Netflix Costume Designers on Working With More Women on Set and Those Behind-The-Scenes Panics

Courtesy of Netflix

'Orange is the New Black' costume designer Jennifer Rogien teases Piper’s wardrobe for the final season: "She doesn't have any money, so that was a really unique challenge."

Costume designers of Netflix’s top television shows, including GLOW and Russian Doll, spoke on a Tuesday evening panel about working with more women on set and the last-minute wardrobe nightmares that keep them up at night.

Plus, ahead of the Netflix FYSee panel, Orange is the New Black costume designer Jennifer Rogien talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the final season and envisioning Piper’s post-prison style. She had long conversations with actress Taylor Schilling and, for the first time in years, had a fitting for the star, now that Piper is out of the inmate uniform.

“She doesn't have any money, so that was a really unique challenge going into the final season where you're wanting to go big with your leading lady and that's not at all the right direction. So that was fun to wrestle with,” Rogien said, adding, “That was intensely gratifying … It's bittersweet to see it come to an end, but also stop at the right place.”

In addition to Rogien, who was also the costume designer of Russian Doll, the panelists included Beth Morgan (GLOW), Allyson Fanger (Grace and Frankie), Kemal Harris and Jessica Wenger (House of Cards), Lynn Falconer (The Haunting of Hill House), Cynthia Summers (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Megan Gray (The OA).

When asked about working with a growing number of women behind the camera, Morgan shouted out GLOW's female team — including creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch — and executive producer Jenji Kohan, who has “set up this utopia for women in L.A.” with an office space that encourages everyone to sit down and have lunch together.

“For me, working in that environment, as opposed to sometimes with male counterparts and showrunners, it really has opened me up to feel comfortable to bring new ideas to the table that aren't in the script that I feel like build on the story,” Morgan said.

For example, she pitched the bridesmaids outfits that appeared in season two of the wrestling comedy, as they were not scripted. “I felt comfortable with the people that I was working for and I think that that has a lot to do with women empowering each other. So GLOW is a real blessing,” she added. “It's so funny because leaving it to go do other shows, I'm like, 'Oh, there is still a lot of progress to be made other places.'”

Under Grace and Frankie co-creator Marta Kauffman, Fanger said her set has a “strong element of women” with female directors like Rebecca Asher, Arlene Sanford and Betty Thomas.

“I find it to be very collaborative. I feel very heard in my ideas. I feel empowered to bring choices that I maybe wouldn't and to bring things up that maybe I wouldn't have in the past, maybe like 10 years ago,” Fanger said. “I do think it is changing incrementally, small, slow, but yes.”

The costume masters opened up about the on-set mishaps and tweaks that keep them on their toes. Morgan noted that Zoya (Alison Brie) has 12 copies of her wrestling outfit because her belt rubs against her waxed pleather suit (other characters have only two). And Gray spoke about a last-minute decision to do a take with blood on a cream tank top, leaving her team to call a designer to pull various sizes from their New Jersey warehouse and have a tailor sew through the weekend. “And of course the blood doesn’t make it into the show,” she laughed.

"It was like being okay with seconds from disaster a lot," Falconer added of having bloody versions of every ghost costume.

Harris, who dressed Robin Wright and Diane Lane in House of Cards, had “paranoia” whenever Wright would go from acting as President Underwood in a custom-made military-style outfit to kicking off her Louboutins and hopping in the director’s chair.

“I’m like, ‘The dress, the dress, Oh my God. … That kept me awake many nights,’” she said. “You're rigging and taping and you're sort of on the fly fixing things and making it appear beautiful to the camera."

Wenger added that one scene required background actors to wear Russian military uniforms, but she learned that their uniforms update every year. House of Cards needed to be up-to-date for when the last season would air in November 2018. “I had to find the mill in Poland that made the new Russian fabric, and we shipped bolts over the Baltimore, and we custom-made crazy Russian costumes and they were sewing these little hats. Just for a scene for background, but that's the stuff you definitely lose sleep over,” she said.

The stumbling block with Russian Doll  — about a New Yorker (Natasha Lyonne) who continually dies and relives the same day — was Nadia's Krugerrand pendant based on a real coin, Rogien said. She needed eight for filming, but the fake ones were “real shitty looking" and the real ones were "really expensive.” She approached a jeweler in New York and asked her to make them. “She got back to me. She's like, 'No. This is a felony.' I was like, 'What are you talking about?' Which I knew you cannot reproduce money. That is counterfeiting, that is not okay,” Rogien said.

Legal and clearances got involved, too, so they couldn't legally approve the coin to be shown on screen. “I had to go to my number one, my series creator and my producer and say, 'No, I can't do this.' And that is literally the last thing I ever want to say to anybody,” Rogien said.

The jeweler made a different version by buffing everything off an ancient Roman coin, so that it retained its texture and old detail. “And no one got arrested, thank God,” she joked.

Rogien said, overall, her design process was "a little bit backwards” for Russian Doll. “It started with a text from Natasha that said, 'Nadia is My Cousin Vinny meets Marisa Tomei and also watch this Elliott Gould movie called The Long Goodbye.' And I was like, 'What?'” Rogien said.

She had worked with Lyonne (co-creator of Russian Doll) on Orange is the New Black, so she had more access to the series creator than normal. They had started talking about Doll before they had even finished shooting Orange. One perk: Rogien already had Lyonne’s sizes.

“I sort of skipped the baby steps and went right to a marathon. We literally just started pulling racks of clothes day one,” Rogien said. “It's so rare that you start your first day of a job by running to the stores and pulling clothes for an actor. … I already knew what brands she liked. She was texting me pictures of her personal jeans and her bra for brand references. And it felt a little bit topsy turvy but I think that really reflects the show.”

The pressure came from selecting the perfect pieces that would convey Nadia’s personality when the show takes place over only two story days, meaning not very many costume changes. “You're going to have one thing to look at for eight episodes, so the pieces had better be right,” Rogien added. She described it as distilling everything down to one or two looks — often using H&M or Forever 21 pieces — that telegraphs all the character information. And there was the added challenge of keeping continuity when Nadia relives the same day over and over.

“The loops build off of one another in a way that we talked about it as copies of copies. So they weren't exact every single time. Everything was degrading a little bit along the way,” Rogien said. “There was not only the practical continuity of matching shot-for-shot, there was the story logic of 'Where have we seen Nadia or Alan in this loop before?' And can we untie the bow, because she's mentally losing it, but we've already seen her in this same space in this same time, is that okay? So it was a little bit of a mixed bag.”