'Fosse/Verdon' Costume Designer Talks Re-creating Dancing Duo's Iconic Looks

FOSSE VERDON S01E02 Still - Publicity - H 2019
Eric Liebowitz/FX

The costumes, worn by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, are on display at the Paley Center's exhibition through April 28.

Costume designer Melissa Toth had one "invaluable resource" when re-creating the classic looks of choreographer Bob Fosse and Broadway dancer Gwen Verdon for FX's Fosse/Verdon.

That secret weapon was their daughter Nicole Fosse, credited as a co-executive producer and creative consultant for the show, which premieres April 9 and stars Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams as the titular duo. 

"She gave us so much insight through photographs and stories that we otherwise simply would not have had. She also helped us enormously by loaning particular pieces to our department so that we could copy some of Gwen’s personal iconic items," Toth tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Nicole's photo archives helped create Verdon's more casual at-home style — "There is an interesting contrast between her public persona and her private life. I also loved how thrifty she was. She would make an outfit for Nicole out of leftover home fabric," Toth says. Verdon loved patterns, including stripes and wild geometrics; Toth notes that "an introverted person doesn’t usually wear animal prints."

The costume team was able to copy some significant pieces of Verdon's, including a gold necklace with a griffin pendant, which was given to her by choreographer Jack Cole, as well as a pair of jet drop earrings she wore throughout her life. Nicole lent the crew a chain mail jacket that her mother had worn many times: "When we put it on Michelle for the first time we all gasped. She looked so much like Gwen." (Toth adds Williams has an "affinity" for costume design). 

Some of the costumes from the show are featured in the Paley Center's exhibition Fun, Laughs, Good Times: An Inside Look into the Fashion of Fosse/Verdon, which opened March 13 in Beverly Hills.

For Fosse, Toth was obsessed with how his pants fit. "He was wearing tight pants before they were fashionable," she says. And while many think of Fosse dressed as Roy Scheider portrayed him in 1979's All That Jazz, he didn’t just wear all black. "His color palette ran the gamut from black all the way to white shirts with multi-colored quilted accents. So I tried to capture that, the real Bob Fosse look," says Toth, who also designed for Ben Is Back and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The 25-person costume team for Fosse/Verdon traveled around the U.S. on huge shopping trips to find the best vintage pieces and rented "an enormous amount" of costume stock from the big rental houses, on top of creating about a third of the looks custom.  

The largest challenge was spanning all the decades represented on Fosse/Verdon. "We weren’t sure exactly how we were going to manage it in the time frame. Turns out we managed it by working our tails off," Toth jokes. The period is reflecting in changes to the women's clothing; as the show moves out of the 1950s and 1960s, women "started to find their way out of dresses and skirts" and into pants as the 1970s arrived. "I love watching that growth, because it comes with the women’s movement and the liberation of the American woman," Toth says. 

The Paley Center exhibition is a theatrical experience. Exhibit designer David Rodgers built a dance floor with a 20-foot-high scaffolding that “immerses you into the world of the show in a unique way,” Rene Reyes, the Paley Center for Media’s executive in charge of production, tells THR. “This is definitely one of the more inventively staged Paley exhibits.” The exhibit also includes the Paley Archive’s footage of Fosse and Verdon’s performances.

Fun, Laughs, Good Times exhibits pieces from iconic moments in Fosse and Verdon’s career — including a collection of the FX series’ recreations of cabaret theater costumes and Sweet Charity film and theater costumes, Reyes says. While the onstage and on-set wardrobes embody the originals, Fosse and Verdon’s daily wear was “all Melissa,” Reyes adds.

“One of the unique things about Melissa Toth is that she has to work in a world of costume that is already familiar to audiences, but she also creates a world of the regular clothes that Fosse and Verdon wore — whether from the cocktail parties they attended or moments they spent together at home,” says Reyes. “She’s been able to so capture the different eras, from the '50s to the '80s and keep it consistent. It doesn’t wildly vary, but fits with the persona of the people they were.”

One such fitting looks is a dark pantsuit Williams wears as Verdon during the late '60s or early '70s, Reyes says: “The clothes are vibrant, very of the period but also timeless, some looks you could wear now.”

The Paley Center's showcase, which runs until April 28, is free to the public.