The costume designer details how she designed for the 1980’s without cliches.
Everyone loves the 80’s. Big hair, big attitudes–what’s not to love? Showtime’s Black Monday balances comedy and drama so skillfully that you sometimes forget what show you’re watching. The crazy characters make it feel like a comedy, and then it all comes crashing down at the end of the season.
Adding to the hilarity–and the opulence–are the costumes by Melissa Bruning. It was shocking to find out that Black Monday was Bruning’s first venture into the world of television because every piece of clothing feels like a standout. It’s always fascinating to see characters evolve through their clothes: Andrew Rannells’ Blaire has a particularly jarring transformation as he becomes more cutthroat and unfeeling, and Regina Hall’s Dawn wears her clothes like armor as she navigates a man’s world. And she looks absolutely fabulous doing it.
Bruning’s collection can be flashy, it’s all grounded in character and story. The 80’s are a neon playground, and Bruning isn’t afraid to play. Yes, there are huge bows and bright colors and fancy suits, but everything makes sense and nothing is extraneous or overly frivolous.
It’s hard to not get lost in the shallow decadence of the 1980’s but Bruning manages to make everyone look top-notch while keeping it true to each particular character arc. Those shoulder pads are killer.
This is your first huge foray into television. Why were you looking to join Black Monday?
There was a little show that I was up for called GLOW—you may have heard about it? I did a bunch of interviews, but something that went against me was that I hadn’t done any television before. The pace is different, so it wasn’t a design issue. Any facet of costume design, be it opera, Broadway, film, or commercials, has its own requirements. Not everyone can do everything. I was in my maternity leave, and a fellow costume designer friend of mine brought it to my attention and asked if they could pass along my name since he couldn’t do it. It was up my alley because it’s a fun show and it’s period, but I hadn’t been able to do anything quite that showy in a long time. There were more reasons to do it.
I feel like we’re still obsessed with the ’80s. If I hear one more person say, “I’m having an 80’s themed party!” I don’t know what I’ll do.
Says no one born in the ’80s!
Right? Since we have some distance from that time period, how do you make that era fresh?
I graduated high school in ’89 so for me it was my first taste of fashion. I still love big hair. I will go to my grave loving big hair. So many fashion icons of the time were accessible and you could make those clothes. It was before everything was so manufactured. I thought there were things that I knew about the ’80s that I could translate that maybe somebody in the ’90s would never know. Stuff like popping your collar or blousing your collar.
Are the tiny details noticeable to you then? For instance, if you watch something set then and you can tell that someone studied it and didn’t live through it?
Definitely. One of the requirements that came in the interview was that they wanted the show to look authentically 80’s—not a sitcom version of it. Or a skit of it. If you turn the channel, they wanted it to look like you stumbled across a show from that time. There were more references to film when they were capturing the Manhattan of it all. I grew up in 80’s Nebraska which is a lot different than 80’s New York, but I was looking at those films.
As I was watching it, I wanted to immediately pop Working Girl on.
I was born in 1983, so I discovered at a young age. I kind of lived through that as a kid through the periphery almost. I was aware of the clothes and fashion even if I didn’t understand it. I wanted to talk about some of the specific characters if that’s all right?
Regina Hall is so great. Dawn really represents a woman holding her own in a boy’s club. Is a lot of her design about staking her claim in such a male-dominated environment?
We definitely wanted to make her the boss. She has expensive taste. It was important to us both that she looked pretty, but it wasn’t sexualized. Dawn is attractive because of the whole package and not just because her breasts are shoved up or her skirt is tight. She was real in a way that doesn’t have to do with her body, if that makes sense?
It’s not her physicality that makes her the female of the office but probably her sensitivity. She’s the one with heart, but she is living in Manhattan with money. Dawn is going to buy what she’s going to buy, so it had to look high end and fashion inspired. You know, jewelry for days. The unfortunate thing about TV is that you never see the actors’ feet, and we had some amazing period shoes.
I never even thought about that.
Everything is kind of cowboy stance, so it’s knees and up. When Regina has that big charity ball dress—like Madonna going to a charity event with the giant bow on the back—there’s not even a full shot of her full on look. So there’s lots of lace and pink and lace and pink, but you never really cut in. You don’t have those film establishing shots. So if I get to design for TV again, I will have to remember that a nice shoe is great, but not necessarily important. Whereas anything near the waist and up is more featured.
I’m always super curious about men’s fashions in period pieces. Usually, women get these huge, extravagant things to wear, but the men have a lot of detail that gets overlooked. We get to really witness Andrew Rannells’ character evolve through his wardrobe. Can you talk a little about that?
It’s like from Sears to Christian Dior, and we got to actually do that. With a lot of the early stuff we wanted clothes that made it look like he was trying to fit in but he wasn’t a player yet. He’s such a great model to go off of, because he can wear the schlumpy and then transform to the Yves Saint Laurent or the Dior.
I love his glasses.
Oh, I know.
I was recently shopping for a new pair, and I almost bought one that looked like his. So I’m kicking myself now!
He wanted those to set himself apart, but then he has that great reveal with the contacts. That’s a very 80’s moment. It’s a Patrick Bateman moment.
I thought that when I was watching him! I literally have here on my notes, ‘Is he on his way to becoming Patrick Bateman?’
No, no, no…don’t say that!
Think about it…when do you stop caring about people?
And he goes from point A to Z within the span of a year. If Black Monday didn’t ever happen, and he worked at The Jammer Group longer, who knows what a monster he’d become. That’s a very terrifying thought.
Exactly. He and Mo are very similar that way—they both come from nothing. Mo has more humility, though, because he had to reset himself after jail. Blaire hasn’t been checked—he’s only been encouraged.
I know! Who does Blaire become? That’s very fascinating.
You brought up Don Cheadle’s character. I don’t think I was prepared for Mo. In the span of 30 years, we haven’t had a real opportunity to see an African American man be the center of an 80’s driven Wall Street story. I was staring at his clothes. I still remember the flashy colors he wears like the purple early on.
In the vest, yes.
Do you like dressing a character that is so conscious of his outward appearance?
It’s true what you said about period pieces and how it focuses on the women, especially men in suits. With the 80’s (as well as the 70’s), you get a bunch of peacocks. You get to do color and fashion because these men have the money to do it. And purple is okay. And teal is okay. And pink is okay. I found that I was even more conservative than the period lent itself. I started watching the MTV I Heart the 80’s just to make sure I was stretching the bounds of things. A lot of these guys, especially if they were African American, would look to musicians. A lot of the clothes for Mo, I looked at what he would be looking at. Nobody taught him what taste was, but he’d see people with money as his contemporary. And he’d want to wear it.
And I love how you got to dive into the Black Panther stuff too.
It was a real reversal of time period. When I saw it for the first time, I thought, ‘Oh, they made it black and white.’ It makes sense to differentiate between the time periods, but there was so much color in those clothes.
One of my favorite things is that you got to dress Ken Marino as twins. What was that like?
We had a very limited schedule for him. Whatever he had, we had to do two of it, so we always had a photo double for blocking purposes and reference. In the pilot, we thought one would be a loafer and bow tie guys and the other would be a long time and lace-ups. Larry and Lenny. From that point on, we would fit everything on his photo double and get it approved. Ken knew what do with it once he got into it.
The main plot revolves around the Georgina Jeans. Were you worried about finding the perfect, quintessential 80’s jeans?
If anything, there was a lot to choose from. Colored denim? Come on! We were able to find it online and it was more about who would fit into it because a lot was so tiny. Doing the Georgina Jeans commercial in the pilot was so much fun. We were all about accessorizing it, and adding a bow here, and belt to go over it just because. It didn’t hold anything up but all of that wears so much fun.
I loved seeing Casey in all the different kinds of denim.
Yeah, in that wedding video where she’s singing the Tiffany song. You gotta use what you have out there in the world, and we tried to incorporate denim in a lot of her stuff. There’s a scene at the engagement party where she has this really pretty dress on with these GIANT black denim chambray sleeves. Because why not? Underneath the wedding dress–with the big reveal–is a chambray denim with flat denim sparkles which is also in the groomsmen’s vests and bow ties and in the father’s vests. I found a few bolts of denim with sparkles on it, and thought, ‘This is everything!”
I mean you can’t be too big with the ’80s.
It works with both comedy and the ’80s and I think we managed to still make it real.
That reminds me of when we see Regina with that big ass bow in her hair. I loved that.
With the bridesmaid’s dress.
But that’s the thing. It’s big and over-the-top, but it’s still grounded with what Tiffany would want in her wedding.
Oh yeah. They were dying on set when she came out. I gave her the bow, and she could do with it whatever she wanted. She put it square on her head like Minnie Mouse, and they added in that line where Don says, “Hey Goofy and Minnie Mouse.” And then you see the bows in different variations in all the rest of bridesmaids’ dress.
Since you’re such a fan of the ’80s, which piece would you snag for yourself?
I would wear the dress that Regina wears to the Predator’s Ball. It’s a red sequined dress with the muffin sleeve. I would wear that to an awards show any day.
I would what that vacuuming my apartment.
Black Monday is streaming now.