The Hardest Moments to Costume in 'Big Little Lies,' 'The Handmaid's Tale,' 'The Crown' and More

All the Emmy-nominated costume designers share their biggest behind-the-scenes challenge.
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Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård in 'Big Little Lies.' Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård in 'Big Little Lies.' Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

With additional reporting by Dhani Mau.

Over the weekend, the Creative Arts Emmys celebrated a few of Hollywood's biggest talents on-screen (Rory Gilmore won!) and behind the scenes, including the brilliant, hardworking costume designers bringing your favorite TV characters to life. Now divided into three categories — Period/Fantasy, Contemporary and Reality/Variety — all costume genres are covered, from Queen Elizabeth's beautiful (and regal) '40s gowns in "The Crown," to Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon's Audrey Hepburn costumes in the most climactic scene in 'Big Little Lies,' to the spoof-y, ill-fitting suits on a certain person in the White House on "Saturday Night Live."

In anticipation of their big night, each of the phenomenally talented nominees took a moment to share the most challenging costume moment in their nominated episode. While three (or four, actually) left the weekend's Creative Arts Emmys ceremonies with trophies (as noted with an *), as always, they're all winners in our book.

The Creative Arts Emmys will be broadcast on Saturday, Sept. 16, the eve of the main Emmy Awards, on FXX. (The Stephen Colbert-hosted Emmy Awards airs on Sunday, Sept. 17.) Scroll down for each designer's quote — listed by category and in alphabetical order by show — below.

Outstanding Period/Fantasy Costumes For A Series, Limited Series Or Movie

Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and King George (Jared Harris). Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix

Elizabeth (Claire Foy) and King George (Jared Harris). Photo: Alex Bailey/Netflix

*Michele Clapton for 'The Crown' (Wolferton Splash)

"I guess in this episode [Philip and Elizabeth's] wedding was a huge undertaking. It was to set the tone of the show, so therefore I felt it was incredibly important to create all of the costumes and their details as accurately as we could — across the whole congregation.

In some cases, we visited collectors to look at original garments; and to determine the original color, we looked at the interior seams that were not exposed to sun damage. In one particular case, for Queen Mary's dress, we then created screens and replicated the fabric exactly. [Elizabeth's] wedding dress and the bridesmaids were also absolute copies, from the embroidery on the dresses right through to the individually made bridesmaids' sprigged head decorations, which we recreated as the originals with handmade wax flowers. With this attention to detail in the costumes that we all know, I hoped that it would buy me artistic license to explore the unknown private moments with a degree of believability as the series moved forwards." (Instagram: @micheleclapton)

Lou Eyrich for 'Feud: Bette and Joan' (And The Winner Is… (The Oscars Of 1963))

"The volume. There was hundreds and hundreds of costumes in that episode besides just Joan and Betty and the main characters. We had hundreds of background to dress, but then also had everybody on the red carpet to replicate everybody that was at the awards, from Patti Duke... we had to create all of that so it was exhausting.

We had a matter of days. We knew it was coming, so any downtime, any down minute, we would be on the phone sourcing and creating fabrics." 

 Albert (Geoffrey Rush) Elsa Einstein (Emily Watson). Photo: National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

 Albert (Geoffrey Rush) Elsa Einstein (Emily Watson). Photo: National Geographic/Dusan Martincek

Sonu Mishra for 'Genius' (Einstein: Chapter 7)

"It is hard for me to pinpoint one scene or moment regarding my work on 'Genius' as there were many challenges because of the nature of the story. It was a volatile moment in history where so much was happening around the life of Albert Einstein. We portrayed, on camera, life as it was in the scientific and academic community in Nazi Germany, the Nobel Academy and the United States.

My vision was to re-create the atmospheres through costumes. We had so much research material and I wanted to give tone and textures to the costumes, making the scenes seem a reflection of the past. In episode seven, we also had the transition moment from the young Einstein to the older Einstein, where [actors] Johnny Flynn was at his oldest while Geoffrey Rush was at his youngest stage. 

We had a couple of battle scenes, breadlines, fancy dinners, the Prussian Academy and each situation had its unique reality and needed its own palette of color, fabrics, silhouettes."

Photo: Take Five/Hulu

Photo: Take Five/Hulu

Ane Crabtree for 'The Handmaid's Tale' (Offred)

"The most challenging moment was that we had to build the whole world of Gilead on the second day of filming; everything was due: the whole world and 100 handmaids, 60 guardians, and we almost passed out. I would say that's the most challenging moment, but at the same time it's kind of rare that you get to do that — that you're pushed that hard and so we kind of weren't afraid of anything else after that.

I had to constantly say to my crew: 'We're not gonna be shocked; we're not gonna panic; we're just going to know we can do this and we're not going to say 500 is too much, because the scope of the show is just that big. It has helped me in other jobs because a lot of these worlds you have to create are always large. Nowadays, they just want everything to be big for TV and big, beautiful, quality TV, so that's been the biggest learning curve — not panicking and just saying yes and then finding a way to do it." (Instagram: @anecrabtree)

Teddy (James Marsden) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

Teddy (James Marsden) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

Trish Summerville for 'Westworld' (The Original)

"I think the challenging costume moment for me and my team for 'Westworld' was we have a lot of gunfire and squibs and blood, so I think a challenging thing for us was dealing with the budget that we dealt with and the precision in what we made in the costumes and figuring out how we could keep them and maintain the integrity and also have enough multiples to let the squibs and the blood and fire happen as to what the director needed on screen.

You talk about, like, 'Can we please do this in CG? Can we please do all the squibs in CG?' I think that's the thing as a costume designer, your role is so much bigger than just making costumes. I think it's that level of having conversations with the director, the DP, the production designer, and us all working as a team and as a family to create the best possible solutions and getting that on screen." (Instagram: @mztsummerville)

Outstanding Contemporary Costumes For A Series, Limited Series Or Movie

Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon). Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

Jane (Shailene Woodley) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon). Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/courtesy of HBO

*Alix Friedberg for 'Big Little Lies' (You Get What You Need)

"Going into that scene [with all the characters by the stairs at the trivia night] with all those costumes that we built, it was two weeks straight, nights, and we weren't dealing with doubles, so it was just the maintenance: keeping those costumes in perfect shape. We didn't know that the director was going to do this ending where everybody was sort of beating up the Perry character, so it was very spontaneous, so just trying to maintain the freshness of those clothes after this crazy scene. It was a lot of stitchers during the day, a lot of us wrangling the clothes right before the shot and trying to repair in between takes."

Lucious (Terrence Howard) in his dinner attire. Photo: ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Lucious (Terrence Howard) in his dinner attire. Photo: ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Paolo Nieddu for 'Empire' (Light in Darkness)

"My biggest challenge with this episode was the family dinner. It's always tough when I have the majority of the cast in one of those group scenes. They are all next to each other and are not moving around much, so the overall palette is really important. So getting everyone in colors that complement and differentiate was the hard part. I am always splitting hairs with my executive producer and the episode's director Sanna Hamri on these scenes, but in the end they are my favorite 'cause you get to see everyone's character so clearly." (Instagram: @pniddy)

Left: Frankie (Lily Tomlin); right: Grace (Jane Fonda). Photo: Melissa Moseley/Netflix

Left: Frankie (Lily Tomlin); right: Grace (Jane Fonda). Photo: Melissa Moseley/Netflix

Allyson B. Fanger for 'Grace and Frankie' (The Art Show)

"The season-three opener really needed to make a strong statement about the point at which 'Grace and Frankie' find themselves, both emotionally and developmentally. A frustrating and ultimately failed bank loan attempt really set the tone; therefore, both characters wish to appear strong and together for their families, even though inside they feel wounded and vulnerable.

I put the collar on Frankie — an Issey Miyake-style version of an Elizabethan collar — to symbolize both the ceremonial aspect of paying tribute to Babe (whom she lost at the end of season two and whose idea this art show was) and a protection of herself at the same time.

Grace had to look protected also, which for Grace means a popped collar and a jacket. Also there was the painting of Grace that we needed to match to make the scene, where she hears old friends talking behind her back, to translate perfectly, so I worked closely with our art department." (Instagram: @allysonfanger)

Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Photo: David Giesbrecht / Netflix

Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Photo: David Giesbrecht / Netflix

Johanna Argan for 'House of Cards' (Chapter 61)

"The Presidential Inauguration of Francis Underwood. The writers wanted to reference the very first inauguration Francis and Claire were at in the series premiere. We needed to match certain areas of the crowd with costume color and aesthetics. The goal was to use subtle visual cues to remind the viewer that Francis had been here before as whip and now has attained his goal of ultimate power position: POTUS." (Instagram: @jargan)

Kemal Harris (for Robin Wright) for 'House of Cards' (Chapter 61)

"Claire had just experienced some very intense few days and was facing the reality of losing some of her power. She needed to cleanse herself — refresh the palette, so to speak — so I used white and cream tones to signify a fresh start. The outfit for the Inauguration was vintage Dolce & Gabbana — pulled from their archives. I loved the softer, rounder collar which offered a respite from the severe angles that Claire tends to favor. The dress she wore to the Inaugural Ball was designed and made by me. I liked the idea of making it a two-piece because, even when Claire is out at a social function, she's still in work mode — still scheming." (Instagram:@kemal_harris)

Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) standing at right. Photo: Amazon Prime Video

Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) standing at right. Photo: Amazon Prime Video

Marie Schley for 'Transparent' (To Sardines And Back)

"It's the birthday party where Maura gets a makeover, and so it was really the beginning of that arc for that character and just trying to figure out how to keep Maura the same character, but have the audience move with her to her feminine direction. We constructed her purple outfit from scratch based on drawings that I designed, so it was just re-creating her silhouette and making it more feminine. 

The first couple of seasons, the character has a very bohemian look; it's a lot of prints, it's earthy, and we wanted to transition, so I specifically wanted to go with things that were monochromatic — no prints. That palette seemed very urbane and very Armani to me, so for me it was still sophisticated but still resonated with Maura, and also Jeffrey [Tambor] looks beautiful in that color." (Instagram: @schleystyle)

Outstanding Costumes For Variety, Nonfiction Or Reality Programming

Steven Lee for 'Dancing With the Stars' (men's costumes, Halloween Night)

"Halloween is always a great episode because everyone gets into character. The most challenging costumes were Calvin [Johnson] and Lindsay [Arnold's] skeleton costumes. For Calvin, we custom-made a full black tail suit and hand painted a skeletal bone frame to the costume."

Daniela Gschwendtner for 'Dancing With the Stars' (Halloween Night, women's costumes)

"[Lindsay's skeleton outfit] was made out of dismantled Halloween skeletons and making that danceable was pretty intense and quite the engineering task. Basically the bodice was made of real bones that were completely rhinestones. And well, when I say "real bones," I mean 3D bones from toy skeletons. That is still plastic. We didn't go to a cemetery, but it sure looked like a boneyard in our office!"

Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Hudson). Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC

Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Hudson). Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC

Mary E. Vogt for 'Hairspray Live!'

"One of the most challenging costumes was Jennifer Hudson's finale outfit as Motormouth Maybelle. She wears a breakaway police uniform and takes it off on-camera to reveal a glittery gold outfit. I went with a gold jumpsuit to help make the transition on stage work better, as this was a one-night-only event and there was no time for her to struggle getting the uniform off with a dress underneath."

The 'hunks' led by guest star Ryan Hansen in pink. Photo: Augusta Quirk/ IFC

The 'hunks' led by guest star Ryan Hansen in pink. Photo: Augusta Quirk/ IFC

Amanda Needham for 'Portlandia' (Carrie Dates A Hunk)

"I think the hardest part about designing this episode was not having any sizing ahead of time. Sizing came in too late, so it was a scramble getting everyone in such specific looks: nerds/hunks, Linkin Park/colonial was a challenge to do on the fly." (Instagram: @badkopp)

Lady Gaga and RuPaul. Photo: Logo TV

Lady Gaga and RuPaul. Photo: Logo TV

*Perry Meek (for Lady Gaga), nominated with Zaldy Goco for 'RuPaul’s Drag Race' (Oh. My. Gaga.)

"The most challenging factor was how to get the costume for Lady Gaga to look 'drag' enough to make the other participants think she was a contestant for the entrance, rather than giving away the surprise too quickly — and, of course, the time factor of only having two days from start to finish. But as the old saying goes 'make it work' and we did." (Twitter: @aussiegear(Goco's Instagram: @zaldynyc)

Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, sigh. Photo: Will Heath/NBC

Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, sigh. Photo: Will Heath/NBC

Tom Broecker, nominated with Eric Justian for 'Saturday Night Live' (Host: Emily Blunt)

"I would say there are two moments/scenes that were incredibly challenging. One was the debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump. (And the other was a scene, which was a take off of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf' except the actors were hamsters.) The debate was challenging because we had only a day and a half to make the suit for Kate McKinnon as Hillary and we needed to make sure it was an exact copy and had all the right color tones and feel of the original. As for the hamster sketch, It's always hard to make real actors into miniature furry creatures." (Instagram: @bro_ker326)

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