirt based on a ‘70s model and a cross over tie that was based on early ‘60s rock and roll groups from England. I am not afraid to use color so his jacket lapels are an acid black/green with a reptile green vest. Purple was also a color we used on him in the vests and bow ties. The idea was to show a progression of his look- he is still not completely The Penguin everyone knows. He’s a very odd character with a painful past, so he needed to look unusual and individual without sticking out as a complete freak. That will come later.

Young Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Young Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.


T/S: Can you take us through the development of one of the characters?


LP: It was great casting to make Jada Pinkett Smith “Fish Mooney.” I envisioned her as an old showgirl gone wrong. As with Cobblepot, something terrible and violent happened in her past. I had my colors early- Danny wanted red somewhere so we found a beautiful scarlet silk charmeuse that we made a dress from. I knew I also wanted an acid green and gold. There is shine and slickness to all three dresses, but with metal and black leather accents and “violent” jewelry, she becomes the dragon lady.

Young Fish Mooney, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Young Fish Mooney, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Young Fish Mooney, Gotham. Costume design by Lisa Padovani.

Her green sequined dress was based on a 1951 silver-sequined dress that Eva Gardner wore to one of her premieres. The red dress was inspired by Alexander McQueen and the gold dress was 80’s Versace/Mugler inspired. I first wanted her to wear gowns-I  was really into the image of her beating down a guy with a baseball bat wearing a long elegant gown. However, Jada is very petite and the impracticality of this won- so her dresses are just at the knee and skin tight. Jada was wonderful to work with- she was completely excited and open to all my ideas, which is what every designer dreams of.


A huge thanks to Lisa Padovani. Make sure to check out Gotham this Fall on Fox. For more on Lisa’s work, visit her website at