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For a show that once had a character cry out “Balenciaga!” while being burned at the stake, the sartorial celebration of American Horror Story at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills feels like a no-brainer.
A stylish crowd turned out at the modernist complex on Beverly Drive for a special preview of American Horror Story: The Style of Scare on Friday night, an expansive exhibition of costumes from all six seasons of the long-running FX series. Among the champagne-toasting attendees were stars Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson and Adina Porter, as well as producer Alexis Martin Woodall, all of whom showed up to fete the show’s renowned costume designer, Lou Eyrich.
Eyrich herself cut a striking figure at the event. Clad in an eye-catching vintage black Vivienne Westwood suit, the designer arrived just as a team of dutiful stylists were putting the finishing touches on a mannequin draped in a vintage dress worn by Sarah Paulson in the series’ fifth season, Hotel.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Eyrich of the exhibition, which will grace the Paley Center through the end of July. “It hasn’t sunk in because it’s just so big.”
It was indeed an impressive display, featuring dozens of costumes ranging from the infamous “Rubber Man” suit worn by Tate Langdon (Evan Peters) in season one (Murder House) to the grimy bodices and powdered wigs of season six (Roanoke). The sheer variety of looks on display served as a literal monument to Eyrich’s formidable talents, which have so far netted her three Emmys.
In person, Eyrich’s soft-spokeness is belied by her striking appearance; in addition to that Vivienne Westwood suit with bold shoulders (“It makes my head look a little small,” she half-kidded), the designer sported a cropped platinum-blonde hairdo and dangling gold-star earrings courtesy of Dior. The precision of the ensemble was a testament to the costumer’s self-professed perfectionist tendencies — a necessary trait when working with the notoriously fastidious Ryan Murphy.
It is perhaps this quality more than any other that has kept Eyrich in Murphy’s good graces for more than 17 years. “We don’t just settle,” said Eyrich of her working relationship with the prolific showrunner, which began with the short-lived WB series Popular in 1999. “You won’t hear either of us say like, ‘that’s good enough.’ We strive for [perfection].”
“Every single little button, every pleat, is specific and important to her, and it shows,” said AHS star Cheyenne Jackson, waving his finger over a detail on a satiny red dress worn by Jessica Lange in Freak Show. “Your [costume] fittings are really long. … And it’s worth it because what [results] is this amazing finished product.”
“She is definitely the best [costume designer] that I’ve ever worked with,” said Peters, sporting a nest of blue hair for his role in the show’s currently filming seventh season. “Her eye is unbelievable,” he continued. “And it just fine-tunes everything. Like Ryan says, she makes it all iconic and makes it beautiful. It makes it so easy to get into the character.”
Walking the floor of the Paley Center, it’s easy to identify the painstaking artistry and discernment involved in Eyrich’s craft. The stunning custom-made turquoise suit worn by Jessica Lange in Freak Show is a standout, as is the floor-length, Michael Costello-designed fuchsia gown Lady Gaga wore in Hotel (“Who wouldn’t want to wear that?” Roanoke star Adina Porter said of the dress when I asked which of the costumes she fancied for herself.) Somewhat less obvious to the naked eye is the grueling amount of work that’s involved in creating them.
“I just, I collapse,” said Eyrich of the punishing production schedule, which allows a mere four-day turnaround for each episode and often requires multiple copies of each costume thanks to the show’s gory theatrics. “I wake up every single morning and go, ‘I can’t go on. I just can’t go on, I can’t do it.’ And then [my husband] brings me a cappuccino and pushes me out the door.”
Despite the arduous nature of the job, Eyrich remains energized and inspired, mainly thanks to a coterie of staffers who are “20 years younger” as well as the stable of top-notch actors she has the privilege of collaborating with, some of whom come with their own very specific ideas.
Notable in this vein include Peters (who sends Eyrich photo ideas for his characters prior to shooting) and Denis O’Hare, who exercised a heavy hand in creating the look for his scene-stealing Hotel character, flamboyant transgender bartender Liz Taylor.
“It was just like watching a ballet unfold,” Eyrich recalled of the actor’s transformation. “He would take the caftans and the shawls and stand in the mirror and work it.”
With her work on AHS now enshrined at the Paley Center (at least for the next couple of months), Eyrich has started to look beyond the series that has garnered her the greatest recognition of her career. While she’s overseeing the work on season seven (the milieu of which she describes as “contemporary” and which Murphy has said is connected to the recent presidential election), she won’t be involved in a “boots on the ground” capacity as she has been in past seasons. “It’s time to spread a little bit,” said the designer with a slight grin.
Still, she won’t be going far. Having recently completed work on Murphy’s Joan Crawford-Bette Davis miniseries Feud, she’s set to continue working with the uber-producer on the upcoming second installment of American Crime Story, which centers on the 1997 murder of famed fashion designer Gianni Versace.
Indeed, like so many who have collaborated with Murphy over the years, Eyrich just can’t seem to quit the creative powerhouse, who has minted a stunning array of small-screen hits since the two began working together nearly two decades ago. “I marvel at his vision,” she gushed. “He will say, ‘Lulu, I want this thing when she’s walking down the hall, and it needs to be red.’ And I’m like, ‘why red?’ And then it’s red and I’m like, ‘That is so perfect.’ He nails it every time. He’s my inspiration.”
American Horror Story: The Style of Scare runs through July 30, paleycenter.org.
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