There’s a lot of talk about “peak TV” these days, what with the copious network, cable and streaming dramas and sitcoms, period miniseries, and big-budget fantasy, science-fiction and superhero epics.
All of that means more shows, and with it, more opportunities for costume designers to show off their skills and weave intricate outfits. Scores of those efforts are on display at the 13th edition of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising’s Art of Television Costume Design exhibition.
The exhibit, which opened at the FIDM Museum last week, runs through Oct. 26 and includes more than 100 costumes from 23 shows. They range from the ABC sitcom “Black-ish” to HBO’s political comedy “Veep” to “Fosse/Verdon,” the FX offering based on the life of a famous choreographer and dancer. Also on display are selections from shows nominated for costume design at the 71st Emmy Awards.
Barbara Bundy, director of the FIDM Museum, said that costuming is not something people usually consider when it comes to storytelling in television, but is an essential part of the medium.
“When [costume designers] do a good job, you don’t even realize it. If they don’t capture the character, you know there’s a disconnect somewhere,” Bundy said during a recent tour of the exhibit. “A costume designer must work with the set designer, the cinematographer and the actors to get things right. Things photograph differently and the colors change on screen.”
The exhibition fills four rooms, which are loosely organized around themes of period setting or fantasy. Putting everything together takes time, Bundy said.
It starts with a FIDM team that selects what shows they hope to feature. Then the work shifts to tracking down the outfits.
Bundy pointed out that this has changed in recent years. On one hand, she said, studios and production companies do not hold onto items as tightly as they once did, so the FIDM staff needs to track down costumes before they are privately sold.
On the other hand, the rise of streaming programs and limited series means there are many more shows with interesting costumes. That expands the roster of items to display.
One consistent focus is highlighting award-worthy creations. In the past, the exhibition usually had costumes from about five Emmy-nominated shows, according to Nick Verreos, chair of FIDM’s fashion design department. This year, however, the exhibition features works from 10 nominated shows, including outfits from FIDM alumni Alix Friedberg and Marina Toybina for “Sharp Objects” and “The Masked Singer,” respectively.
Game of Clothes
Not surprisingly, a highlight this year is outfits from “Game of Thrones.” The HBO series that erupted as a cultural phenomenon wrapped in the spring.
The FIDM display features five outfits, displayed on mannequins, created by Michele Clapton. They include armor worn by Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark, dresses for Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark, and a winter coat donned by Daenerys Targaryen.
Verreos said the pieces on display do more than just make a visual impression — they also reflect a character’s attitude and growth.
“For Sansa, the wardrobe tells her evolution from frightened girl to monarch,” Verreos said, pointing to the dress actress Sophie Turner wore at the end of the show. “A designer’s job is to help guide the narrative and help tell the story through wardrobe. Michele Clapton gives you clues inside the piece.”
Art of Television Costume Design also features sketches and notes from some designers, allowing viewers to see how initial visions compare to a finished product. That is apparent in displays for Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” and Hulu’s “Future Man.”
Other attention grabbers at FIDM include elaborate and ornate selections from the unexpected FOX musical hit “The Masked Singer,” among them a multi-piece golden lion mask, and a bejeweled bee-themed mask. Additionally, there is a fairy-winged dress from Netflix’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Verreos said that while the exhibition is open to the public, it offers an educational experience for FIDM students, as teachers bring them down to examine the outfits.
Still, Bundy said that the exhibit is designed for a general audience. She takes pleasure in seeing fans of the shows experience what they watch on TV in a new way.
“I always get a kick out of when people bring their partners and significant others, and then they realize there’s a show here they love,” Verreos said. “They get into it. If we can get beyond ‘it’s just clothing and fashion,’ the clothing helps shape who the character is.”
The FIDM staff also hopes that the costumes can introduce visitors to new programs. People might be drawn to an outfit and then check out what it’s from, Bundy said.
Verreos said that he personally had been unfamiliar with “The Man in the High Castle” until he saw the costumes — riffs on 1960s fashion by way of two decades of fascist rule. He was intrigued and started watching the show.
The Art of Television Costume Design runs through Oct. 26 at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, 919 S. Grand Ave. or fidmmuseum.org.