Now the Story of a Beloved TV Show, and the Costume Designer Who Brings It All Together

It's the final countdown to the premiere of Arrested Development season four--May 26 on Netflix, in case you didn't already have it circled on your calendar--and we here at Fashionista understand your excitement... more than you'll never know. Since a lot of the humor comes from the characters' costumes (who can forget Tobias dressed as a pirate, or Lindsay's "Slut" tank top?) we hopped on the phone with the series' costume designer, Katie Sparks. We asked her for all the details about working with the cast--and we think we may have gotten a tiny hint or two out of her about the new season. Oh, and we definitely asked her about those denim cutoffs--you know the ones. We just blue ourselves in excitement.
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It's the final countdown to the premiere of Arrested Development season four--May 26 on Netflix, in case you didn't already have it circled on your calendar--and we here at Fashionista understand your excitement... more than you'll never know. Since a lot of the humor comes from the characters' costumes (who can forget Tobias dressed as a pirate, or Lindsay's "Slut" tank top?) we hopped on the phone with the series' costume designer, Katie Sparks. We asked her for all the details about working with the cast--and we think we may have gotten a tiny hint or two out of her about the new season. Oh, and we definitely asked her about those denim cutoffs--you know the ones. We just blue ourselves in excitement.
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It's the final countdown to the premiere of Arrested Development season four--May 26 on Netflix, in case you didn't already have it circled on your calendar--and we here at Fashionista understand your excitement... more than you'll never know.

Since a lot of the humor comes from the characters' costumes (who can forget Tobias dressed as a pirate, or Lindsay's "Slut" tank top?) we hopped on the phone with the series' costume designer, Katie Sparks. We asked her for all the details about working with the cast--and we think we may have gotten a tiny hint or two out of her about the new season.

Oh, and we definitely asked her about those denim cutoffs--you know the ones.

We just blue ourselves in excitement.

Fashionista: How does the costume design process start? Sparks: It’s really a collaborative process, truly.

Mitch [Hurwitz, the show's producer] gave me a lot of leeway and the actors are just so lovely that they’ve felt comfortable with me, it’s always been a collaboration with them that I really liked. My whole thing is to never put an actor in something that they don’t want to wear, it would be horrible. If I wear the wrong t-shirt all day, I don’t feel right, so I never want to do that to the actors.

The great thing about this round, they really knew the characters well. It was like slipping into old shoes again and I think they were all really excited about that. Time’s progressed, but they’re pretty much the same people because they’re stuck in their own little reality—it’s arrested! [laughs]

How did you use costumes to help develop the show's characters? You had to be so fluid with this show, and everyone got that right away, especially the actors.

When we’re establishing the new outfits, we really try to figure out where the character is and where their story is going to lead. But a lot of times we don't know [where their story is leading.] It was always kind of tricky. I say it’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland—you get in the car and you think you’re going one way, but you’re really going the other way.

Certain things became more relaxed, like Jessica [Walter, who plays Lucille Bluth,] was a little more dressed up in the first three seasons, and she’s a little more relaxed this season. I think everybody grew up a little bit but they still had the essence of their character.

Do you have a favorite character that you like to dress? I like to dress all of them! I’ve worked with all of them before and I hadn’t seen them for seven years, so that was a really touching moment when I saw them all again.

Jessica and I had this whole thing going on where she just had oodles of jewelry...No matter how much jewelry I buy or rent I never had enough! It was like bringing a jewelry store in her dressing room. But she would get into costume and go to hair and makeup, she’d come back to her trailer and we would then finish it off with the jewelry, and I would drive her crazy because I’d try so much stuff but she was okay with it. We’d laugh about it.

Each actor I had my own special thing with; Portia [de Rossi] was fabulous and so appreciative of her looks and was very lovely about sharing that with me. Even Jason [Bateman], he’s the one that’s probably the most straight up of all of them but even he’s fun to dress.

There are certain characters that are new this season--you’ll see, there are kind of wacky costumes. I wish we had footnotes under all the different things because some of these things, you just can’t show it with TV.

...Never seen nor heard.

...Never seen nor heard.

Do you have a costume from the first three seasons that sticks out in your mind? I think it was the first season, we had these notoriously late production meetings, and Mitch said, "Okay, I want Tony Hale [aka Buster Bluth] standing against the wallpaper in the penthouse and I want him to disappear like he’s wearing the wallpaper." And Mitch is looking at me, and I’ve already worked a 12 hour day, and he says, “Can you do it?” And I say, “Sure, we have our ways.”

My assistant looked at me and said, “How are you gonna do that?!” And I said, “I don’t know.” The next morning I got some wallpaper from the art department, I took a shirt, I hand-drew the designs on the shirts, and hand painted the whole damn thing. My husband was like, “When are you coming to bed?” and I was like, “Shut up, I don’t know!” [laughs] Every department felt that way, we all wanted to do our best.

Have there been any costume details or background characters that maybe people haven’t picked up on yet? This season there probably will be—we did little things, and I would do this as much for myself because I’m a freak for details, but I always say if only one person finds and sees this then I’m happy, and if no one does I’m still happy.

There’s a photo of the ensemble and Gob has on a pair of cufflinks, and the cufflinks have a little something about the company he has--it’s a photo of them for advertising and you probably won’t even see Gob’s cuffs, but you might. I’m always putting teeny little things throughout the show like that for someone who notices those little things--it’s like what Mitch does.

Sometimes with costumes, they might not look that eccentric at first pass but if you re-watch you’ll notice one small detail that will make it seem more surreal or odd or funny--hopefully people will see that because that’s what I like to do. It’s hard because we’re very fast paced, but I always like to leave my little mark. People like seeing all the details and kind of figuring it all out I think.

Do these effectively hide my thunder?

Do these effectively hide my thunder?

How did Tobias’s never nudes come about? Well, that was Mitch, it was in the pilot that this guy is a never nude, he always wears these cutoffs over his underwear---he ALWAYS wears these, he never takes them off. Then it was my vision of, okay how are these going to look and how will they look underneath other clothes?

Certain times we want to emphasize that he’s wearing them underneath the clothes, other times we don’t want you to remember that he’s wearing them and his clothes are baggier. Sometimes he’ll be wearing something like a gym short and you’ll see the frays hanging down underneath it. But David [Cross] is always good, he’ll put on anything really, he’s terrific that way. When I got his first pair they were VERY short, the kind of short where it’s just covering the whites of the pockets and just barely keeps the package in, and he was very good, he just put them on. He can make anything funny.

The first pair we bought from an expensive store and then aged. After the first three seasons, everything was packed away at Fox Costumes and then it goes away and gets milled back into all their rentals and then basically disappeared. So we duplicated those again this season. [Ed. note: So someone is walking around with Tobias's cutoffs?!]

And does he really always wear them? Pretty much, yeah! We have the really short ones, we have the frayed ones—depending on what he’s wearing, he has a whole section of his closet where there’s just a sea of never nudes.

How much fun are Gob’s magic costumes to design? Those are good but, um, there’s not as much of that this time...He really didn't have a lot of magic things...it wasn't like that this time around. I’m giving you a little too much information...[laughs]

Here’s a detail, I don’t know if anyone will ever see it. For Gob, I was looking for shoes for him and I wanted something very extravagant and luxurious. I found this pair of Gucci loafers that are purple velvet and they have a little “G” embroidered in a turquoise thread on the side, and it’s for “Gucci.” But I looked at them and I thought, “Oh my god, it's Gob! I have to buy these.” And my sister was like, “Are you kidding me, these are Gucci loafers!” And I said, “I don’t care, if only one person sees the ‘G,’ he has to wear them!” [laughs]

It was the kind of thing that I would do that hopefully someone will see it, but even if they don’t, I know it, the actor knows it.

Illusions, Dad...you don't have time for my illusions!

Illusions, Dad...you don't have time for my illusions!

Is there a specific costume or detail that we should be looking out for? I can’t really say, because it will just get into the plot, it’s so connected! I hope you’ll think, "Oh, this is even wackier this season!" with the clothes and how that helps move the story along.

There are a lot of flashbacks, so I got to do a lot of stuff from the '80s and that was fun, even though it’s a horrible decade for clothing. But it was fun because it was supposed to be over the top and funny.

Henry Winkler [who plays Barry Zuckerkorn, the family's lawyer] was back, and he was saying to me one day as we were walking to the set, “I really like my ties, I tweet them,” and I said, “I’m so out of touch, I don’t even know exactly what that means and I don’t know how you do that.” So he pulls me aside, takes a photo of his shirt, collar, and tie, and he says, “Okay I just sent it out to hundreds of people. People follow what my ties are and what my shirts are.”

It’s a little freaky when I find out that kind of stuff, it’s just mind boggling to me. The actors are very into their clothes and into their character and to me it’s a nice compliment that they want to share it with viewers.

What has working on this show meant to you? This show has impacted my life like no other show, and if I only did this show for the rest of my life, I would be happy. For me, I’ve seen these characters really develop over the years, and the actors develop with their characters, and I’m just so attached. I truly miss them.

Dressing Alia [Shawkat] and Michael [Cera], I’ve known them since they were teenagers and seen them grow up--I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to see that and see what great adults they’ve become. And seeing everybody go through [life], I’ve been able to see that and share that with them, which for me is a special thing. It’s really a joy.

Everyone’s pretty much the same, down to earth, smart, wicked funny, and everyone has the same idea: “Mitch Hurwitz is a genius!” We’d have a day where we’d say, “Fuck, that was the hardest day I’ve ever had in my life.” And you’d sit down and say, “But shit, that was funny, right?” And that’s how we all felt.

Hopefully this isn’t the end! It’s so nice to think that we’d be able to do it again! I’ve never laughed so much as during the last six months when I worked on the show. The writing, the acting, it’s superb. I feel so lucky.

Photos: Courtesy of Netflix