An interview with Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant


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Between boasting its own native Mad Men alumnus and hosting a slew of season premiere parties, it's safe to say New Orleans is in the thralls of the critically acclaimed AMC series. So when costume designer Janie Bryant copped to being "kind of obsessed" with New Orleans, it felt just as flattering as when your pretty, popular, perfectly dressed crush likes you back. She's in town to judge Fashion Week New Orleans' Top Designer Competition and will speak at its Career Day this Friday, March 23. Here, she shares why she loves her work, fashion and New Orleans.

Janie Bryant
  • Janie Bryant

The season premier for Mad Men is this Sunday, and everyone's very curious about it. There's a lot of speculation about the show, including which era it's going to be.

Yes, everyone is very curious! I'm zip-lipped about it. You'll see soon enough!

You're a costume designer, an author, a brand ambassador and you've designed a Mad Men-inspired collection for Banana Republic — what's your favorite of all the hats you wear?

I do love all of it — it's about variety. When I'm costume designing Mad Men, it takes up six months of my year. I'm so happy to be able to have that variety: building my own brand and working on my own projects, so I love it all. I love working with Maidenform. We just released our collaboration project for their 90th anniversary: it's all vintage-inspired shapewear that is so beautiful and luxurious and sexy ... Also, the book was an amazing experience that was like giving birth — it's such a different way of expressing yourself. The Banana Republic Mad Men collection has been incredible, I loved working with Simon Kneen and the whole Banana Republic design team. I started as a fashion designer, so that part of my life has come full circle.

Speaking of the Banana Republic Mad Men collection, how did you design for a contemporary woman while keeping a vintage aesthetic?

It's all about being inspired by the show and the 1960s, but using modern fabric and modern cuts.

You'll judge the Fashion Week New Orleans' designer competition this week. A number of regional fashion weeks have popped up in recent years. Why do you think people are more interested in fashion right now?

In past years, I think fashion has seemed superficial, but to me, it's always been so much deeper: it's the way we express and present ourselves to the world. What we wear has an effect on how we feel throughout the day. It's also about making choices, so it's the way we express our character. Fashion is always changing and evolving. It never stays the same — there's always a build upon a build. I love the way people create fashion, and I love the way people wear fashion. It's great that there all these regional fashion weeks, not only around the U.S., but around the world, I was invited to Charleston Fashion Week last year and had the most incredible time. It was amazing to see what the new designers were creating. So I'm looking forward to seeing what the New Orleans designers have created, (since they) have different influences and inspirations.

What will you be looking for when you judge the designer competition?
For me, it's about originality and construction of the garment. So fit, finishing, seams, hems, all the technical aspects that go into designing a collection, and then, of course, the originality and overall design.

How do you define originality?
It's about ... seeing something fresh, unique and inspired. Something that seems new. Or maybe inspired by something we haven’t seen in a long time, whether it's a unique fabric, color combination or technique in construction. All those different elements go into making something fresh, but it has to work on the body as well, so it has to have the proper fit. I'm not saying the garment should be constructed as a fitted silhouette, it's just that there are so many silhouettes that work on the figure.

I've read that you dress Mad Men actors in period undergarments to achieve an authentic 1960s silhouette. How do you maintain such a detail-oriented focus while doing so many costumes, even for background actors?

I'm a crazy person, I guess. I love that about being a costume designer — there's so much variety and so many pieces to the puzzle. I'm always inspired by variety. That’s the thing that really keeps it all fresh for me. I like figuring out all the different parts of the puzzle, especially when there are a lot of characters and a lot of background actors in one scene, and how all those pieces come together and work as a whole (while) telling a story about each individual character. And I have an amazing team, so they really support and help me and we work together. Somehow, someway it gets done.

Do you have any favorite outfits from the show?

Oh my god, it is vast. I love Betty’s blue brocade and silk organza gown; her off-white and beige brocade two-piece ensemble with mink fur trim. I love her maternity dress that I designed for her in season three, the white dress with pale pink lining. I love Joan's teal ruffle dress that I designed for her last year; I also love her purple silk dress from season three, the one she wore to Bonwit Teller with the sailor collar. I love Trudy Campbell’s red-and-green two-piece ensemble with the cape and her snappy red hat. I absolutely love Jane Sterling in her black-and-white two-piece harlequin dress and black coat. That’s just a few. And then of course, Peggy's dress that she wore last year: a black wool knit dress with mustard and beige stripes down the front. It was this asymmetrical striped dress — that was one of my favorites.

One of Janie Bryants favorite Mad Men looks
  • One of Janie Bryant's favorite Mad Men looks

Do you have any favorite shopping spots that you like to hit while in New Orleans?

I eat my way through the city. I always go to Commander's Palace, Galatoire's and also go to hear music, and of course visit my dearest and beloved Tom (Cianfichi's) and Bryan (Batt's) shop Hazelnut. And Bryan always takes me down to the Quarter.

You've said that your three favorite cities in the U.S. are, in no particular order, New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles. What do you like about New Orleans?

I think New Orleans is definitely one of the most creative cities in the U.S., if not in the world. I'm always so inspired by the architecture, the home décor, all the vintage shops, the mausoleums... It has all these elements of the Old World, and it's Southern but also very European. I can only say that it's luscious to me, and I'm kind of obsessed with it. But I've never been down for Mardi Gras — it just never works out in timing, so that's one of my wishes.

You should ride with one of the krewes as a celebrity guest!

Ask somebody to invite me on a fabulous float. I'll wear an amazing outfit, I swear!



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