On the Set of Mad Men with Janie Bryant
by kathryn romeyn
Left: Janie Bryant inside the costume closet on the Mad Men set. Right: Looking over samples from the Banana Republic Capsule Collection.
Janie Bryant has made a name for herself in both Hollywood and fashion circles for her obsessive attention to detail and incredible eye as the costume designer for Mad Men. The newly married Bryant—who lives in Silver Lake with her husband, Peter—gets more acclaim for her pitch-perfect wardrobe magic with each passing season of AMC’s cult hit. “I always love the moment of seeing a character come to life—the transition that comes from the costume,” says Bryant of what motivates her each day. Her second Mad Men-inspired capsule collection for Banana Republic hits stores early this month, and the series’ fifth season debuts March 25.
I have my makeup routine down to a science: a little black liquid liner, my Chanel foundation, some powder and blush, Nars Duo Eyeshadow in Cordura, lip gloss, and mascara. I’ve also started a new thing every morning: drinking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 10 ounces of water with a half-tablespoon of amino acids for energy, cleansing, digestion, hair growth, skincare, weight loss—everything. Then to Starbucks for a tall coffee with half-and-half.
Downtown at the studio I head straight to the principal costume trailer to see my two set costumers and go over the day’s scenes, costumes, and schedule. I also have to check on my costumers who are handling the background cast.
My assistant costume designer, Tiffany White, and I sit down to talk about the day’s fittings, go over every scene for the episode, and talk about every single character’s costumes.
I run to the set to establish costumes for the scene that is about to be shot, meaning I make sure the tie tack is in the right position and the belt is perfectly placed on Peggy’s or Joan’s dress. I ensure the background-cast’s costumes are working with the principals’. I’m really specific about telling the story of the costume design in the entire picture, not just one character.
I check in with my costume department production assistant, Phoenix Mellow, regarding the pickups she’s making at costume houses as I give approval via text to one of my costumers about a dress fitting happening simultaneously. Technology has changed my job so much—it’s really nice to have that instant photograph of a costume if I can’t be there.
I quickly run out to one of my favorite fabric stores for woolens, B. Black & Sons, and get swatches of its brightly colored wool crepes (which I use a lot for Joan’s dresses) and beautiful silks.
I get back to the studio in time for a costume meeting—we have a lot of meetings at Mad Men! This one is to plan out what is going to happen with costume design in the upcoming episode. This is when I get to ask questions about the script for that episode and also share my ideas about what I want to do for each character.
Back in my office I review a press release for the Spring 2012 Banana Republic Mad Men Capsule Collection, a collaboration I worked on for the second time with [BR creative director] Simon Kneen. This spring collection was really inspired by the show, of course, but specifically by the scenes at the country club—all the patterns and colors are so fresh and bright.
I excitedly open a box of vintage 1960s peignoirs from one of our vendors. Peignoirs and sleepwear are such a huge part of Mad Men, and I’m always looking for period pajamas, robes, or little baby-doll nighties. It’s challenging to find a vintage set still together.
I meet with my tailor, Marilyn Madsen, to check on the progress of a dress I designed that she is making. I show her where I want the neckline, and we discuss whether to use covered buttons versus a self-belt.
Our lunches are always catered, and I’m all about no carbs, so I get my favorite, a Cobb salad, and eat with the costume department.
I head out to Western Costume Company for back-to-back fittings with key cast members. The actors come in one by one, and I pin the costume the way I want it to be tailored.
During fittings, my husband, Peter, calls to say hi—my favorite part of the day. He’s a caller, not a texter.
Once I’m back at the office I review pictures on an iPad of the costumes we just fitted and prepare for my design meeting with [show creator and executive producer] Matthew [Weiner] later.
My key costumer, Jen Ireland, and I meet about the needs for tomorrow’s scenes—she goes through 14 new costumes from head to toe with me, asking “Is this character wearing this hat? Is she holding her gloves? Does she need a purse for this scene?”
Another meeting, this time with my costume supervisor, Le Dawson, to review pictures on the iPad of the background-cast fittings he did earlier in the day. I tell him to change a tie and shorten some pants before approving the scene’s other costumes.
I catch up with my personal assistant, Kathleen Coltman, about upcoming interviews and janiebryant.com requests.
I go into a design meeting with Matthew to tell him about the day’s fittings and show him pictures on the iPad of all the costumes.
Along with Jen and Tiffany, I make sure all the costumes are ready for tomorrow—we call this “setting the line.” We check that every character has their specific foundation pieces—bras, girdles, garter belt, pantyhose, stockings, slips—and that pieces that were being altered or repaired are ready, along with jewelry.
I call it a night and head home to see Peter and my precious poodle, Lucie. Peter and I have dinner at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Oomasa in Little Tokyo.
Before bedtime (around 11:30 or midnight) I reread the script for tomorrow’s scenes—I get more specific with each read, and there’s a new realization every time.
Photography by Amy Dickerson; hair by tim keehn; makeup by Robert Rumsey using MAC