'Bates Motel' Costume Designer Monique Prudhomme Opens Norman's Mother's Closet

Bates Motel Episodic - H 2012
Joe Lederer

Bates Motel Episodic - H 2012

Resurrecting the "Psycho" Mrs. Bates means mixing J. Crew, J Brand and James Perse with custom-made costumes.

We all know how the story of Norman Bates and his mother ended. And it wasn't pretty

But it fell to costume designer Monique Prudhomme to help show how that strange relationship began in Bates Motel, the new TV series that premiered Monday.

The A&E series, starring Freddy Highmore (Finding Neverland) as young Norman Bates and Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) as his beautiful mother, Norma, is set in the present day. But there are overtones of the classic dark style used in the famed 1960 Hitchcock thriller. 

"I did a lot of research on film noir, the whole background of the black-and-white detective films,” explains Prudhomme, who scored an Oscar nom in 2009 for her work on Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. “I wanted to create a kind of timeless progression of Norma’s style, taken from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60’s, a melting pot of all these periods. “

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She found the mercurial character of Norma fascinating to dress. “She is such an amazing female character. She expresses herself totally without self-consciousness. Sometimes she thinks she is Marilyn Monroe or Florence Nightingale or Audrey Hepburn.  My goal was to express all these sides of her.”

"For instance, when we first see Norma arrive at the hotel, she is starting a new life. She’s playing the mommy who makes breakfast every morning; she’s very optimistic and upbeat." She wears a blue and white dress, designed by Prudhomme, with a pale blue sweater. "It’s very soft and feminine and it's a traditional French pattern as if to say, 'Here is your castle, Norman.'"

Later Norman briefly sees his mother undressing in the upstairs bedroom window as he carries boxes from the car, a nod to the original Alfred Hitchcock film in which her corpse is eerily glimpsed from the same viewpoint. Norma makes a special dinner, setting a fancy table with flowers and candles. And she's wearing a very womanly V-neck dress with black high heels, her hair worn up, almost like she's are on a date.

“This dress illustrates the complexity of their relationship," says Prudhomme. "It makes us wonder why would she be dressed like that?”

Prudomme designed the black jersey wrap dress for Farmiga to create that uneasy effect. She also designed an elegant ‘40s style silk bathrobe that Norma slips into when the local police come calling.

“Norma always sees herself as very glamorous,” the designer says of of the cashmere robe. In fact, most of Norma's costumes are custom designed for her, down to her leather jackets.  But she also wears a smattering of upwardly accessible labels including J Brand, James Perse, J. Crew and Liberty. Pay attention to the shirt Norma wears when she’s ripping up blood-stained carpets. That’s a James Perse.

In the season premiere, Norman looks like he’s straight out of Leave it Beaver in his dorky blue, red and white striped short-sleeved T-shirt and his preppy crew-neck sweaters.

“We scoured everywhere for Norman’s clothes; second hand, vintage and thrift stores. We got a lot from Old Navy,” says Prudhomme. “The idea is that Norman is still dressed by his mother. He’s the all-American boy in his khakis, but there is always something very juvenile about him in the early episodes. He wants to be on his own, but he’s still a little boy. And the Fair Isle sweaters give him a proper, controlled but timeless look that sets him apart from anyone else at his school.”

In the upcoming episode called "The Wood Chuck," Norma changes right in front of Norman, revealing a sexy black body suit.

“We found that body suit at a French lingerie store in Vancouver," Prudhomme recalls. "It's so funny how you look and look for something and then suddenly it appears before you on a hanger. It is from a lingerie company called Aubade, and it was perfect.”