“The Times They Are a Changin'” pretty well sums up this year’s Emmy craft contenders for production and costume design. The series all deal with social, political and cultural upheaval, which provided creative opportunities in designing and dressing characters on the cusp of change.
In the race for production design (fantasy or contemporary), Amazon’s adaptation of Philip K.Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” is building buzz for its retro-future vision, in which the Nazis and Japanese won World War II.
For production designer Drew Boughton, that meant three distinct looks for New York City (run by the Nazis), San Francisco (occupied by the Japanese) and Canon City, Colorado (the neutral zone). New York offered an austere, concrete, gray vibe reminiscent of the Eastern block, San Francisco went more wood and aqua blue and Canon City was rural, like a Western.
“What are the things that you are going to subtract that are going to be absolutely different? That’s what makes the show unique and special,” said Boughton.
After winning the Emmy last year for period design, for “The Knick” production designer Howard Cummings broadened the tension between social progress and class disparity in the New York hospital drama set in 1901. He ventured from Yonkers to Staten Island and everywhere else in between—as well as creeping into Long Island. He even expands into the higher echelons of affluence.
Director Steven Soderbergh not only continued his use of fluid hand-held shots with the RED on his shoulder, but also did more single takes. And because adjoining sets were built like a location, he could maneuver around very efficiently and combine scenes.
But “The Knick” will have to contend with both “Outlander” and “Downton Abbey” (the sentimental fave because of its farewell season). Production designer Jon Gary Steele nailed the glam 18th century Paris for Season 2 of “Outlander” with more elegance and decadence. Gone are the browns of Scotland in favor of more emerald and gold. “It’s deep and rich and rubbed with waxes. There are printed tapestries and all the moldings are gilded,” said Steele.
In wrapping up the exceptional British saga about the Crawleys, “Downton Abbey” offered three weddings and a day at the races. And the design highlight was the spectacular Brooklands car race. For production designer Donal Woods, he first had to chase down racing cars from 1925. “We spent about a week shooting there [at the Goodwood Circuit in West Sussex],” Woods said. Charlie’s [Julian Ovenden] terrible, fatal crash was dashing on somewhere else [a bank of road similar to the racetrack].”
Meanwhile, “Downton Abbey,” which won the Emmy last year for period/fantasy costumes, will likely win again for its glorious weddings of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael).
For Mrs. Hughes, costume designer Anna Mary Scott Robbins found a beautiful velvet coat, a vintage piece of 1920s lace and then made little pearl-embroidered roses with silk. Lady Mary wore a cream lace-embroidered dress and matching jacket with pleating for a more fashion-forward look, and Lady Edith’s exquisite wedding dress was the showstopper: Brussels lace was collected from various places by Robbins and augmented with a mint-condition, detachable train.
But there’s strong competition from “GOT,” “Outlander” and “Roots.” Emmy-winning costume designer Michele Clapton returned for the “GOT” finale to create the stunning coronation gown for Lena Headey’s Cersei made from lightweight Italian-cut leather and silver and black textured brocade; costume designer Terry Dresbach elegantly dressed Claire (Caitriona Balfe) for the French court, but with a solid, ’40s vibe (her red dress is deep crimson with 15 yards of fabric); and costume designer Ruth Carter re-imagined “Roots” as a cross-generational saga with greater historical verisimilitude (950 pieces were aged and the family wardrobe was united by a rich blue rooted in the indigo harvested in Africa).
Last year’s contemporary costume winner, “Transparent” (Amazon’s groundbreaking transgender show created by Jill Soloway), has certainly upped its game in Season 2 by adding a parallel subplot from ’30s Berlin that brings a forgotten trans-history back to life.
Costume designer Marie Schley dresses up characters from Institute for Sexology in hip fashion, including three party scenes featuring model Hari Nef in her TV debut. Schley also makes Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) more feminine this season with several earthy dresses.
While “Transparent” will be hard to beat again, “American Horror Story: Hotel” has the power of Lady Gaga as The Countess. Costume designer Lou Eyrich took inspiration from old Hollywood glam (particularly MGM costume designer Adrian and artist Daphne Guinness) in creating a sexy wardrobe and accessories that spanned the 20th century and fit the fashionista in new retro ways.