Move over, actresses, fashion bloggers, and stylists.
A new wave of tastemakers and influencers has arrived: TV costume designers are stepping out from behind the scenes and assuming profitable new positions in the spokesperson/brand ambassador marketing arena.
TV costume designers are following a trail initially blazed by Patricia Fields (Sex and the City, Ugly Betty) and now led by Mad Men’s Janie Bryant. They include former Gossip Girl designer Eric Daman, now costuming the CW’s SATC prequel, The Carrie Diaries.
Costume designers Dan Lawson (The Good Wife) Soyon An (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance) and Jenn Rogien (Girls) are reaping the rewards of their higher profiles with spokesperson gigs for lingerie and fabric-care products, as well as style curating for jewelry and clothing lines. Their fees do not approach the multimillion-dollar paychecks actresses receive for designer clothes, fragrance and beauty campaigns, but this area of marketing is in its early days.
These designers are also attracting top-notch talent and branding agencies. Daman is represented by William Morris Endeavor. Bryant, An, Rogien and Lawson are repped by Matchbook Co., headed by Kristi McCormick, who has a background in casting, talent management, licensing, and brand development
“I think we’re unique in what we do,” says Matchbook marketing director Linda Kearns, former global brand director of Dupont, who crafted marketing programs for Lycra with Jessica Simpson, Carson Kressley, Zac Posen and Derek Lam. “I’m not aware of other agencies that have a costume design division where they’re specifically focused on these people, building them as brands and working on their collaborations.”
Blame the new phenomenon on the modern water cooler, aka social media — where viewers discuss the show’s styles (often while the show is still airing) on their blogs, Facebook, Twitter — as well as the explosion of TV fashion coverage in style magazines and on entertainment websites.
Lawson, who dresses Julianna Margulies in high-end designer suits every week, admits the social media blitz is overwhelming: “I can be in a fitting room and tweet ‘This Armani suit is amazing!’ and people will instantly tweet back, ‘Who is it for? What color is it?’”
Last year, viewers were sucked into Mad Men‘s fifth season by Megan Draper’s (Jessica Pare) sheer-sleeved black minidress when she sang the French ‘60s pop song “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
Buzz about the dress had Bryant fielding nonstop interviews from the likes of The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, InStyle and Vanity Fair. According to Adweek, the season five premiere of Mad Men was the most-watched episode in the AMC series’ history, averaging 3.54 million total viewers.
And the attention stayed on the show’s mid-’60s designs (bright colors, prints, minidresses) and the new Mrs. Draper’s trendy influence on Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) conservative closet for the entire season. Who else but Megan — whom we also saw doing housework in a black bra and panties — could get Don Draper into a sports coat?
Sadly, last season’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” frock won’t be in the third Mad Men/Banana Republic line, due in stores in March. “It was knocked off and in stores in three weeks,” says creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner. But female Men fans will be pleased that Megan’s late-’60s blue-and-green shift dress — worn in a 2012 Mad Men promo ad – is included and it’s one of Bryant’s favorites.
Weiner explains the seductive marketing benefits of the proximity of the March clothing launch to the season six premiere April 7.
“The Banana Republic collection has given us a great overlap with the audience and the ability to get our name in the stores when we are about to launch the season,” he says. “It’s a huge amount of billboards in the commercial space.”
Naturally, all this attention on costume designers is viewed as a win-win by the producers. They are psyched about their designers landing separate professional ventures that also effectively promote their shows.
Former Sex and the City producer Amy B. Harris knows firsthand about influential TV fashion shows. “In this day and age, there are so many places to get your entertainment,” says Harris, now working with Patricia Field‘s former SATC assistant, Daman on The Carrie Diaries. “To be able to have a myriad of places to have your show talked about is so important. When Eric goes out in the world as an ambassador for the show, it couldn’t be better. Every time your show is mentioned outside The CW itself is a wonderful piece of publicity and marketing that is only due to Eric’s talent.”
Gossip Girl costume designer and Costume Designers Guild-nominee Daman has designed a line of GG-inspired DKNY colored and textured tights and a line of Atelier Swarovski jewelry. He wrote You Know You Want It: Style, Inspiration, Confidence, designed a Threads & Heirs men’s line for Macys, and worked with retailer Charlotte Russe.
“I didn’t start out to be a fashion consultant,” Daman explains. “But it’s something I ended up becoming, without aiming to make that happen. I appreciate being looked to as part of the contemporary dialogue on fashion, and with it, a stimulus to retail fashion.”
Don’t be surprised if you see costume designers’ faces in ads for merchandise they promote. Two-time Emmy winner An’s photo is featured in ads for Static Guard, a product she relies on in her work for clothing and hair (who knew?). The diamond company Hearts on Fire is using its new hire, Janie Bryant, as a model in its online and print ads.
“This year we decided to include influencers in our ad campaigns: People who were on the inside of fashion and the Hollywood community, who would be great representatives for the brand but, by the notion of association, send a subliminal message about the coolness of Hearts on Fire,” says Caryl Capeci, vp marketing for the relatively recent entry in the diamond wholesale arena.
So far, Bryant, who was Matchbook’s first costume-designer client, is the only TV costume designer with a clothing line officially affiliated with the show she designs for. She’s also got two lines on QVC and is a spokeswoman for Downy Wrinkle Releaser while also working on her own not-yet-released personal line.
Rogien, whose realistic work on HBO’s Emmy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning Girls, has just signed on as style and fit curator for American Eagle’s aerie lingerie line, which ties in nicely to the show that regularly features the lead actresses in their skivvies. And Soyon won’t be back to AI or SYTYCD next season. With a curating gig on BeachMint, she says, “It’s time to move on and do different things.” She’s already busily designing costumes for Pink’s new The Truth About Love world tour.
Not surprisingly, An’s role model is celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, now a formidable designer and fashion curator; her latest gig is for ShoeDazzle.com. “That’s the big plan,” says An. “That’s would I would love to do, to be recognized as an expert in my field.”
Weiner advises any TV shows considering a fashion line to involve the costume designer. “Having Janie involved was very important to me. It’s so easy to become kitsch or costumey, especially in this era. I really wanted Janie’s stamp on the clothing line in the same way it is on the show. If you have your costume designer involved, you have a chance to have a unique product that promotes your show.”
EP Harris has had discussions about clothing inspired by the characters in The Carrie Diaries. “We could have a lot of fun with a fashion line involving Eric. I would love that to become part of what we do, and I hope that it comes.” She jokes: “My hope is that we get far enough along in the show’s time period so that we can do a grunge line.”
Good Wife co-creator/co-executive producer Michelle King agrees that the idea for a clothing line using Lawson has been tossed around, though they are not at the product development level yet.
Of course, we can count on Weiner to succinctly explain the secret of a branded TV series clothing line: Aspiration. “It’s really a very elaborate celebrity endorsement,” he admits. “Is there a fantasy that if you buy that dress you might look like January Jones or Jessica Pare? Yes.”