Telenovela, Eva Longoria’s new series that just previewed on NBC is about hot messes on a gratuitously sexy soap opera, the various dramatic shake ups and some devastatingly glamorous jewel tone gowns. Gold spinner Janie Bryant, best known for that absolutely groundbreaking aesthetic achievement known as the costumes on Mad Men, designed it all.
Most of the narcissists on Telenova assume it’s appropriate when their clothes break away to reveal their hot bods at precise moments both on and off camera, but luckily they still wear clothing. Usually, you’ll find Eva Longoria’s character Ana Sofia Calderon swanning around in a gown with a fan blowing in her general direction, which requires a lot of chiffon. In fact, many of the show’s stars never met a shiny sequin they didn’t find deeply pleasurable, and the outfit changes happen quicker than an evil twin can pop up out of nowhere to give side-eye.
Always up for dropping knowledge on costume design, Bryant talked to RunwayRiot about working with Eva Longoria, how she handles the Cher concert-level outfit changes, and mastering the “breakaway” costumes so that no one ends up naked.
So how do you get the liquid look of the gowns in the wind?
[Laughs] it’s very important that there’s special effects in conjunction with the wind machines, luckily my set costumers don’t have to hold up the evening gowns [laughs.] Chiffon is very important. Chiffon chiffon chiffon. It’s very lightweight, it’s very translucent. It is the best fabric to use for any kind of wind machine-like technique.
How do you design around something like those dresses that pop open in all kinds of places?
Throughout Telenovela, we did so many breakaway costumes. We were doing breakaway throughout the whole season. That is my department, and I have very brilliant tailoring staff and seamstresses that have been taught how to do breakaways. We did breakaway gowns and breakaway shirts and breakaway pants, basically every character has had breakaway costumes. It’s a lot of work because it’s not only about creating the breakaway, but having multiples so that the actor has a hero costume and then we’ll prepare two to three breakaway costumes.
Sounds like a lot of work for the jokes.
Yeah, it’s funny when they breakaway. Sometimes it takes a lot of trials as well. The timing has to be perfect. It has to be a clean break. It has to look effortless, but there’s so much work that goes into have these costume break away like that.
What does go into it?
We can use magnets. First of all, we have to figure out where the seam needs to be cut and what the action of the actor is going to be. Is it going to pulled off from the front? Pulled off from the side? I have to think about where the seams need to be cut and what’s going to be shown on camera…and then I need to figure out what is going to be the best technique. We do use invisible magnets, or do we need to use metal snap depending on how tight the garment fits. There’s a whole science that goes into figuring out the breakaways.
What Ana wears in character is stereotypically very brightly colorful, but she seems to wear so much neutral and white when she’s not performing. Why did you make that decision?
Her palette in her real world and in the show world are different, really for all the characters, it’s about creating two shows basically because it’s a show within a show. I really wanted Ana to have a very different color palette in her real life in comparison to her character in the telenovela. Also if you notice, even the way that the cinematographer used light in the show is different, which I think is really interesting to have that separation in the two worlds. There’s hair and makeup and two worlds separated by all these different elements. Ana Sofia, on the show, is about being glamorous and totally aspirational, but in her real life, it’s very modern day glamour.
She certainly has a facade, but seems to always look very well put together.
Yes, she’s very chic. She wears longer length skirts. It’s a very sophisticated design in comparison to the drama and the glitz and glamour, which is all gowns and the color palate is brighter and much more bejeweled. It’s all about statement necklaces, statement earrings cocktail rings, bracelets…over the top glamour in Ana’s real life there’s a simplicity to her costume design, but it’s still very glamorous, very Miami chic coin the phrase right now [laughing.]
What’s Eva Longoria like to work with?
Oh my god, she’s amazing. She is a hoot. She totally cracks me up. We had the best time. She has the best laugh on the planet, first of all, every time we just crack up because the nature of Telenovela. It’s so over the top with the breakaways and all the different things we have to do for the show. Eva, she loves glamour. She’s a total girlie girl. She loves high heels and jewelry. She totally gets into all of it. I say to her, “You know, I would just wear a gown every single day,” and she says “I would do the same, and I get to!” We definitely have that in common. Eva and I really have that love of fashion, glamour, and girliness.
This is an interesting continuation of your work. After a show like Mad Men, which did have its truly hilarious moments, what’s it like to do a lighter show for you personally?
Oh it’s so much fun. I’ve been designing one-hour dramas for a very long time. It’s a whole new world. It definitely has a lighter tone. There’s lightness to working on a comedy show. It’s totally different and it’s a half hour so the pace is so fast. I never experienced it. We shoot a show in five days so it’s like before you even know it, it’s preparing the next show. Basically we don’t have time to breathe.
Breathing’s pretty key you should probably work that in.
[laughing] Yes, breathing and eating.
You’re behind the scenes on television shows yourself a lot…were Mimi’s [the character who does the costumes] costumes based on your experience on set at all?
I talk about her with the writers a lot because Mimi’s position on Telenovela is that she is the department of one. She’s on a costume team and traditionally there is the costume designer and I have my set costumers, I have my tailors, I have my stitchers, my key costumer, and my costume supervisor. There’s a lot of positions on a costume design team in the costume department, but she’s the costume department of one, so she her responsibilities are pretty much the costume department, but it’s not really how costume department works.
How did you approach what she wore?
I wanted her to have accessories because I love the idea that she is more worldly. She’s a creative, she’s eccentric. I loved the idea having of her having these really unique accessories like big cuff bracelets, a mixture of different metals and these really big rings, and big earrings, things that really are very individualistic. I really played a lot with that and then keeping her palette simple like white solid tailored, you know, if it would have been pattern, pattern, pattern, and huge accessories, then I think that would have looked caricature.
With these two worlds, there’s got to be a lot of action in the fittings.
Yes, there are some episodes that Eva has sixteen costume changes and that’s just her, that’s not even the rest of the cast. There was an episode when Eva changes once every two minutes. Oh yeah, and it is gowns. It’s her Miami daywear breakaway too. It’s an incredibly fast sense of accomplishment once the show has been shot and nobody ended up naked and the team pulls together.
Do you use any tricks to keep the clothes on?
It really depends on what the costume is. Sometimes my set costumer used top stick so that things lay perfectly flat or safety pins are a good tool.
What gives you that feeling, that sense of accomplishment that makes it truly worthwhile?
Well I do love the sense of accomplishment when I know a show is going to be huge in terms of the costume design. Eva having eleven to twelve costume changes whatever they may be, being able to go to set and seeing it worked in front of the camera. It’s an incredible feeling when the episodes are edited together knowing how much work went into it, and also how everything looks so beautiful.
How many hours is your workday for Telenovela?
Anywhere from ten to fourteen hours.
I know the decoding of costumes was a lot of people’s favorite pastime with Mad Men. Does anyone close to you play costume analyst and try to figure out what you were getting at with the costumes?
Everybody did when Mad Men was on. Let’s see if the same thing happens on Telenovela, but they can’t ever guess what I’m thinking.
When designing collaborations as a fashion designer for non-characters, what have you learned about dressing women’s bodies?
I love that, for me, it’s all about sensuality and femininity, a great fit, figure-flattering dresses. That, I think, is consistent in my work when I do collaborations. It really is different with costume design. It’s creating the character, not necessarily a fashion statement. Maybe costumes are ill-fitting depending on a character or you use a color that looks terrible on them or something that’s really old-fashioned. It depends on what the story is for the character. But in my own personal design aesthetic, I really love figure-flattering for women and for men.
People love Joan’s style and confidence. Do you have style advice for women with curves?
It’s all about accentuating the waist. If you want to look Joan, it’s about the butt, the waist and hips…I always feel like the waist is the point with which you can really create those curves, just cinching the waist.
I imagine it’s incredibly flattering to see Prada and Marc Jacobs say your work has influenced them. Do you ever worry that fashion designers take credit for some of your original designs on Mad Men?
No, I have no control over that, you know, I don’t know. I hope that I can inspire others, but I don’t control that.
You’ve really brought costume design to the forefront in terms of the media. What’s been a sign that costume designers were getting more recognition?
Well you know I always felt like costume design really is one of the characters of a TV show or on film because our work is key to the visual of TV and movies. I don’t think the costume design should be distracting unless it’s supposed to be. Our work is so important because so much work goes into getting to that point that they’re ready to be on screen. When people started asking me to do press, I started talking, talking, talking, talking. I don’t shy away from publicity because I love my job and I love that other costume designers’ recognition.
Did you watch any soap operas for Telenovela?
Oh yes. I don’t have time to follow barely any shows. I’ll follow Telenova, but I did research telenovelas online. My team and I would watch them [laughing,] they are just amazing, over the top.
What grabs you about them?
What grabs me is that everybody is super glamorous, and it’s highly sexualizing and fantastic. I love the over the top dramatic comedy. I used to watch soap operas, like All My Children was an excuse to say home from school. I loved General Hospital, As the World Turns, and different periods of time for the design. It’s not an authentic period, but it has this romance novel aspect in the design in creating the telenovelas, which I love. My aunt was a historical romance novelist so I grew up reading romance clothes.
What kind of books of hers were you obsessed with?
The romance novel covers. Ripped off peasant shorts and corsets, you know what I mean?
Steamy. What else are you obsessed with looking at?
Well you know right now, I’m really obsessed with 1980s fashion. I’ve been posting some things on Instagram from Christian Lacroix, my favorite designer of all time. His work is this incredible mixing of colors and patterns, and there’s such a richness to it. He’s actually costume designing now, which is so crazy. I just saw his work a couple of years ago, a curated collection of costumes, of his artwork for two operas.
You yourself had your work in a museum. That must have been something.
It was. I didn’t get to see that show, but I heard from so many friends that it was just so amazing.
What have you been drawing lately?
I’ve been drawing too much in the past two months. When I was designing all the uniforms for the Watergate Hotel, I was sketching every single day. I didn’t even notice. I love just sitting down and drawing.
When you think about yourself when you were started drawing women and clothes when you were five and six, how has your thinking about the female form stayed the same?
I still love to draw women, how much stays the same? Maybe I’m a better illustrator [laughs.]
Portrait of Janie Bryant taken by Elisabeth Caren, photos of Telenovela courtesy of NBC Universal