Janie Bryant, The Models.com Interview
With its signature style and longstanding cultural impact, Mad Men is easily one of the most fashionable shows to ever grace television. As the series’ costume designer, Janie Bryant is responsible for creating the trademark Mad Men look: a sleek take on Sixties style that has influenced everyone from Miuccia Prada to Michael Kors. Bryant creates an immersive world through her expressive creations, capturing both the feel of the time period and the personalities of each character. Fashion extends beyond the runway, and as Hollywood’s most significant style innovator, Bryant offers spectacular insight into another facet of the design world. Find out how the wardrobes of your favorite characters are crafted, how Janie creates an aura of period authenticity for each season, and the unique places she finds inspiration — all in this Models.com exclusive interview.
Interview by Janelle Okwodu
Mad Men Cast photography by Frank Ockenfels / AMC
MDC: What is your creative process like when you begin a new project?
Janie: In the beginning it is always about the script, you’re reading about what the characters are saying to each other, the setting, the time-period, the feel of the script. How the characters are interacting with each other, and that really is about getting that visual from the script of the characters. Then I start my research process and that usually begins with tons of books, and for Mad Men specifically I watch a lot of vintage and classic movies from the period. I also do a lot of research going through magazines and catalogs. Vintage magazines and catalogs, the newspapers from the period; it’s also fun reading what was going on during the period as well, getting a feel about how the people were. Photos are also a great resource for me and I do a lot of research online!
After I do my research, I start going to fabric stores and swatching. With my sketches, I also gather all the visual information of magazines and newspapers and photos and start making a design book for each character. Then I go have my design meetings with the creator of the show.
MDC: How much input does Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men have with the design process?
Janie: We have a lot of discussions, just in terms of what the theme of these season is going to be and the arcs of the characters. He and I from the very beginning have had a great creative relationship. We’ve always gotten along so well creatively and personally; it is a great collaboration. I don’t ever feel like I’m creatively stifled, it’s a nice back and forth and I always feel thankful for that.
MDC: Do you have a favorite character to dress?
Janie: People ask me this question so much and I really think it’s because they have their character that they’re most attached to. I’m sure you have your favorite characters that you just love the most. For me I’ve always loved the variety and all the different things you can show with all the characters. It is always evolving and changing with each season – one episode it could be Roger Sterling, another it could be Peter Campbell or Megan Draper, or Harry Crane, Betty Draper-Francis. I love that the stories change all the time and that there are always new moments for the costume design – I love the variety.
MDC: What was the mood for season five?
Janie: This season has been such an incredible journey, it really probably had the biggest changes in costume design that I’ve ever done. The color palette is shifting a little bit, it has gotten brighter; this is the first time I’ve had a character in a true mini-skirt, mini-dress, and this is the first season I’ve experimented with more characters being mod. It’s really about showing the establishment and then the youth culture. That has been a big theme this year – it’s been really, really interesting and fun to experiment with what’s going on culturally, and integrating that into the characters and costume design.
MDC: Can you talk a little bit about the character of Megan Draper and her transformation this season?
Janie: She has – when we last see her in season four, she is the newly engaged secretary and secretaries really didn’t make that much money at that time. It wasn’t like she had access to gorgeous and beautiful designer clothes. Cut to beginning of season five, she and Don have been married, and she does have more accessibility to designer clothing. I always saw her as a character who is not frivolous: I think she understands finer things, but it’s not like she’s ostentatious or sits around eating bonbons like Jane Sterling. She definitely has more of that European flair, and I always wanted to illustrate that in the costume design for her.
But then there is that life-changing event that happens to her during the season where she is brave enough to make the transition and admit that she is an artist and wants to be an actor. You can really see her costume design shift when she’s at home and not working anymore, she’s getting into her craft and taking classes, going out on auditions. We mainly see her at home and I love showing the contrast between her home costume and her work costume; I also love showing the contrast and age difference between her and Don. You can really see that when she’s at home, her costumes are even more youthful, more casual, she’s trying to relate to her fellow actors and also really embracing her youth and new career. It is almost like there is more of a costume design relationship between her and Sally, rather than a connection with Don.
MDC: Has creating costumes for Sally changed over the years, we’ve seen her grow from child to young adult onscreen.
Janie: That shift for her costume design this season has been really interesting and it’s been really fun, too. It’s amazing to see her in these clothes of the period that are more mature and grown up. I’ve known Kiernan since she was five or six when she started the show, so seeing her not only in her real contemporary life turn into this young woman, but also seeing Sally Draper grow up has been really interesting. Sally really does maintain her youthful school girl “uniform” at the Francis home, while she has this shift of being more stylish and fashion forward – I should say being ‘groovy’ – at her Dad’s house. That is about the relationship between her and Megan, and also Sally feels more free at her Dad’s house.
Like the dress that she wore at the gala – that was an amazing episode for costume design, one of my favorites. There were 8 different days within the script, and full of all the characters, so there were a lot of costumes for the episode. I had bought that lame dress at a vintage store, and it was a ladies dress, so I actually had my tailor totally recut that dress down to fit Kiernan.
MDC: How much vintage do you use in the show?
Janie: It’s alway a process of “I will design and we will build my original designs”. I do a lot of rentals from the costume shops from around Los Angeles and I’ll work with a lot of vendors who specifically work with film and television. I also buy vintage, and I also buy and redesign vintage. It takes a village! I work with an amazing crew and it’s something I love!
MDC: Tell us about Betty’s wardrobe this season – her character’s weight gain was a big plot point, how did you handle that with the costumes?
Janie: About 90% of Betty’s costume were my original designs that I built – not me personally, I can’t take credit, but my team. There were probably only two costumes that she wore this season that were purchased. I love the character of Betty Francis and I’ve always had a lot of compassion for her; it was amazing to work with January this year, to just imagine the frustration and her character’s journey in having this weight problem and how that is going to be reflected in the costume design. For me, Betty Francis is always about that facade of perfection and beauty, and with her weight gain problem, it is another level of frustration and unhappiness for her. How that is going to be reflected in the costume design? It was an amazing challenge to be working with a different body shape. I so enjoyed working with January this year and on the costume design of Betty.
Betty definitely always has that element of classic, elegant 1950-1960s design, but every once in a while she’ll wear her shifts. It’s very modern, but still very classic and lady-like. I love Betty Francis in a shift, and I love the shifts of that period anyway, so those moments when we get to see Betty in her shifts are always so much fun.
MDC: How did that uber-popular Banana Republic / Mad Men collaboration begin?
Janie: I was [already] working with Banana, we were working on the promotions together. I had met Simon Kneen, their creative director and we were just talking about our passions, our mutual love for menswear; it was really just a natural progression and development that we would design the collection together, it began with our mutual passion for menswear. Now we’ve done the second collection, which was released in March. Both collections have done so well, I think it has been amazing for the consumer to really have a taste of Mad Men but still be able to wear a contemporary garment.
MDC: You’ve gotten to design incredible 1960s style costumes for Mad Men and amazing western period clothes for Deadwood – is there a genre or time period you haven’t gotten to design for yet, that you’d like to explore?
Janie: Yes, I would love to design for a movie or television show with the French Baroque period, or I would love to design a 1970s film, too. I’m all over the board – I just love period design, I’m always so inspired by the fantasy of it all. That’s why I love designing Mad Men, it’s really about this totally different world and I love it. Not only the actors, but the audience can totally be taken to this new place.
MDC: When designers are inspired by Mad Men how do you feel?
Janie: Flattered and it is amazing. I think we all inspire each other. It is incredible that people are so inspired by the show and I only feel a generous spirit to be able to share this with the world.
MDC: Who are your design inspirations – in costume design, or just on the runways?
Janie: Of course Edith Head, she has 8 Academy Awards for costume design, more Academy awards than any woman in the Academy’s history. She was an amazing costume designer and worked with all the great actors, directors – her resume is just incredible. Adrian as well – those are my two favorites.
As for fashion designers, I’ve always been a huge fan of Christian Lacroix. I’ve always loved his whimsy and his collections were always period-inspired and dramatic. The house of Valentino still continues to amaze, and I’ve always loved Yves Saint Laurent. Marchesa is also excellent – if I could wear a gown everyday I would!
MDC: What is in the future for Mad Men?
Janie: I can talk to you about that next year after it airs!
What’s in the future for Janie? Works with Matchbook Company on licensing and brand collaborations. In addition to being Mad Men’s costume designer she’s also the Brand Ambasador for Maidenform intimate Apparel and Downy Wrinkle Releaser with more in the works. Look for announcements soon on @janiebryant or janiebryant.com