Why ‘Joker’s costume designer decided to ignore the comics entirely

All it took was a personal letter from director Todd Phillips for costume designer Mark Bridges to agree to work on Joker Phillips’ gritty, controversial reimagining of the “Clown Prince of Crime’s” origin story.

“He said that he wanted to collaborate with me, knew that I had worked with Joaquin two previous times, and thought we’d have a great ride with this,” Bridges tells Inverse. “I was very flattered that Todd would take the time to ask me to join him.”

Bridges has been a costume designer for three decades and won two Academy Awards (and a jet ski, which he donated). He’s worked with Noah Baumbach, Paul Greengrass, David O. Russell, and on all eight films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. But with Joker, Bridges faced what might have been his greatest challenge yet: creating a distinct look for one of pop culture’s most iconic villains.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in 'The Dark Knight'
Heath Ledger as the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’

The Joker is one of the few comic book villains arguably as famous as the hero he clashes with, and one of the reasons he stands out among all of Batman’s antagonists is how he’s presented. From Jack Nicholson’s 1950’s pop art design, to Heath Ledger’s now iconic punk rock-inspired look, to Jared Leto’s much derided high fashion; how the Joker is dressed is equally as important as the man who puts on the face paint.

Prior to Joker’s release, Inverse spoke to Bridges over the phone about his work on the movie, why he didn’t bother looking back at the comics for inspiration, and why he didn’t want to have the Joker prancing around in terracotta.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Inverse: Seeing as this is a comic book movie and with it comes more scrutiny than you’re used to, was there any hesitation at all in taking on this particular job because you would be designing the look of such an iconic character?

Mark Bridges: I was looking forward to it. I think it was all about Todd and the way he presented it as being a departure from what one would typically think of a comic book movie. It was going to be grittier, more urban, more based in a kind of reality than a series of magical events.

And I go from different genres all the time. I’ll do a Noah Baumbach and then I’ll do a Paul Thomas Anderson, and then I’ll do Jason Bourne. So I’m always trying to do something that I haven’t done before. So between Todd’s passion, my love of working with Joaquin, and just wanting to try something new I was looking forward to it.

Jack Nicholson in 'Batman' (1989)
Jack Nicholson in ‘Batman’ (1989)

When people think of the Joker, they have a very clear idea of how he’s presented: purple suit or jacket with either a green or yellow shirt. Was it always your intention to go in a different direction when it came to this Joker’s presentation?

It wasn’t always my idea. It might have been influenced by Phillips’s attitude that this was a standalone story. That it wasn’t connected to anything else. A lot of my choices were rooted in this character, Arthur Fleck, and also something Todd wrote in the script about Arthur owning a suit that he’s had for years, which ultimately ends up being this joker suit.

So what made you decide to go with the kind of color scheme that the Joker ends up having?

I think it was written in the script that it was terracotta. But I felt like a more 1980’s color was maroon and terracotta is more typical 70’s. And it’s not as strong. I think that reds are always more expressive. I think reds always communicate more emotion.


Joker marketing has focused on Joaquin when he’s full on Joker, but I’m very interested in how you put together the clown for hire outfit we see him wear early on in the film.

The silhouette is very reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin – the size of the pants, the smaller jacket. My little conceit, I really love when a clown has a tiny hat on. So that was my little touch. Because as he’s getting chased by the young gang, there’s something kind of sad about the whole thing when all he’s trying to do is make people happy, and he ends up getting beaten in an alley.

I wanted to try a bigger hat, a regular sized Derby in an homage to Chaplain, but then I thought that a miniature Derby is more my own taste, my own little miniature homage to Chaplin.

When I think about a character and I think about how would Arthur put together this outfit? My idea was that maybe that jacket was a 70s sport coat that he got off a thrift store, the shoes, very inexpensive, and certainly seen better days. The pants, he either saw a clown that he liked and then sewed patches on his pants or he got them off of a guy who got out of the clowns business and bought them for 20 bucks.

Charlie Chaplin in 'The Gold Rush'
Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Gold Rush’

Did you look through any of the comics for inspiration?

No we had none of that. I did look online on what the Joker looked like when he first appeared in the ‘40s. It all just seemed just a little too contrived for the kind of movie that Todd wanted to make. We really weren’t a DC movie -– we were a Warner Bros. picture shooting in New York: Our own standalone, Mean Streets kind of movie, as opposed to anything that had been done in the DC world before.

Even though this movie is about the Joker, for most of the film, we’re with Arthur, someone who doesn’t really have much fashion sense. But just because a costume isn’t flamboyant, doesn’t mean that there wasn’t work put into it. So how did you approach the look of Arthur before he becomes the Joker?

My work is all about storytelling, so I wanted to make choices that spoke about who he was, his economic status, and how much he cares about how he looks. He’s an invisible person, so the clothes became a little invisible. Not terribly expensive clothes, and not terribly stylish, they’re more for practical purposes.


You’ve worked on many period pieces in your career: Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, London in the 1950s. And now you’re working on a Gotham City that’s based on New York in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. What research did you do to capture the time period?

There were some films Todd referenced, those wonderful anti-hero films that came out in the 70’s, we looked at all of those. Man on the street photography, television and news reports; we looked at what the The Johnny Carson Show was like, what the The Merv Griffin Show was like, afternoon talk shows. It’s really a collage of influences, heavy on the visuals and heavy on the flavor of that moment in time in New York, when it was just an uglier place.

Speaking of Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, how did you approach De Niro’s character of late night talk show host Murray Abraham?

What those men wore were good quality men’s wear at the time, they were always impeccably tailored. I worked very closely with the production designer Mark Friedberg, because I knew that there was going to be very colorful show curtain, and we wanted Robert to be separate from that. The teal wool three piece that he wears, it’s one of the colors we see in the show curtain; when we see him on TV, I had him in a white suit in front of that dark wood paneling. I think it worked out really well.

This is the third time you’ve worked with Joaquin Phoenix. He lost weight before, for his role in The Master, but for Joker, he’s lost a considerable amount of weight. Did his transformation change how you approached working with Phoenix this time?

Well, you never knew when he was really hungry, if you know what I mean? You had to think twice about how you approached him (laughs). It was funny, because his body’s evolving and we’re trying to make things, and by the time you’ve made it, he’s lost another eight pounds. So it was constantly like, “Oh, we might need to take this in a little more.” I did notice he was really much thinner than The Master. He took it in stride with the discipline of a champion, but at one moment I was like, “I’m not sure my tailoring can keep up with your weight loss.”

Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master'
Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Master’

Working with the same actor on multiple occasions, does it make designing outfits for them easier? Because you know what fabrics and colors work for them?

It’s always a reboot, because we’re always creating a different person. I might know that they need an arch in their shoe or something, but other than that, it’s a fresh new page in a fresh new notebook. But collaboration gets easier. It’s not like you just met somebody and not sure who they are.

What are you working on next?

I’m in Santa Fe Right now. I’m working on a film with Tom Hanks called News of The World based on a Paulette Jiles novel. So it’s another little departure for me.

Joker is in theaters now

Christopher Inoa is a freelance film and animation reporter. Follow him on Twitter for cool anime GIFs and more.


‘GLOW’ Costume Designer on Creating Bridesmaids Leotards, Borrowing a Bob Mackie Original

Beth Morgan photographed by Dan Doperalski at the PMC Studio in Los Angeles for Variety on July 23, 2019

Beth Morgan received her first Emmy nom for the first television show on which she ever worked, “Deadwood.” Now, she is nominated in the period costumes category again for the costume design of Netflix’s “GLOW.” Morgan is up for the second season finale “Every Potato Has a Receipt,” in which she got the chance to create a full set of bridesmaids leotards for a special stunt in the 1980s wrestling comedy. But not to be outdone, she worked hard to top herself in Season 3, when the characters went on the road to Vegas.

In the second season, the female wrestling troupe becomes much more comfortable in the ring and the actresses perform more complicated stunts. How did that kind of wear and tear affect the amount of doubles of costumes you needed?

It didn’t affect it as much as some shows because we don’t have stunt doubles. Really we have a double for an emergency, but the girls really wear their one. The wear and tear on them has not been extreme. We were fortunate in all of the fabrics we chose in the beginning; they can stand the test of time. What does change is the girls’ bodies. In the reality of our show, and in life, as you’re getting better at something and training more and more, your body is more physically fit, so some of the costumes were tweaked a little bit for that.

What is something about the way the costumes are made that you think no one thinks about when they watch the show?

The Zoya costume gets the most beat up because I was insistent that she had the belt. A lot of things about “GLOW” and the ’80s is about the silhouette and it being simple, so a lot of them are very simple leotards — especially in the ring because you have to make sure they can be safe. Everyone except Zoya wears Capezios. But we had to make sure they could grab each other — the wrestling is about interacting closely with each other and making sure you’re a good partner, so what fabrics were too slick, that when they go to grab to turn them around, they can’t get the right grip. All of that had to come into play. Also, we have to think about everybody’s ring looks and their entrance looks. We don’t always see everybody enter, but what is that — because wrestling is about showmanship, but these girls are gritty and they don’t have any money, so they’re putting these things together themselves. So it’s about what found objects can they use? We wanted it to be realistic that they could put this together, so when we were picking fabrics, it was about what would they be able to get and augmented? Season 2 was kind of a leftover from Season 1, but we wanted them to be iconic looks.

Speaking more to that realism, then if something does start to fray, do you leave it, rather than rush to make a new double?

We leave it. Because we’re shooting in chronological order, if somebody would have busted a seam, we would have it look liked it’s hand-stitched up. Carly [Mensch], one of our showrunners, would be so happy if we had a busted seam; she loves stuff like that! And people always notice that we do a lot of repeating — because I wear three pairs of jeans, and I feel like that’s the one thing that TV makes not as realistic. These people, especially in Season 2, have a small amount of money to spend. Rhonda is living in her car; she wouldn’t have this copious amount of wardrobe. And they’re wearing the same wrestling things. So I wanted it to feel realistic and organic. And some people who would have a lot of clothes, like Melrose has a trust fund and Debbie has divorcee money, we do a little more with.

Something really big and new in the second season was in the finale episode, for which you are nominated, when you made bridesmaids leotards and a wedding dress.

That is actually why I entered this episode. In my career, it was my favorite creative collaborative experience to date.

So how did the design come about?

Originally it was going to be that the girls were in their “GLOW” costumes for the wedding, and I was like, “Can I pitch something?” It was my own doing, but we didn’t have a lot of time. My sketch artist and I started working on Rhonda’s wedding dress, but we didn’t know what was going to happen — was she going to have to wrestle? So I decided to make the tearaway leotard. And then we sketched all the girls in the leotards — the pink side and the gold side. I went and pitched that because I knew they wanted “GLOW” costumes, but I thought there was something about the girls being on this journey, and being a bridesmaid for a person is really a symbol of showing up for them, no matter what. And that’s what I wanted to show for the girls, but I just thought it translated better in something new. And bridesmaids dresses in the ’80s were insane, and there’s something about being in an iconic part of each decade that weddings does, and we were going to get that opportunity only once, so I was like, “We need to do the big ruffle and the headpieces and all that.” It was really a time when it showcased how supportive the whole creative process is there.

How functional did the wedding looks have to be, knowing they would start wrestling around the ceremony? 

I was adamant I wanted the ruffles to be off the shoulder for the ceremony, but then they would pull them up when they go to the Battle Royale. But the functionality of building a garment that’s off the shoulders is very different than on the shoulders because of the fit. And we have many different body types in the same look, which is the beauty of bridesmaids dresses: How do you make 15 women look good in the same thing? Who gets what color? Originally it was going to be the good girls in pink and the bad girls in gold, but it didn’t quite work out that way because of how they were walking down the aisles. But then we also had to double the fabric and get cups because we have a nipple issue in general because it’s cold. We love nipples, but we don’t want to distract!

Do you have to use special fabrics or line the costumes so they stay perfectly in place while the women are moving so vigorously to avoid other wardrobe malfunctions?

We’ve had no wardrobe malfunctions. There’s not a lot of coverage, and every once in awhile I will watch something like, “When is there going to be a slip?” We are so lucky; we’ve never had anything pop out. Season 1 we used this Bikini Bite and these different things to keep the wedgies in place, but as we were watching it — and as you watch ’80s wrestling and aerobics — wedgies were such a part of it. So we stopped. We really only used it for the fantasy match in Season 1, Episode 1. We used it and then we stopped, and it’s a wing and a prayer, and that speaks to how perfectly fit how all of those leotards are that we’ve had no slips.

Going back to the philosophy of reusing certain looks, how did those bridesmaids’ leotards end up in Season 3?

I didn’t make them specifically to reuse them. I had specifically said to my assistant, “Don’t worry, they’re only going to wear these once.” Because they were such an engineering feat — they’re delicate costumes to wear — we assumed they would only be in that one episode, but then they loved them so much. They weren’t meant to be worn again, but usually I am thinking of how they can be. Like, in Season 3 now that they have more of a bond and they’re living in the same place, you see them wear each other’s things. It’s that thing that girlfriends do, so I always try to think of, “Oh, this piece would be great on multiple actors.” And when they’re at the pool, well I know for each season I usually have one piece and a backup, so we have to really love the looks because we’re going to see them again and again, and that does inform the idea of signature pieces. Ruth’s jeans with the seam down the front, the minute she tried them on, we knew everyone would know we were repeating because they’re so obvious.

When you end a second season in such a big way, do you feel you need to go bigger the next year to continue to challenge or further inspire yourself?

It’s hard because you have to hope the story lends itself to that. This one, luckily, we go to Vegas, so it’s easy to top [Season 2] because we’re in Vegas and everything is bigger there. I love the storytelling part of what I do, so that’s what always draws me in. One of my favorite jobs was “Key and Peele,” and when it started we had no money and I had a department of me plus two and every day they’d be, like, vikings in the morning and DJs in the afternoon. It was the best training ground, and because I had assisted on “Deadwood” and “John Adams,” these amazing period shows, I was able to take that knowledge and underappreciated genre of variety sketch and make it historically accurate.

Was there one of those big moments in Season 3 that stands out as a favorite?

The Geena Davis Bob Mackie Jubliee outfit. In general Season 3 is like Season 2 on steroids. Everything is bigger: People are in formal wear, we had so many more background fittings, we had so many more changes, the girls had money. Basically it was like the finale every episode. But the Geena Davis moment at the end when they’re at the ball — the writers had gone to Vegas and they got a tour of the Jubilee costumes, and then I got in contact with them and we were able to actually rent them, which has never happened. Bob Mackie is one of the reasons I got into costumes. I’m a “more is more” type of person and when I started, he was the master, and the fact that I got to pay homage was amazing. I added pasties, but we took a Jubilee costume and put it on Geena Davis, and she was game for it, and she looked amazing. I did get to design originals for our Fan-Tan girls with our show in mind, but the Jubilee is a special aesthetic. So we definitely got to have the best of both worlds in Vegas.

Your first Emmy nom was for a period piece, as well. What keeps you coming back to that realm?

I think just because you have perspective. You have research that you’re doing. It’s hard to say today what exactly the forecasting of the future will be — especially working on Netflix when it’s a year to go. But I think you can really develop a character in a different way when you’re doing a period show — because you have all of the information already. You know what the outcome was. So you’re getting to delve deep into the character aspect, and usually you get to make more. You have a little more of a budget, where typically on modern shows you’re doing more shopping, more putting pieces together, and you don’t have the budget or freedom to create your own things. It depends on the show, obviously, but for me, I love that we can create so many original pieces and delve deep into what was happening in the time period, what was going to happen, what happened already, and how that informed the characters at the time.

What are the quintessential colors, design aesthetics and style pieces that you try to infuse in all your jobs, no matter the time period?

I have an insane love for vintage belts, and I feel like it’s something that’s an insane hole in the market. I always use vintage belts on any show I’m doing, and I feel like it really becomes my favorite thing that ties everything together. But it’s hard to say that there’s something quintessentially me because I want to be here to serve the characters, so of course my stamp is on it — it can’t not be — but it’s about thinking with the character’s brain: What about these characters, when they went in their closet, would they pick this particular outfit in this particular moment?


How Euphoria’s Costume Designer Created Each Character’s Look

How Euphoria's Costume Designer Heidi Bivens Created Each Character's Look

The new HBO teen drama series Euphoria, which aired its season finale on August 4, deals with a bingo-card variety of particularly 2019-flavored adolescent issues: leaked nudes, fentanyl abuse, camming for Bitcoin. But the issues are also, unfortunately, timeless: divorce, abuse, mental illness, self-loathing. It is a testament to the overall approach of the show — created, written, and largely directed by Sam Levinson — that a project so concerned with story and character, interiority and drama, is also equally concerned with aesthetics, in production design and also in wardrobe. Everything is a choice, an opportunity to sharpen points.

Why merely show a character acting stoned when you can turn the camera around and around and give the audience the spins, too? Euphoria is fantastic, not only in the diegetic elements — in episode seven, talking pill bottles externalize a quiet moment in which Rue resists the urge to relapse — but also in its boundary-pushing with just how much high schoolers can get away with when it comes to school dress codes. The characters are not simply dressing on trend, they’re dressing to further tell a story about who they are and who they want to be. The clothing and makeup are used to create and enhance character. And if we must suspend our belief of what might otherwise garner a demerit, so be it.

“We had hour-long conversation with Sam just about makeup,” Alexa Demie, who plays cheerleader Maddy Perez, tells Teen Vogue. “Barbie, Hunter, and I all made mood boards.” Alexa grew up with issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar flooding her house and has been saving inspiration images to private Tumblr accounts since middle school — old Showgirls stills, iconic photos of Elizabeth Taylor, and Nina Simone with jewel-encrusted eyelids and brows. So this project ,and its collaborative process, were a dream come true. “I’ve never gotten to bring these references to any set except this one,” she says.

Alexa Demie in seethrough glitter onepiece.
Alexa Demie in Maddy Perez’s finale look.PHOTO COURTESY OF MAUDE APATOW

Costuming was a group effort, too. Alexa mentioned a fondness for Sharon Stone’s character in Casino during an early conversation with the show’s creator, and Levinson wrote that in as a set piece for her character, who receives an identical fur coat (custom made out of rabbit by New York furrier Marc Kaufman) from her boyfriend. In the finale, Alexa wears a custom outfit handmade with head-to-toe Swarovski crystals by her friend, the designer Aidan Euan (his line is called Akna). “I would DM brands to Heidi [Bivens, the show’s costume designer]. I’d send her references from ‘90s-throwback accounts, and she would make it more modern, more teen. She took a 1992 Chanel runway look and flipped it and made it modern and young.”

Teen Vogue spoke with Euphoria’s costume designer, Heidi Bivens, about how she approached outfitting TV’s realest teens.

Teen Vogue: What was your approach to using wardrobe to enhance the characters on this show?

HB: We wanted the costumes to give you a quick read, if you just glanced at the character. Whatever we did, I wanted it to feel timeless, but at the same time, like a time capsule.

TV: The character Jules (Hunter Schafer) probably has the most elaborate outfits, if we’re thinking about teens getting dressed for school. How does her wardrobe accentuate the balance she plays with, between innocence and sexuality?

HB: From the very beginning, when I only had the pilot, her character was described as having a look inspired by anime. She was even referred to as looking like Sailor Moon. Sam Levinson has an affinity for that anime vibe; it inspired him visually. The silhouette of the tennis skirt slash cheerleader skirt became a look we stuck with. As we received more scripts and started to understand where the story was going, Jules had an arc and we were able to see where we could take the character. One of the exciting things about TV, unlike features, is that you get to tell an ongoing story and discover things and collaborate. There are evolving ideas, and it’s really fun to learn more about the characters with each script.

TV: Jules has a few shifts over the season — her relationship with Rue evolves; her conflict with Nate becomes a threat that causes her to become secretive and afraid. How do her clothes tell this story of her emotional shifts?

HB: In the beginning it’s pretty obvious that Jules is trying to be sexy to men. She has an idea of what she thinks men want to see, boys and men. And so she’s created this person for herself based on what she thinks is going to get her male attention. As she starts to empower herself, come into her own, and mature, she starts to dress less cutesy and girly, for reasons that have everything to do with her personal growth, her inner story, her shifting away from caring about these dates that she would go on to get approval from men and looking inside herself for that approval. She starts to wear less cutesy skirts and dresses; she starts wearing pants. She’s willing to take chances with her style; she likes to stand out. In a way, her pushing it with her style is kind of like an “F you” to the world.

TV: I remember watching the roller-skating scene in episode five and being like, “She’s in pants?!”

HB: When I read the scene with her roller skating I thought, There should be pants here. For her to be roller skating in a skirt, that would be extra cutesy. She needs to be a little tougher at this point, and just visually look a little less vulnerable. And that orange knit hoodie that she’s in when she leaves and she’s on the bike. It’s not pink — it’s not such a femme color, but it’s very bright and still strong. She starts being less cutesy girly, less twee.

TV: You’ve said that you did a lot of scouting out in the world, observing teens in the wild, at school, to see what they’re wearing. How much of what you saw was translated into the costumes of this show?

HB: The most interesting thing that I discovered in what teens were wearing on the street — specifically in Los Angeles, where we were shooting — is that most teens didn’t have very outrageous or interesting style. There is a lot of homogenized style amongst teens these days. I could be reaching, but I equate it to what happens in a lot of public high schools, with bullying. My friends’ teenage daughters and sons who go to private school are really nurtured in a way where they are encouraged to be eccentric and creative. Whereas in my research, a lot of the public school kids, they often aren’t [dressing creatively] in the same way. That’s just based on sitting outside of public schools, versus interacting with my friends’ kids who go to private schools, who were sent to fashion classes and learned to design their own clothes.

TV: Which is more true to your own experience?

HB: I went to public school, and I can remember definitely being bullied for wearing knee-high socks and Bjork buns on my head, and being bullied by so-called cool girls who weren’t actually cool.

TV: There is a scene at school, after Kat (Barbie Ferreira) goes to the mall and buys her new dominatrix outfits, when her classmate Ethan says she looks different, and she replies: “I’ve changed.” This seems to make a moment of transition for her.

HB: I think that her character always was, or wanted to be, that person. She just didn’t have the confidence. It’s less like she changed, more that she was given permission to be herself. Or she gave herself permission through the confidence she gained from being adored online.


The Black Design Collective Pays Tribute to Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter

The Black Design Collective Pays Tribute to Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter

With more than 20 years in the fashion industry, Angela Dean, Kevan Hall, and TJ Walkercontinue to see a lack of support for black designers, which in turn hinders careers and erases the history of those who have made contributions. Dean has designed custom looks for celebrities such as Regina King, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna; Hall is the former creative director of Halston (the house that designed looks for Jacqueline Kennedy and Lauren Hutton); and Walkercofounded the iconic streetwear brand Cross Colours. So this year, they decided to take a step to fix the situation and launched the Black Design Collective. Their mission is to lift up and amplify the work of black fashion designers and black costume designers, by providing a platform for established designers to develop their brands globally and creating a mentorship program for aspiring designers.

Living up to its core initiative, the Black Fashion Collective on Saturday is honoring one of the greats in costume design, Ruth E. Carter, in the group’s first ceremony, in partnership with AT&T. The Academy Award–winning costume designer has been the wardrobe mastermind behind some of the most iconic black films to date: Do the Right ThingMalcolm XSelma, and, most recently, Black Panther, for which Carter took home an Oscar.

The event, which will take place at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, will also be the launch of the Black Design Collective’s scholarship fund, which was created to help young designers in their pursuit of higher education in the fields of fashion and costume design. One merit scholarship will be given to a costume-design student based on their GPA, portfolio, and the changes they would like to see in the world of fashion.

Teen Vogue spoke with the founders of the Black Design Collective about their mission and the importance of fostering a supportive community for aspiring black designers.

TV: Why start the Black Design Collective?
Kevan Hall: When we think about the great designers that so many people don’t know about, like Patrick Kelly and Willi Smith, these people who pushed the door open and broke the glass ceiling—how many people actually know about these designers today? We wanted to have a voice, first, to speak about our accomplishments and our successes, and then, as a second initiative, how can we empower the next generation of designers? So that’s how the Black Design Collective was founded.

Angela Dean: And bringing relevance in history, from a global platform and really wanting to reach out beyond America so that people can really understand how much creative black fashion design exists in the world.

__TV: In what ways do you plan to raise awareness around issues that black fashion designers face?__

TJ Walker: With the workshops and mentorship programs that we want to initiate within the organization. We want to educate the students and bring them on to mentor them, but not just mentor them while they’re with the organization, to also track their success and actually guide them through the industry and help them navigate some of the things you would typically face in the industry on your own.

TV: What does Ruth E. Carter’s Oscar win mean for the black design community?

KH: It’s an incredible accomplishment, when we think of Ruth’s body of work—over 40 films and television projects to her credit and 30-plus years in the industry. You know it meant a lot to her and it meant a lot to our community to be able to see a black woman who stayed focused in a career and worked her way to that stage.

AD: She gave inspiration to those that come through to know that all is possible. She’s worked tremendously hard up to this point with very little recognition. We actually came up with the idea to honor her a year or so prior to the win, and have been supporting her long before she won the Oscar.

TV: How have you seen the industry change for black professionals?KH: Things are starting to get better for us because we are now making people aware of the issues. As we begin to speak about it more, as we begin to amplify the talent of black designers and our contributions over the decades, we all will begin to see more of a change. We’re just starting to see a trickle now, and that’s why the Black Design Collective exists, to amplify our talent, to lift and promote our craft and our skills, and to empower our young people.

TJW: Social media has also given us a platform, making it an even playing field for us to actually identify who we are, what we are, and what we’re doing in current times, and, actually, from the past as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


NYFW: A Celebration of Oscar-Nominated Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter

The one-night-only installation showcased the cultural relevancy of Carter’s work today in themed vignettes such as “Women In Protest” and “The Hero.”

Ruth E. Carter looked around the fifth-floor space at New York’s Spring Studios, where roughly 30 costumes from her 30-year career were arranged in a half-dozen vignettes, and she couldn’t help but appreciate the full-circle moment. “I beat these streets for years, looking for costumes, creating costumes for Spike Lee, riding the subways of New York as a stylist, as a costume designer,” Carter said. “I did everything in this city, so coming back here with my clothes and my exhibition is a really proud moment for me and is all about coming home to the city that I love.”

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for IMG

Carter is currently enjoying high-wattage attention largely due to her Oscar-nominated designs for 2018’s Black Panther – a “Heroes and Sheroes” exhibition featuring her work has been touring the U.S. since that film premiered last February (pieces are included in the 27th annual “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” exhibition at  L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising through April 12). Wednesday night’s event, which doubled as a kick-off party for fall 2019 New York Fashion Week, highlighted the marriage of film and fashion woven through the thread of Carter’s designs.

“Every time you go to a fashion photo shoot, you’ll find inspiration images on the wall, and many times they come from film,” noted Ivan Bart, president of IMG Fashion. “When I first met with Ruth [in November], I told her, ‘You have to understand, you’re inspiring a whole new generation of fashion designers.’ I wanted to create an event that showcased that combination of inspiration and aspiration, and how that extends to interpretation.”

Anna Webber/Getty Images for IMG
CEO and founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row Brandice N. Daniel, honoree Ruth E. Carter and president of IMG Models and IMG Fashion Properties Ivan Bart.

Bart partnered with Harlem’s Fashion Row, the organization that works to increase visibility for multicultural designers, and enlisted British stylist Ibrahim Kamara to create looks head-to-toe inspired by the range of Carter’s designs, dating to her first film, the 1988 blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. The result was a group of six vignettes populated by live models and mannequins: Carter’s yellow suit from that film, complete with goldfish shoes, was placed alongside a model wearing Kamara’s modern interpretation of the look in a vignette titled “Fly Guys.”

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

Other themes ranged from “Women in Protest,” which included Carter’s designs for 1992’s Malcolm X, 1989’s Do The Right Thing and 2015’s Chi-Raq, to “The Bad Boys,” which featured pieces like the Giorgio Armani laser-cut leather coat worn by Samuel L. Jackson as part of Carter’s work in 2000’s Shaft.

A vignette titled “The Hero”  extended beyond a look worn by Chadwick Boseman in Black Pantherto include Carter’s designs for Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King in 2014’s Selma. Kamara took those ideas and created a modern-day LGBTQ freedom fighter in a silk white suit with a printed overcoat.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows

“Ibrahim is so humble, and he’s a genius,” Carter said. “There were no egos here; we appreciated each other. I know I pushed him and inspired him, and he inspired me with his quiet confidence.”

Of course, that begs the question: Who or what inspires Ruth Carter? You only have to look at her work to know the answer. “Some people think I got into costume design because I love Dior and Chanel and Tom Ford, but it really was these stories of African-American culture, this story of our journey,” she said. “When I started, I didn’t see very much of us, and I really in my heart wanted to tell my stories. Tonight is the result of 30 years of hard, hard work.”




What Does A Broadway Costume Designer Actually Do?

Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano as warring brothers in ‘True West’JOAN MARCUS

In his script for his 1980 play “True West,” Sam Shepard goes to considerable pains to describe how his central characters, two ostensibly very different brothers, are dressed.

Austin, the timid screenwriter, is wearing a light blue sports shirt, light tan cardigan sweater, clean blue jeans and white tennis shoes.

Lee, the older brother, wears a filthy white T-shirt; tattered brown overcoat covered with dust; dark blue baggy suit pants (from the Salvation Army); pink suede belt; scuffed, pointed, black forties dress shoes with holes in the soles; no socks; no hat. That’s not to mention the apparent need for long, pronounced sideburns, Gene Vincent hairdo, beard (two days’ growth) and bad teeth.

Kaye Voyce, the costume designer for the new Roundabout Theatreproduction of “True West,” starring Paul Dano as Austin and Ethan Hawke as Lee, didn’t feel at all limited by Shepard’s seeming specificity. For starters, she has Lee wearing a shiny maroon dress shirt under his tattered coat, at least at first, and gives Austin a pair of glasses.

“I don’t feel like the details he gives are prescriptive,” she says, of Shepard. “To me, they are beautiful clues to the characters and the world, and a great starting place. And those clues will mean different things to each team of designers, directors and actors. The clues helped to remind me to push for the extremes in these humans.”

“If an actor is uncomfortable it’s hard to believe it as a costume”JOAN MARCUS

Voyce describes the art of costume design, in collaboration with the director, actors and other designers, as a kind of “active collage process.” “With more contemporary clothes, it’s all about hunting down the right pieces, being open to surprise and how things are put together,” she says.

“And often, something just feels right or really wrong on someone’s body. If an actor doesn’t feel comfortable in a garment it’s really hard to believe it as a costume. Sometimes you want something to be ill-fit or a little strange—but the actor has to make the connection physically.”

Sometimes, the effect of costume design might be illuminating in a subliminal way. Asked if there was an aspect of her work on “True West” she found personally satisfying, she mentioned an aspect that, first and foremost, served the actors in their performances.

“In our conversations, we realized how central the absence of the father is in the play,” explained Voyce. “There are elements of Lee and Austin’s costumes that relate to their ideas of this man. Nobody should know it, but it means something to me and the actors.”