An Interview with Costume Designer Janie Bryant
I recently had the pleasure to speak to Janie Bryant, the talented and prolific costume designer whose credits include Mad Men, Deadwood, The Last Tycoon, and most recently Why Women Kill… in other words, some of the most stylish and entertaining shows in recent decades. Ms. Bryant recently teamed with Taylor Draper of Inherent Clothier to launch her new menswear label, Bryant/Draper, a classically inspired line of luxurious yet versatile items from jackets to jodhpur boots that would deliver more than a touch of elegance to any modern gent’s wardrobe.
I’ve transcribed my notes from our interview, during which Ms. Bryant was very generous with her time and insights (and very patient with my repeated admiration for her work!)
Congratulations on the launch of your Bryant/Draper line with Inherent Clothier, it looks like it really incorporates the elegant styles of mid-century and earlier, like the golden age we see in The Last Tycoon.
It’s so true, those were two huge points of inspiration for us. We really wanted to incorporate the glamour of Hollywood in a very masculine way, so that was definitely our inspiration from mid-century to the ’30s and ’40s.
There’s a lot of specific pieces that really recall that era. In particular, the Braxton topcoat reminds me of something you would have seen in a James Cagney or Clark Gable movie, and you really don’t see anything like that from any other manufacturers these days. Did anything specifically inspire pieces like that?
I love a great topcoat. I think that’s the ultimate in style for a man, especially a camelhair coat. That’s a big influence from my dad, who always had the best camelhair coats. It goes without saying that he was an impeccable dresser. For me, that piece is the marriage of great style and classic dressing. At the same time, it’s very modern, because you can wear a topcoat with a T-shirt and jeans, you can wear a topcoat with a suit, you can wear a topcoat with a dress shirt and jeans with boots or loafers. You can even wear a topcoat with joggers and sneakers! That piece is so versatile with every single thing in a man’s wardrobe… so I really felt like that was such an important piece to incorporate and just add a bit of flash with the velvet collar.
I’m noticing it seems like a lot of the jackets have this really beautiful ocean scene on the lining. To me, it also evokes some significant moments on Mad Men, especially in the California episodes, featuring Don either in the water or looking at the water.
I think that adds such an interesting detail that, even if only the wearer knows it’s there, it really takes it to the next level so I was curious about the story behind that.
That lining was actually created specifically for the Bryant/Draper collection from a photograph taken by Inherent Clothier’s photographer. It’s a significant part of Inherent Clothier’s branding and connection to wellbeing and mental health and so the lining incorporates those elements of serenity, masculinity, mental health, and inner peace.
A lot of the colors in the collection are these really rich browns, greens, and camel, it’s so much about celebrating masculinity and embracing these elements of strength, peacefulness, and control of your style.
Another one of my favorite pieces in the collection is the green double-breasted Oliver suit. The dark green color makes it a really stand-out suit without looking jokey or comical, it’s a serious, masculine green, and I love double-breasted jackets anyway.
I also love pinstripe, and we did that chocolate brown pinstripe suit, the Hudson suit.
I love the detail on that, like the ticket pocket and those straight gorges on the lapels. I feel like that’s something right off the streets of ’30s Manhattan or Hollywood.
All my favorite things!
While clearly a luxury line, there’s clearly an affordable element. You’re paying for top-quality materials and unique styles but not at a very prohibitive cost. Was it important going into this to try to keep the line accessible for anyone who wanted to take their style to the next level?
That’s one of the things I love about Inherent Clothier and why I wanted to work with Taylor because I feel like style should be accessible to every man. With Inherent Clothier, you’re really getting this amazing garment that would last you a lifetime and not at an exorbitant price.
One of the things about COVID is that people kind of forgot about how to dress… and I just thing that knowing and learning how to dress is so important. It is an art that can totally affect your mental health and how you feel about yourself. And I know this from designing and dressing men my whole career. When they have that moment realizing “this jacket fits my body perfectly!” you start to see actors stand up straighter, looking prouder. It really has such an incredible effect on how men feel in their clothing.
Everything in the line stands out in its elegance, with a lot of more one-of-a-kind pieces with detailing like you wouldn’t necessarily find off-the-rack anywhere.
I agree. I just wore my Fitzgerald shirt to work the other day—the blue-and-white striped shirt with the club collar and the French cuffs—and everybody was asking where I got that shirt… men and women!
I bet you probably had one of the coolest answers to someone asking “Where did you get that?” when you can respond “I designed it!”
I love that, and I was like, “You can get one too!”
Are there plans to expand the collection? What does the future look like for Bryant/Draper?
It’s an ongoing collection. We’ll do another, which is really exciting because I love menswear and tailored garments for men and for women, and I’ve wanted to design a menswear collection ever since I started Mad Men, so it’s been an amazing dream come true. Taylor Draper is such an incredible partner, and our creative collaboration has been a wonderful experience.
So not only can you stand behind the values of a brand like Inherent Clothier, but how fortuitous to collaborate with someone named Taylor Draper whose own name evokes Mad Men?
It’s funny, but one of the reasons I had connected with Taylor was his name! My agent had actually seen Taylor’s collection when his company sent her a lookbook. She called me and said, “Janie, wouldn’t this be amazing? The CEO of this company’s name is Taylor Draper!” And I said “oh my gosh, maybe we can do a menswear collection!”
The Last Tycoon actually inspired the first custom suit I had made, as I had been enamored with the style of that show.
I loved designing that show. I have to rewatch that, as I haven’t seen it since it came out.
I love to rewatch Mad Men too. As the designer, when I’m working on a show, I’m so close to it; it’s a different experience to actually watch the show for the story, and it’s nice to take a little time and see it over and over again, with a different experience each time.
People talked a lot about rewatching Mad Men during the pandemic, but it seems like Mad Men fever hit when the first episode aired and hasn’t gone away since, even six years after the last episode. There are so many Instagram accounts alone celebrating the show and its style. What’s it like to be part of something where you can’t even log onto Instagram without seeing your work everywhere?
I love it! I’m so happy that it’s still so popular. I think that’s a testament to the show and all creative aspects of it, including the writing, acting, hair, makeup, production design, and the costume design. That show was—and is still—a magical piece of history and television. It’s pretty remarkable and stands the test of time, and I think that Mad Men is one of those shows that’s really still a part of people’s lives… it’s really amazing. Maybe I’m biased, but I still say it’s the best TV show ever made! I feel so truly blessed to have been a part of it.
How did your participation on Mad Men begin?
The producer, Scott Hornbacher, knew me from when I lived in New York. They had shot the pilot in New York at the time I was designing Deadwood. When the show came to Los Angeles a year later after it was bought by AMC, Scott called me to meet Matthew Weiner. We had a great meeting, and they hired me later that day! Matt and I really had a great creative collaboration from the very beginning. I started designing with season one, episode two.
How much did you feel that the pilot had set a template you needed to follow, or did you start fresh with the second episode?
John Dunn, who designed the pilot, did an amazing job, but when I started the second episode, I started fresh as I start each show: reading the episode, creating my design board, creating my color palettes. It was all new.
Does your initial vision come from reading the script or seeing what an actor looks like?
As a costume designer, it is my responsibility to help tell the story of the character visually, and that’s really taken from what’s written on the page. It’s like reading a great book, you’re imagining what these characters will look like.
For Don Draper, I felt like one of the most consistent elements of his character was that his suits were like armor, so I really loved the idea of incorporating super masculine colors, especially the gray suit… many shades of gray.
I did try to count one time how many suits Don wears, and I think the figure was around 90. Do you have an idea how many he wore?
You’re probably right! I usually had about 10 to 12 suits in Don’s closet each season, which would be more than any man would have in their closet at that time, but it was good for the costume design of the show. I always loved that idea that Don Draper’s suits were really his shield and armor because of the mystery and secrecy of his character and how he could never reveal himself. I loved the idea of him even having super-masculine colors even in his ties.
More than most other characters, it seemed like Don really stuck to those crisp white shirts with the French cuffs right up until the last season when we see him in stripes and blues. What guided the decision first to keep him in exclusively white shirts for so long, then what went into the decision that he would finally update a bit for 1970?
The white shirt is a part of the “uniform” while also being the most formal shirt color a man can wear, so it felt like Don would just maintain that. As he slowly, slowly evolves in the last few seasons centered around self-discovery, I felt like those stripes and the light blue shirts were more about a loosening of his character.
We also see him in his denim-on-denim costume and those plaid shirts in the last season, and we really see him go back to dressing almost like he would have as a child. The flannel shirt and denim were really important for him to go back to his roots.
I love how intentional it all is! I always thought it was interesting that we have this character so well-established for his beautiful suits and then, in the last episode, the closest thing he wears to a suit is the denim-on-denim jacket and jeans. I was always fascinated by his “road closet” that he rotates through: the plaid shirts, the Arnold Palmer polo… how were these conceptualized as what he would be wearing? We see he has that J.C. Penney bag, I imagine he would have stopped along the way.
Yes! He would’ve gone to J.C. Penney or Sears, actually that was taken right out of the Sears catalog, which was so fun to do as well! That was more about him being incognito, dressing in the “everyman” look.
Then, when he gets into the flannels and the denim, that’s more significant to going back to his roots and his childhood.
That makes me feel a little less crazy, I’m always looking at the colors.
So when I see Don in brown, even a brown suit like for the Carousel pitch, taking Sally to his old house, exposing his story to the Hershey team…
Yes, brown! Chocolate.
So that’s all intentional then?
Of course! That’s my job as a costume designer is to help to tell that story.
I love chocolate brown, I think it looks stunning on a man. That was a big influence in the Bryant/Draper collection for Inherent Clothier. Chocolate brown is so strong, masculine, and flattering. I love chocolate brown and pale blue together.
That windowpane Gael sports coat in the collection that ties it all together.
Also in the collection, that Bonny Blue Linen sports coat reminds me of one of my favorite costumes from the show: the silk jacket we first see Don wearing in Palm Springs that he then brings to Italy.
That’s exactly the reason I designed that jacket for the collection! First of all, I think blue is the most flattering color for a man. That jacket is a linen jacket and, yes, I did design Don Draper’s blue jacket in a raw silk—as opposed to linen—but this linen is so impeccable that we had to do it. The color is almost the same color as Don Draper’s jacket, and I really wanted to have that in the first collection because it reminds me so much of the show and that “California moment”. It’s a jaunty sport coat and so versatile, a must-have piece you could wear for any occasion.
Hearing how intentional that was, how was it different designing costumes in New York as opposed to other locations like California, Italy, or even Hawaii? I love that we see Don wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
I love those moments in the show where Don gets out of his comfort zone and gets out of New York. I feel like those are always breakout moments. We see little glimmers of his returning to his true self through the pale blue sport coat, the Hawaiian shirt, or the flannel shirts… all those elements out of his “suit of armor” are really telling the story that he’s slowly making his way back.
I did want to talk about Deadwood too, which I know you mentioned as your job right before Mad Men. What strikes me about the style from that show is that it seems to depict a realistic sense of how people would have dressed in an 1870s frontier town, rather than just defaulting to the stereotyped look from old Westerns. We see more people dressing for their job, their place, their status, and I feel like that’s not as accessible an era as the ’60s, so I’m curious about your process and the research that went into bringing that to life so effectively.
At that time, in Deadwood, the cowboys had not reached South Dakota, so the way people dressed was more inspired by Victorian era fashions. The 1870s was still a time of formality, so frock coats with shirts and ties was still more casual wear, and I wanted to incorporate this visual information. It was more about being accurate in what the time period really looked like as opposed to creating a “cowboy show” which would have really been more southwestern. Here, we see more gamblers, businessmen, prospectors, and proprietors.
Like Ian McShane as Al Swearengen, who had his own daily uniform of that striped three-piece suit and what looks like a gold nugget as a button on his waistcoat.
Al only wore that suit. It was actually fabric from England that I found, and I loved the idea that he was wearing his English suit. I built about five of those suits that he wore for all seasons.
I found these gold buttons that looked like gold nuggets and thought, “oh, he has to have that on his vest too!” to symbolize how Deadwood was this gold-mining town. With the back of his vest, I did this red brocade that symbolized the bloodshed that he created.
And he almost always wore that just over his union suit, basically his underwear! Now, that would be an interesting look to see come back… a little more in line with pandemic fashion.
Kind of like the 1870s Miami Vice with a T-shirt and a suit!
I also want to talk about Why Women Kill, which I know you’re working on right now.
It’s so fun… Marc Cherry is just such a wonderful writer. The characters that he creates are amazing. Lucy Liu is just a blast and so is Ginnifer Goodwin—my fellow Tennessean—and, of course, Jack Davenport, who was the husband of Lucy Liu in the 1980s, and he just cracked up every time we would have a fitting in these 1980s suits.
What was it like to design the first season, which was set across three different decades, while still building a cohesive look for the show?
That was probably the biggest challenge of the first season, because it is designing three different shows at one time. It’s a lot… but so fun to be able to switch back and forth between different periods. I loved it and being able to go back to the ’60s and the ’80s while also designing for the contemporary story line as well. Let’s just say there was never a dull moment, I can tell you that! It was intense and so fun at the same time.
I know we were celebrating the ticket pocket earlier, are there any underrated fabrics or style details that not enough men are really incorporating into their clothing?
Definitely the ticket pocket! I also love a peak lapel on a jacket. I think, in general, I think we just need to see more well-tailored suits on men. I know I have fantasies about wearing a suit everyday!
You can wear a suit and you can have a lot of suits and look different every day. You can use those pieces of a jacket and a pair of trousers in so many different ways; I think the versatility of a suit is really incredible.
Mad Men seemed to do so much to revive the suit and have younger men embracing suits and interested in dressing well in general. Even when we see Don for one episode set on Memorial Day, we see Don in that slate knitted polo shirt — it’s simple, but it’s classic — and I think that approach has replaced a lot of T-shirts and go-tos.
Yes, let’s have a suit revival!
Are there any sartorial lessons you think men should take away from the sharp dressers of shows like The Last Tycoon or Mad Men?
Great tailoring matters. It doesn’t really matter how expensive the garment is, if it’s not tailored properly, it doesn’t look good. So it’s all about tailoring, tailoring, tailoring.
And, of course, getting something from the Bryant/Draper collection… but that’s my two cents!
BAMF Style readers can enjoy a discount of 10% off when shopping via the Inherent Clothier website using the coupon code “BAMFSTYLE” or 15% off for visits to the store or through appointments made online.
Congrats on this interview! Janie Bryant is quite a get. I appreciate the discussion about Don’s shirts. I’m oddly intrigued about his transition from white to blue towards the end of the series (although it is interesting to see he was wearing blue as early as Episode 1.02). It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but are Don’s blue shirts in 1970 french cuff or barrel?
Thank you! She was so kind and gracious with her time, and so insightful exploring the intricacies of the show’s costume design.
To answer your question, I believe that Don’s blue shirts in the final season have his usual French cuffs: