"Mad Men" is back for the series' final seven episodes, and Sunday night's midseason premiere wasted no time diving into the most important themes of the television series: promiscuity, thwarted desire, ambition and sexism. There was also some amazing and historically accurate fashion. Though the fashion associated with '70s hippie culture has been appearing more frequently (Megan Draper in particular was ahead of the curve), this is the first episode of the show that actually occurs in the decade, picking up in April 1970. But if you're hoping for a drastic change in fashion to mark the new decade, the show's costume designer Janie Bryant — who can't speak on anything that hasn't aired yet — says that "Mad Men" is "really a show about the '60s." Fair enough.
The kickoff episode opened with a young model wearing a $15,000 chinchilla coat — rented from Daniel Wachtenheim in L.A., whom Bryant says has "been a great resource for furs for all of 'Mad Men'" — while auditioning for a campaign under Don's creepy direction. If you thought the actress looked a lot like a young Andie MacDowell, you're right. The role was played by MacDowell's stunning daughter, Rainey Qualley. The scene was surreal, dreamlike and a perfect start to the end of the series.
Meanwhile, Peggy and Joan faced a pervy group of gentlemen from McCann Erickson, who barely listened to them as they joked about panties and breasts. They were less interested in Peggy's polka dot pussy bow and plaid jacket as they were with Joan's hot pink situation, which Bryant designed for the character. "It's a little low cut, it has the v-neck," she says. "It was important for the dress to be form-fitting, a little sexy, but not over the top. The color is a little more sporty, and a little more suggestive in contrast to what Peggy was wearing."
Joan still faces an uphill battle when it comes to being taken seriously in the office, but she is now flush with cash from the agency's buyout and enjoying it. After the disastrous meeting, she goes for a little retail therapy at the department store where she used to work, where she tries on a glamorous, feather-trimmed mini-dress that perfectly complements her unique figure. "I had a long discussion with Matthew Weiner about the scene and feathers, feathers, feathers," says Bryant. "They were very fashionable during this time period, so I loved the idea of Joan pointing to this dress, and that dress, and seeing the movement of the feathers. It's about the whimsy of buying a very elaborate, expensive dress. It's about that emotional satisfaction when you buy something that's so decadent."
Bryant says the other dresses hanging in the scene were Ebay vintage finds, but Joan's heels were a modern addition from Palter DeLiso, a heritage brand started in the '20s that recently relaunched. "I have always used vintage shoes for Christina [Hendricks], but vintage shoes are so fragile and super narrow, so painful," she says. "I was so happy to become aware of Palter DeLiso, and that I could get a modern shoe for Christina. It was perfect for the character, because Joan has worn stilettos always." The whole shopping scene was incredibly glamorous, and we couldn't help but enjoy Joan's perfect take-down of the sales associate who dared suggest Joan used to work there. (She did, in fact used to work there, but, as always in "Mad Men," the past is whatever the characters want it to be.)
Let's go back to Peggy, whose fashion has remained relatively unchanged throughout the series, with her preference for pussy bows and high collars. She mixed polka dots and plaid at the office with aplomb, reminding us that at her core, Peggy is a fearless pattern-mixer. For her hot date with an adult man named Stevie (aka Brian Krakow), she took her style to a slightly sexier level with a light blue brocade sheath dress featuring an embroidered silver pattern. Perfect for an impromptu trip to Paris or, you know, not.
But the real winner of Sunday's episode was Stan Rizzo. He only appeared in one scene with hungover Peggy (there's that damn passport!), but so much was going on. Bryant says that her friends have been calling her about how sexy he is this season. "Stan has sort of evolved into this counter-culture character," she says. "He's really had a shift from what I always envisioned him to be, almost the classic American coach, to a hippy in a way." He now wears bell bottom jeans to the office, which started after Bryant turned to "Midnight Cowboy" for inspiration for the character last year. The knit scarf reflects the predominance of the menswear accessory at the time. "I think he always thought of himself as being very cool, and it's just translated as time has moved on." Here's hoping for more full-body shots of the jeans before the season wraps up.
Sunday's episode focused on Don Draper, Joan Holloway, Peggy Olson and Ken Cosgrove, which means many characters were completely shut out. We have to keep waiting to see what the '70s fashion means for Betty Francis, Megan Draper and Sally Draper, who usually deliver the most memorable looks.
And while the shooting of "Mad Men" has officially wrapped, Bryant has no plans of slowing down. She has a collection of shoes with Shoes of Prey out now, a collection of dresses with Black Halo coming out in July, and has designed 35 uniforms for the newly renovated Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., which is opening again this summer in the style of its '50s and '60s heyday. "I'm very knowledgable of that period," says Bryant, an understatement if there ever was one. "It's really about the fit and it's about the sharpness of that period, I really wanted to incorporate that great tailoring in my designs and also incorporate the Watergate signature check that is very prominent in the design of the hotel as well." If the hotels we've seen on "Mad Men" are any indication, the Watergate is about to get a serious dose of vintage glamour.