Super producer and director Baz Luhrmann does it again — bringing enthralling drama, soaring music, spectacular dance scenes and gorgeous, gorgeous visuals, this time to the small screen in Netflix's "The Get Down." The first half of the 12-episode series will be ready to binge on Friday, August 12, with the second half coming in 2017.
The ambitious (and expensive) show is set in the bankrupt, decaying, swelteringly hot and literally burning South Bronx during the early rise of hip-hop, as the days of disco start to fade. A group of teens, including Ezekiel (Justice Smith from "Paper Towns"), aspiring singer Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) and Dizzee (Jaden Smith), take on love, family dynamics, the broke-down boogie down, operatic musical numbers we've learned to expect from Luhrmann while navigating that burgeoning hip-hop scene.
"'The Get Down' really felt like the completely different side of culture represented in the sudden move to jeans, sneakers, tank tops, tube socks and barrettes in the hair, as opposed to big sparkly flowers," says costume designer Jeriana San Juan, who spoke to Fashionista from the show's set in another borough: Queens. "So everything down to the accessories. The vocabulary had to change."
Luckily, she's no stranger to music-meets-fashion when it comes to wardrobe. She handled the costumes for "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll," Dennis Leary's late-'80s, New York-set series on FX and was as an assistant costume designer on the CW classic, "Gossip Girl." (Shameless plug: San Juan is also speaking at our NYC meetup on August 29, so get your tickets now!) A sartorial moment also helped her immediately connect with Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin, Luhrmann's longtime producing partner (and wife).
"We were literally dressed identically when I first met her, which was hilarious," San Juan laughed about their twinning Pierre Hardy shoes, leather pants and Rag & Bone sweatshirts. Martin, who co-designed the first episode with her, also helped San Juan "speak Baz," in regards to his "very specific visual language."
Speaking of, as we've come to expect, a Luhrmann joint always involves the most fabulous, epic party scene filled with music, dancing, eye-popping scenery and sublime costumes. (Like the eye-candy-filled costume ball in the perfectly anachronistic "Romeo & Juliet" and the mind-blowing Jazz-Age blowout in Gatsby's manse.) Well, for TV, team Luhrmann brings us two thrilling bashes in the first episode alone — starting with the dance competition scene in the hottest club in the South Bronx, Les Inferno, run by Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a showboating gangster scion with a fondness for chunky, gold man-jewelry and tailored three-piece suiting, minus the shirt.
Designing for the scene was an "immense" undertaking for San Juan and not just because she had to dress 350 actors for the action-packed sequence. "[Luhrman] almost shoots for the clothes in a way," she said. "It's so visually inspiring that you want to saturate it with as many different things as possible: paillettes and sequins and fringe and diamonds and lace. I tried to use so many different elements and make it feel very rich and textured."
She sourced genuine disco dresses from the Halston archives and custom made '70s-inspired pieces like dresses with extra-high, leg-baring slits, swishy fabrics and reflective elements to catch the flashy club lighting.
San Juan even made multiple versions of Cadillac's all-white suit with his varied partying needs in mind. One jacket had roomy, "danceable" sleeves, while a more streamlined copy was produced for when he's lounging in his VIP backroom partaking in the '70s version of bottle service — and menacing aspiring DJ and cool-kid mystic Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), known for his "Pumas that are always pristine."
Authenticity on "The Get Down" was crucial, not just in reference to the music and cultural references, but also with fashion. As we know, viewers — especially ones that lived and breathed the era — have an emotional investment in sartorial accuracy, especially when it comes to athletic footwear. Luckily, hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash (also portrayed in the series, by Mamoudou Athie) was a hands-on associate producer and onsite historical resource. (For further fact checking, rapper Nas was available as an executive producer — and the wordsmith behind the show's rhymes. Hip-hop legends Kurtis Blow and DJ Kool Herc and graffiti artists John "Crash" Matos and Chris “Daze” Ellis also served as consultants.)
Of course, San Juan immersed herself research, too. "[It was like] being an archaeologist and seeing what sneakers were the coolest sneakers, what sneaker was less cool, what sneaker was more available, what sneaker could nobody get that everybody wanted," she says. She reached out to brands, who were more than happy to participate. Pro-Keds manufactured 10,000 pairs of period-correct sneakers and Converse provided original designs and colors from the era.
Puma also jumped on board to ensure Shaolin's "pristine" suede Puma Clydes circa 1977 were accurate. But just one issue. "Puma sent the original sneaker and there was only one of them in his size," San Juan says. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice the gold "Clyde" lettering on the side of Shaolin's shoes during close-ups, but for wide shots, he's wearing a similar, but more contemporary alternative.
Shao's Clydes weren't the only unique wardrobe item in the show closet. In the premiere episode, as fledgling tagger Dizzee, Jaden Smith wears a denim vest (seen in the trailer below) boasting just as much historical background as textured embellishment and colorful detail. During the time, graffiti artists would paint their clothes with their own original work. "It was just one more canvas for their art," San Juan explains. So she reached out to Lady Pink, known as "The First Lady of Graffiti," to paint a piece that became the back panel of Dizzee's Lee jacket. "It was very important that they were Lee brand," the costume designer points out.
The fur-trim collar comes from a '50s coat she found at Salvation Army. And "all the buttons are from my personal vintage button collection that I've had since I was a wee little child," San Juan adds.
To help establish and develop the characters, San Juan worked within consistent color palettes or silhouettes for each one. For instance, the brainier Ezekiel (or "Books") tends to wear shirts with a structured collar and shades of blue. In reference to athletic-wear and Asian martial arts, Shaolin sticks with a stark red, white and black color scheme — even down to his undies. "I tried a pair of tighty whities on him to see what it would look like and it sort of lost the magic," San Juan laughs. "He became a little bit less fantastic for Shaolin Fantastic and it was very important to Baz that [Shaolin] always have an element of an ultimate version of himself and a little bit of superhero."
Along with sourcing vintage and creating custom pieces, San Juan was able to enjoy a little creative license thanks to the the fashion world's current obsession with the Me Decade. "Gucci has this perennial ‘70s color palette and I went to them oftentimes to use a piece and say, 'maybe turn the sleeves into a short sleeve' or 'put a belt over it,'" she explains. So who's the lucky lady who gets to wear the Alessandro Michele?
Ms. Green (Yolanda Ross, also in the trailer above), Ezekiel's teacher, who — with her printed blouses, emerald green eye shadow and oversize glasses — really does look like she'd be at home on a Gucci runway. "She's got some major fashion moments through the show," San Juan hints.