September 4, 2013
There’s a lot to love about AMC’s “Mad Men,” not least of which is the fashion. Since 2007, the critically acclaimed television series has dazzled viewers with its attention to period detail, bringing the 1960s back to life with an extensive wardrobe of nipped-waist dresses and longline bras, fedoras and skinny ties. The show has become a modern style guide, launching fashion trends and even a popular tie-in clothing line from Banana Republic. “Mad Men”‘s fashion takes us, as Don Draper would put it, “to a place where we ache to go again.”
The person behind this style revival is Janie Bryant, the show’s costume designer. Bryant researches, designs and curates all the looks on “Mad Men,” from Joan Harris’ curve-hugging sheaths to Bob Benson’s beach-ready shorts. Bryant has won numerous accolades (including six Emmy nominations and one win) for her period work on “Mad Men” and the 2004-2006 HBO series “Deadwood,” and frequently collaborates with brands and retailers to create contemporary fashions. She will be interviewed by historian Amy Henderson at a Smithsonian Associates seminar next week.
We caught up with the designer to talk about her work on “Mad Men,” her personal style, her upcoming reality show and, of course, the shorts that launched a thousand rumors and a parody Twitter account:
How much of the fashion on “Mad Men” is vintage, and how much is your original design?
It’s always a combination. I design garments for the principal cast, and that always depends on the episode and the characters that are in the script and how much time and money I have. I buy vintage and I do a lot of rentals from the amazing costume houses here in Los Angeles. I will also buy vintage and redesign it, depending on what needs I have for each particular character.
How do you get inspired?
It really starts with the script. It’s inspirational to read what the characters are saying to each other, what actions they’re taking, where each scene is being set, so the script is really the beginning place for the costume design. From there, I start my research process by going through catalogs, old photographs, all different kinds of magazines—anything from a Sears catalog to a Vogue fashion magazine from the period and everything in between. That’s why I particularly love old photographs, because you truly get a sense of what people were wearing and how they wore it and where each wrinkle was. I will research newspapers. I’ll watch old movies. I do a lot of research because it’s always that visual inspiration of, “Oh! This reminds me so much of the character Betty,” or “This photograph reminds me so much of Don.”
Walk me through your design process for Joan’s purple suit (sketch below) from the first episode of “Mad Men” season six.
Season five was such an interesting character arc for Joan because she had a new position [as a partner] in the office and came into a new position economically. I felt like that was a great opportunity for Joan to have a little bit of an update. She’s been stuck in that late-fifties wiggle dress, hourglass look for many, many seasons. Joan will always wear clothing that totally accentuates her curves, but at the same time I felt like she could use a little fashion update. I wanted to incorporate a more A-line skirt. The vest and skirt combination was a very modern thing at this point in time, and the ruffled blouses were really coming into style as well, so I wanted to incorporate those elements for Joan, especially in the first episode of the season.
But Christina [Hendricks, who plays Joan] and I still laugh—we’re like, “Oh, Joan, she buys clothes and then she takes it to her seamstress and has it tailored two sizes too small!” It’s a funny little character thing that I love about Joan. Joan wears her clothes too tight—it’s fabulous.
Do you have a favorite character to design for? A favorite garment that you’ve created?
[With regard to] favorite characters, it changes so much because it really depends on what’s happening in the script. The fun thing about being the costume designer of the show is that there is such variety. Probably one of my favorite costumes of all time is Harry’s costume from last season, when the guys go to California. He’s in his long dramatic scarf, the yellow double-breasted sports coat. I love that costume so much! I love the whole aspect of the show moving along in time, and that was just one of those moments that you can really see things changing. . . . If [the show] stayed at 1960 for six years, I think that I would grow tired of that.
I also loved the blue brocade gown that I designed for Betty in season two, with the blue silk organza overdress and the inset pearls and rhinestones. I love that dress. There’s so many! I hate choosing favorites—it’s so hard. I can’t even decide because it has varied so much. Megan was one of my favorite characters last year and Jane was one of my favorite characters in season five. One of my favorite costumes of all time was Jane’s ivory silk crepe jumpsuit with the rhinestone cutout.
You mean the Princess Leia look, from when she and Roger took LSD?
That’s the one, but it’s funny that you call it Princess Leia! [laughs] She was over-the-top, dramatic Princess Leia then.
How much input does the showrunner, Matthew Weiner, have on the costume design?
I talk with him about what I’m thinking and sometimes he will have specific desires for a character, but I never feel like he’s micromanaging me. We’ve always had a great, creative working relationship. I run my department and I have my creative discussions with him, and that’s how we work together. I have always felt like it’s very balanced and there’s a lot of independence.
How much interaction do you have with hair and make-up to create a character’s complete look?
We have lots and lots of discussions. I show them what the costume is going to be for each character and hopefully we have time to talk about it. They are very creative too. They see the costume, the color, the design of it, what I’m going for, and then they can do their thing.
It’s usually the women’s fashion that gets the most attention. What are some of the subtleties of men’s fashion that we should note?
I pay huge attention to the men. They all have different shirt collars and different cuff links, or may not have cuff links—like Roger Sterling, each one of his shirts is embroidered with his initials on the cuff. They each have a different color scheme. Each of the male characters wears a different kind of suiting. The variation really is endless, and I do love to make each one of those characters different. I think it’s really important for them to be very character-specific and character-driven.
The obvious way of seeing that is Harry. He’s so different from the rest of the male cast. But Pete is too, and his costume design has changed a lot over all the different seasons, which has been really fun—from his menswear being mostly made up of different hues of blues to his palette being much more refined and somber and serious as he has gotten older. That has been very interesting—the transition for that character, to go through all the different character arcs with him.
I want to ask you about one men’s look in particular: Bob Benson’s shorts from this past season. How did you settle on those shorts?
There were several details about those swim trunks that I loved. One, it was a fish print, which I thought was really important because he’s a character that everybody was sort of like, “Hmm, we don’t really know who this guy is.” I felt like the fish print gave that sort of slippery accent to his character. Also, his color palette was always just a little off. The shorts have an interesting color scheme going on—the fish are a little odd in color. [The shorts] just really spoke to me as far as “OK, that’s a Bob Benson swim trunk.” And it was also kind of nerdy too. I loved all those things about them.
Was it a challenge for you to dress Betty as the character gained and lost weight? How did you deal with that?
Yes, that is always challenging. It’s also an aspect of the show that I wanted to look perfectly flawless and natural to the audience. For season five, I designed 90 percent of her costumes and had them made, just because it was like designing for a totally different, new character. This [past] season, her weight loss was very challenging too—to go through all those different periods. We had a lot of fittings to figure out the proper amount of weight loss [and] how the costumes were going to fit with the weight loss. And not to mention, her hair color changed too. All of those factors went into the different costumes. I love that part of the show as well—the challenges that come up within the show.
How has Sally Draper’s style evolved as she has become a teenager?
I loved researching teen fashions for this period. It’s been really fun to go through the character changes with Sally. I always felt like when she was in the Francis home, it was very preppy, very east coast, almost like Sally dresses like Betty. But since she’s had the influence of Megan, she’s more fashionable, she’s into the go-go boots, the miniskirts, the hippie chic. All of those aspects have been really fun to play with with her character. I think it’s been fun for the audience too.
I got an email from a fan of the show who sent me a picture of herself in 1967 wearing the same exact dress that Sally Draper wore to the Thanksgiving dinner. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it. I do a lot of research and so does my team—it is pretty extensive. But to have that visual confirmation of being so spot-on, that was a beautiful moment.
Does the fashion on “Mad Men” reflect your own personal style?
No, it doesn’t. I am all about sexy, modern glamour. I love pretty with an edge.
You’re now known as a vintage designer. Would you like to branch out into more contemporary fashions?
I am obsessed with period costume design. I love it. I guess I am known for vintage, but I really see it more as period costume design, as opposed to vintage. As far as my own brand, there are definitely aspects of vintage in my design. I am inspired by vintage, for sure.
Do you raid the closet at “Mad Men”?
I have a couple of times, but not always. If I wear vintage, I like to wear one dramatic piece and not be in a costume. I’m obsessed with brocades, I’m obsessed with laces. A lot of those fabrics were very popular during the sixties. There are a lot of things that I truly love about the period, especially in the winter time. There’s nothing like going to New York City in a full-length leather cape with a fur trim.
When do you start working on the next (and final) season of “Mad Men”?
I haven’t gotten anything official yet, but I think I’ll go back probably sometime in the fall.
“Mad Men” is ending soon. Do you have a dream project that you would love to work on?
I am working on my own TV show, and that is my dream right now. It’s a reality design competition that merges costume design with fashion design. I love this whole idea because fashion designers are truly inspired by costume designers. I wanted to bring costume designers more to the forefront, but [the show is] also about how the garments that we see in film and TV really do show up on the runway. It’s a competition show that really merges those two worlds together, and I think as time has gone on, the two career paths have become more and more closely linked to one another.
We are in the process of getting it sold, which is really exciting. I’m working with the amazing producers from “Fashion Star,” and that’s where we are right now. We are working with the title of “Janie Bryant’s Hollywood.”
How have you been influenced by other costume designers?
I’ve always been obsessed with Gone with the Wind, My Fair Lady, Gigi, Sound of Music, An American in Paris, Jezebel. I really got into watching classic movies because I loved the costume design so much. But other designers like Sandy Powell, Catherine Martin, Colleen Atwood [are] amazing and I love their work.
I loved Sandy Powell’s work on Far From Heaven.
I’m obsessed with Orlando. I could see that film a million, trillion times. Her work on that is just breathtaking!
Janie Bryant will speak at the Smithsonian Associates seminar, “Mad Men Style: Janie Bryant on Fashion and Character,” on September 9, 2013. Tickets are available at smithsonianassociates.org.
July 30, 2013
With Jane Austen confirmed as the next face of England’s ten-pound note and yet another Austen-themed film on the way, the global phenomenon surrounding the novelist shows no signs of abating. Recently, a group of D.C.-area fans indulged their Austenmania at the Smithsonian Associates seminar, “Life at Pemberley: Ever After with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth.” Sandra Lerner, founder of the Chawton House Library and author of Second Impressions (a sequel to Pride and Prejudice), served as mistress of ceremonies and covered matters mundane and monumental in the life and times of Jane Austen. Below, dear readers, are some of the insights she had to offer:
- Jane Austen didn’t have a clue about money. She wrote during the Regency era (1775-1817), when England was in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, mass rural-to-urban migration, and transition from a barter to a cash economy. People from all walks of life struggled to adjust to the new paradigm. The wealthy, who had no concept of cash, took to gambling and often accrued astronomical debts. Jane Austen lived in the country, where the subject of money was still strictly taboo, and the fuzzy figures in her novels reflect her financial ignorance. According to Lerner, Mr. Darcy’s income of £10,000 a year was grossly unrealistic for a time when even a politician like Charles Fox held more than £100,000 in debt. Lerner estimates that Darcy would have needed an income of at least ten times as much to manage both his London house and his Pemberley estate.
- Men wore corsets. Gentlemen as well as ladies shaped their waists in the Regency era. Ladies’ corsets were relatively forgiving, providing lift rather than Victorian-era constriction.
- Pants were the latest in men’s fashion and would have been considered outré in Jane Austen’s social circle. Breeches and stockings were still the norm in the country.
- Regency dance was a blend of high and low culture. In the wake of the French Revolution, English elites abandoned stately and elegant dance styles in favor of traditional country dance; even the well-to-do knew these lively jigs from their summer holidays in the country. Regency dance adapted these folk styles to courtly tastes, replacing the claps, hops and stomps with dainty steps and baroque music while retaining the rustic flavor of the original.
- Ladies led, gentlemen followed. Regency-era dances were designed to showcase eligible young ladies. The lady always moved first, and the gentleman’s duty was to guide her through the dance and protect her from any errant Mr. Collinses on the dance floor. Couples danced very close to each other and with tiny, intricate steps to allow for conversation and flirtation.
- Downstairs was just as hierarchical as upstairs. A servant’s rank determined his or her contact with the masters of the house. Highest in the chain of command was the master’s steward, akin to a personal assistant, who managed all staff and household affairs. Under him, the butler and the housekeeper supervised male and female staff, respectively. The lower one’s rank, the more physically demanding the work; scullery maids, lowest of the female servants, were expected to clean and scour the kitchen for 18 hours a day. Rank was always more important than tenure, meaning that a footman of ten years ranked no higher than a butler of five. These conventions did not change until after World War I.
- Jane Austen was preceded by a long line of female authors. Some two thousand novels came before hers, mostly written by poor single women and deemed unsavory by contemporary standards. The majority of these works have been lost to posterity because, in the straitlaced Victorian era, England’s royal repositories declined to preserve them. The Chawton House Library strives to uncover this forgotten legacy by sponsoring research and acquisition of women’s writing from the period 1600-1830.
- Jane Austen’s novels are not “chick lit.” Benjamin Disraeli read Pride and Prejudice 17 times. Sir Walter Scott called Austen’s “talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life. . . the most wonderful I ever met with.” Winston Churchill maintained that her words kept him going through the Second World War. With citations like these, it should be a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen was and still is important.
July 25, 2013
For astronauts and personnel at the Kennedy Space Center, long work days had at least one saving grace: a hearty dose of Ivette Jones’ home cooking. The safety instructor’s empanadas and Cuban sandwiches became a launch day tradition and endeared her to NASA staff from Cape Canaveral to Houston.
It all started with STS-116, the December 2006 launch of Discovery (now on view at the Air and Space Museum). Jones was a NASA critical processes instructor, training staff in Space Shuttle hardware, safety regulations and emergency egress. For STS-116, Jones was assigned to learn the duties of the “closeout crew,” a seven-member team that helps strap astronauts in and attends to last-minute launch needs. The closeout crew went above and beyond to teach Jones the entire process, and on the day of her final presentation, Jones thanked them with homemade Cuban sandwiches and flan. “That exploded,” she says with a laugh.
The closeout crew enjoyed the food so much that they asked her to cook for the launch. She cooked for astronauts. She cooked for her three- and four-day training sessions. She cooked lasagna with sofrito, a Latin American sauce of blended vegetables; arroz con pollo, rice with chicken; asopao, Puerto Rican gumbo—which she describes as “the most delicious thing you ever tasted on the planet”—and much more.
Tonight the Smithsonian community will have a chance to sample Jones’ cooking at “Yuri’s Night,” a 21+ after-hours party sponsored by Smithsonian Associates. The event, which takes place at the Ripley Center, celebrates the 52nd anniversary of the first manned space flight by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, as well as the 44th anniversary of the moon landing. Jones’ menu includes guava and cream cheese pastries, coconut cranberry cookies and, of course, her famous Cuban sandwiches and empanadas.
The Cubans and empanadas stuck, she says, because they were the perfect meal for hectic launch days. Jones explains: “You want to give them something that in case something happens and the crew has to go back to the pad, they can just grab it with their hands, unwrap it and eat it quick. I would bring a basket with all the food and they would just go at it!”
Word of Jones’ culinary prowess quickly spread across NASA. “People in Houston know it, the Launch Control Center knows it, everybody at training knows it,” she says. “Every time somebody wants something special, guess who they call?”
For Jones, it was a labor of love. “Working at the Kennedy Space Center did not mean a job,” she says. “It became a personal thing. You’re doing stuff that is important for somebody’s life. You’re doing stuff that if something goes wrong, you pray that [the astronaut] remembers so he can go back to his children. . . . When an astronaut goes to space, he goes with a leap of faith. That’s the kind of commitment you get when you love this thing.”
Twelve years ago, Jones made her own leap of faith to pursue her lifelong dream of working in space flight. As a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, she was inspired by television broadcasts of the Apollo 11 lunar mission. She wrote a letter to NASA and one month later received a package full of pictures and information about the space program—a package that has stayed in her family.
“That little space thing never left me,” Jones says, even after she grew up, got married and divorced, had a son and took a job at Disney World. At age 40, Jones decided to get her college degree, juggling school, work and single parenthood. “It was a burning thing that I just had to do,” she says. “If I didn’t go to school and pursue working for the space program, I knew I was going to have that regret for a long time.”
Jones was accepted into the University of Central Florida’s co-op program, which allowed her to intern part-time at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA recruited her as an instructor immediately after her graduation in 2004. “I’m 52 now and I feel like I’m 20!” she says.
Jones, who is now a human factors coordinator for the Navy, worked at the Kennedy Space Center for 11 years, until the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. She wants people to know that it’s not all about the high-octane drama of launches. “There is so much love and care behind all that to put those six people in the ship,” she says. Her cooking is a part of that close-knit community.
The recipes come from all over—her mother, her Puerto Rican heritage, her favorite cookbooks and television programs—but she likes to give each one her own “twist.” Her empanadas, for instance, are distinguished by two secret ingredients. Will she reveal them? “No,” she says flatly. “But I can tell you that it has meat and cheese.”
April 19, 2013
In the spirit of Mark Twain who famously said he never let his schooling interfere with his education, Bill Drayton grew up enthusiastic at school, but not so much about school. He enjoyed a few subjects, but he admits, his energies were in things like, starting a series of newspapers or being an active member of the NAACP. Now, Drayton, who is credited with having coined the phrase “social entrepreneur,” hopes to create a network of global changemakers (empowered with skills embracing empathy, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving) with his organization Ashoka: Innovators for the Public to reshape education all together.
For more than a decade, Ashoka has partnered with young people with its Youth Venture program, but it’s only in the past year that it began partnering with schools to introduce the concept of empathy into the curriculum. Dozens of schools in the U.S. are already on board and, according to Drayton, “Last week, Scotland said, this is going to be in all of our schools and even though the Irish Ministry is cutting back, they’ve just made a huge commitment.”
Ashoka’s network of changemakers includes 3,000 fellows working more than 70 countries, who place a high premium on supporting those bringing about change in their communities. Among others, they’ve supported a Japanese girl, who founded a website to connect with other children whose parents were going through a divorce, and an activist in Calcutta, who helped to found a school for the children of factory workers. Drayton’s hope is that by teaching empathy in elementary schools we can create a generation of changemakers.
We talked with Drayton about how to teach empathy and why he thinks top-down solutions aren’t the answer.
How has the landscape of social change evolved since you founded Ashoka in 1980?
If you go to Harvard Business School you will now find more people in the social enterprise group than in the marketing or finance group, which is wildly different from even ten years ago or five years ago. That’s very satisfying. We are at a different stage.
The world really has to go through this transition from being organized around efficiency and repetition, think assembly line, to a world where the real value comes from contributing to change. That requires a different way of organizing—fluid, open teams of teams. And it requires a different set of skills—empathy, teamwork, a very different type of leadership and changemaking.
How do you implement that new paradigm?
Any child who has not mastered cognitive empathy at a high level will be marginalized. Why? Because, as the rate of change accelerates and it’s an exponential curve, that means every year there is a smaller and smaller part of your life covered by “the rules.” They haven’t been invented or they’re in conflict, they’re changing. You’re going to hurt people if you don’t have this skill and you’re going to disrupt groups. You cannot be a good person, just by diligently following the rules, it’s not possible anymore.
That’s the first step in a reformulated paradigm for success in growing up. We have 700 Ashoka fellows, leading social entrepreneurs around the world, focused on young people, and so we have many different ways of doing this. I was just talking with a Canadian fellow, I was on her board actually, Roots of Empathy.
She’s able to take children, first through third grade, who did not get empathy in their schools or on the street, or in their family and if she’s given three hours a month for eight months, all the kids will have advanced empathy. Bullying rates come down and stay down. We know what to do with 8th grade girls, who lose their self confidence and become mean girls, we know how to have kids practice and play at recess and in the classroom.
How many elementary school principals do you know who have ever even thought about this? It’s not on their agenda. They are measured by information transfer on tests. And you can’t have mayhem in the hallways. Well this is perfectly designed for a world in which you’re training people to master a body of knowledge, or a set of rules. And you’re defined as a baker, or a banker, or whatever it is. And you’ll repeat that for the rest of your life. Fine, but it just is not relevant now.
So what does she do to teach empathy?
She brings an infant, two to four months old from the neighborhood at the beginning of the year. The infant wears a T-shirt labeled “The Professor.” The Professor resides on a green blanket and there’s a trainer. The teacher sits at the back and does not really engage that much. The first graders or third graders or whatever have the responsibility of figuring out; what is the professor saying, what is he or she feeling. Of course, they’re absorbing a very high empathy level.
How does this foundation of empathy inform the work that you do internationally?
They have exactly the same problem in India and in Japan, here and in Nigeria.
Any country that falls behind has just bought a one-way ticket to Detroit. It’s hard to realize that 50 years ago, Detroit was the top of our technology. Now it’s bottomed-out, in informal bankruptcy, has lost 25 percent of its population in the last ten years. Well that took 50 years. With an exponential curve, you don’t have 50 years. If India does this right and we don’t, we’re Detroit. That’s true for a family, a city, a community, a country. The key factor of success going forward is what percentage of your people are changemakers.
This is like the new literacy.
How did you learn these skills?
I didn’t realize what was going on then, but in retrospect, I’m very grateful. I had parents who had this skill. They knew it was important. And they took the trouble, not just to enforce skills, but to ask, how do you think it made him feel when you did that? I was really lucky.
I’m not particularly well-suited for football. I couldn’t imagine why I was being tortured by Latin and math and things that had no relevance at that point. I love history and geography. My energies went into starting things, which was fine for me. I had a principal, who advised my parents not to be worried, and not to show that they were worried when I was not where I was supposed to be. Because I was busy doing these other things. What a gift.
Ashoka has something called Ashoka’s Youth Venture, which is designed to do precisely this for young people. I would like to have every young person grow up in that sort of a school, community environment. We have a summit ever summer. Last summer it was at American University, four or five days.
What about huge resource inequities and people like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University who advocate the idea of a Big Push to get countries out of poverty?
You tell me whenever you can find a place that you have sustainable development if it isn’t led by people who have this sort of power. The central lesson of development is that it’s in people’s heads. As Gandhi said, India will be independent when it’s independent in our heads. There’s a classic Harvard Business Review article in the context of big American corporations: you want a change? You think the chairman’s idea is going to fly by itself? Forget it, it’s never going to happen. It has to be a team of people.
You don’t put people on it because of their position: that’s a committee and committees never get anything done. It has to be a team where everyone on the team wants it and then, you know, it’s a good thing that the chairman is with you.
April 15, 2013
Kick start spring with some beautiful crafts to show off to guests when they visit on sunny days. Smithsonian Associates runs a whole variety of art classes that start this evening. Drawing and photography are sold out (click links to join the wait list), but there’s still space for pottery and knitting. Make some fantastic presents for your friends and family, or something for yourself to satisfy that creative itch. Prices vary, see links. Pottery: Tuesdays from April 15 to June 4, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Knitting: Tuesdays from April 15 to June 4, 7:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Ripley Center.
Wednesday, April 16: Wash, Wring, Repeat: 19th Century Laundry
If you think loading up your washing machine is a pain, wait until you see all the steps families had to take in the 19th century to keep their clothes clean! Before you run away screaming from this hands-on demonstration, though, think of how much easier your laundry at home will be once you figure out how much of a task it used to be. After the wash, you can learn more about 18th century domestic life in Within These Walls . . ., an exhibit that features a full-size, partially reconstructed Georgian-style house. Free. 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. American History Museum.
Thursday, April: 17: Peacock Room Shutters Open
Want a taste of luxury? The Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room, once an opulent British dining room, now hosts more than 250 ceramics from Egypt, Iran, Japan, China and Korea that museum founder Charles Lang Freer collected on his travels. At noon, the museum opens the room’s shutters to bathe the collection in sunlight, and the room glows blue, green and gold. The shimmering colors won’t fade any time soon, either; special filtering film on the room’s windows prevents the sun’s effects on the ceramics. Free. Noon to 5:30 p.m. Freer Gallery.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.