Costume designer Jill Ohanneson outfits the cast of ABC's "Revenge"
Ohanneson: Emily and Victoria sometimes have 10 changes each per episode
A lot of modifying takes place -- from necklines to sleeve lengths, Ohanneson said
Editor’s Note: This week, CNN is introducing you to a few of the most sought-after costume designers in the business. They’ll share the trends, colors and silhouettes viewers can expect to see on TV this season, and offer inside information about the series they clothe.
Some fashionistas will look to the runway for inspiration as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week kicks off in New York this week. Others will simply turn on the TV.
Characters’ wardrobes have been used to dictate more than just a setting or a character’s frame of mind arguably since Patricia Field transformed HBO’s “Sex and the City” into a live-action fashion magazine in the ‘90s.
But as many of the notable costume designers making their mark on fall TV will tell you, clothes and accessories have always played an integral part in the storytelling process.
Jill Ohanneson outfits the cast of ABC’s “Revenge” with more than 20 years under her undoubtedly stylish belts.
Ohanneson says the key to costuming the Hamptons-set drama, which follows Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) as she takes vengeance on the people who destroyed her family, is sticking to pieces that are “simple yet elegant.”
“The clothes are really important because it shows we’re not in New York (City). It shows that we’re not in the South. We’re not in San Francisco,” Ohanneson said. “What I try to do is really place us in that particular world. That world of leisure. You know, ‘Am I going to go golfing today? Am I going to go sailing today?’ “
So despite what Ohanneson is drawn to on the runway, she’ll stick to pieces that make sense for the show and on each actor’s body.
“I will always end up pulling from runways or collections what works for my actors versus what the trend is at the moment,” she said. “If my actor cannot wear that great dropped-waist dress that’s happening out there right now for summer, I can’t put it on her. … I wouldn’t want to send her onto the set in something that’s not flattering.”
Viewers will be well into fall by the time “Revenge’s” second season premieres on September 30. On-screen, however, summer will just be underway. That’s one reason Ohanneson stocks the wardrobe in the months leading up to production, while the weather is still warm.
“We’re going to probably film summer up until, I’d say Christmas. … Throughout the (TV) season, there are some designers I can work with that I know keep a summary feel,” she said, adding she often dresses the youngest Grayson, Charlotte (Christa B. Allen), in Nanette Lepore and Trina Turk.
What else can fans expect to see?
“Not necessarily the color block, but the mixing of solids and patterns,” Ohanneson said. “Textures are really important, as well as the bright colors, which work well for summer in the Hamptons.”
But not every character will be rocking feel-good hues. There’s “trouble in paradise” as the season premieres, she said, and viewers can expect to see that reflected in the color palette.
Even Emily, who Ohanneson routinely dressed in “spotless white” last season to embody “the ultimate Hamptons princess,” might be wearing more tans, grays and denim blues.
“(I’m) keeping that darker layer on top so that it’s almost an emotional layer between her and the rest of the world,” she said.
Rarely dressed in white is Ashley Davenport, played by British actress Ashley Madekwe.
Madekwe, who writes about fashion on her personal blog, told CNN, “We try to make it clear that (my character is) not from the Hamptons. She’s a London girl who then moved to New York, who now works in the Hamptons. I think we try to give her a little bit more edge. I’m very anti-beach attire, so there’s never any of that.”
And though Madekwe admires some of the pieces in Ashley Davenport’s closet, she said she would never wear them off set.
“It’s bad enough we have the same name, I don’t want to be wearing the same clothes, as well,” she said. And then there’s the fact that her character is “far preppier than I am, because she has a job that kind of links her to the corporate world in some capacity and I don’t.”
Madekwe’s character will continue to be the trendiest of all the Hamptonites on “Revenge,” but her style is certainly evolving. Having been hired by Conrad Grayson at the end of last season, the actress said Ashley Davenport will pick up some higher-end pieces to reflect her new paychecks.
“I have my eyes on (Proenza Schouler’s) PS11 (for Ashley) because it’s kind of firm. It’s almost work oriented, but it comes in so many bright colors that it’s also edgy,” she said told CNN before “Revenge” started filming its second season.
The PS11, with a price tag of more than $1,000, didn’t make it on the show. Instead, Madekwe and costume designer Ohanneson settled on a Mulberry bag for the character.
And just as much thought goes into the male characters’ outfits.
Fan favorite Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) showed up in the pilot episode – costumed by Marie-Sylvie Deveau – wearing a sailor cap and whale-printed pants.
As the purveyor of the whale cam, Nolan’s sea creature-themed wardrobe was merely a coincidence, said Ohanneson, who took over as costume designer by the series’ second episode.
“That’s kind of his idea of, ‘Yeah, I’m wearing the cool, preppy stuff.’ But he doesn’t quite get it right,” Ohanneson added.
“We wanted to keep quirkiness to him,” she said. “Keep an eccentricity to him, but not make him a caricature. … Now that he’s been spending more time around the Hamptons, he might start to pick up more information about how stuff fits.”
Madeleine Stowe’s character Victoria, whose plane crashed at the end of the first season finale, will also dress differently this season. That is, if she’s to return.
Like Emily, Victoria would dress “a little bit darker,” which works because “(Stowe) can wear black and dark red like nobody else I know,” Ohanneson said.
Though, the quality and quantity of the Grayson matriarch’s wardrobe will likely remain unchanged.
“In some of these episodes, both Emily and Victoria have, like, 10 changes each,” Ohanneson said. “So if I’m dealing with dresses that are $3,000, for two characters that’s $60,000 just for those.”
That’s why it’s sometimes advantageous for Ohanneson to dress the characters in separates. And, of course, hold onto jeans, slacks and skirts that can be worn again or transformed.
Modifying garments is key.
“We end up dropping a lot of necklines, if a neckline is too high for somebody,” Ohanneson said. “I have an incredible cutter-fitter who will take a dress we know is a perfect silhouette for Victoria, and we will make it up in a couple of different colors and different fabrications, and change the necklines and sleeve lengths.”
Needles and thread come out a lot, actress Madekwe said, noting, a lot of work goes into making sure everything fits perfectly.
“(Ohanneson) likes making something (into) something new,” she said. “We’ve turned dresses into tops. If she loves something, especially with the summer clothes going out of the stores, she’ll buy it in whatever size is available, and then she’ll cut it down to fit me.”
So what’s Madekwe excited to don this season?
“There’s a Prada dress I’m really looking forward to wearing. A L’Wren Scott yellow number that I’m really looking forward to wearing,” she said. “There has to be an occasion. … But there’ll always be a Hamptons cocktail party.”