Costume designer Tom Broecker details his process of putting together looks for such a beloved historical figure for Amazon’s Z: The Beginning of Everything.
It’s quite surprising that Tom Broecker never tackled a period drama. Over the past decade and a half, Broecker designed for House of Cards, Ballers, Flesh and Bone, and 30 Rock (where he also appeared as disgruntled costumer Lee). While his recent resume boasts a number of high-profile television shows, Broecker served as the costume designer for Saturday Night Live since 1994, a milestone that earned him an Emmy® in 2014.
For Amazon’s underrated Z: The Beginning of Everything, Broecker dives into a completely different world. Not only does he explore the decadent and flamboyant world of New York City in the roaring 20’s, but Broecker shows us Zelda Fitzgerald’s emotional journey through her wardrobe. If you take her simple dresses from Episode 1 and compare it to the frocks she wears by the end of the season, you will find a fascinating story.
Tom Broecker is the man behind that costuming journey.
Is costuming a larger than life character like Zelda Fitzgerald a dream come true?
Any time a designer gets a chance to design a period TV show about one of the most interesting early 20th century women, it’s a dream come true. Zelda was such a complex person and her style reflected this idiosyncratic nature. She marched to her own beat.
What type of research did you do beforehand?
I started researching this project by reading all the biographies on Zelda and F. Scott. As well as their early novels which tended to have many autobiographical details hidden in their characters. I also read all about the historical period. It was a very transitional time in America. Many things were happening. Transportation was very important, and this movement element began to appear in the design of the clothes.
I also looked at real photos of people from this period, real photos of Zelda and her family, and got a hold of fashion magazines and fashion catalogs at the time. Then, there’s many museums which have real garments from this period. It’s always good to see what the real garments look like. To understand how they’re made and put together. It’s very important to understand their inner structure for the inside reflects how it hangs on the body.
Can you describe your personal process? Does it change from project to project? How closely do you work with the directors to create an overall vision?
It does change from project to project. Well maybe something triggers me differently from project to project. Maybe I will be inspired by fabric/texture/color. Maybe one time I will see an image or photograph that will inspire the whole project.
I tend to get an image and color palate and jump from there, but each project tells you what it wants. Whether it wants to begin with a color palette or fabric textures. With Zelda, I began through fabric because part of her physical journey was from summer in the south to winter in NYC. It was important to have this reflected with specific colors and fabrics.
Your stage credits include David Mamet’s Race and Everyday Rapture. You’ve also worked with notable theater companies like Yale Repertory and Shakespeare Theatre DC. Does styling for theater differ than styling for television?
One of the biggest differences between designing period for TV and theater is one of scale. In TV, you have a closeup and smaller details are more important. In theater, it can be broader strokes. Also in theater, it needs to last 8 shows a week. In TV sometimes it needs to last only for a couple of takes, so you can use more delicate fabrics.
Z: The Beginning of Everything is one of the first major period pieces you’ve costumed. Were you eager to create frocks for another era? Did anything about the project intimidate you?
I have done a lot of period theater. I was trained in the theater, so my knowledge of period comes from this and from school. It’s always scary starting a project and a period project even more so. And a project which involves real historical people. You want to make sure you “Get it right.” That you both are getting the period right in its look and details as well as telling the story of these characters. It’s always a balance. Always must be aware of this delicate dance. After all, we are not doing a documentary about these people. We are telling Zelda’s story from her point of view, so the entire production is colored from her perspective.
What piece are you most proud of in the first season?
That’s a hard question. In almost every episode there is something that I’m excited by. One of the episodes I’m most happy with is the speakeasy episode. It was a huge challenge but very rewarding in the end.
How would you describe Zelda’s character arc through her fashion?
I would say it mirrors the arc of her journey in the world. We wanted this to be very reflective of her journey from this young southern belle to young beautiful golden girl in New York City. Her southern fashion, all pastels and cotton print dresses with silk flowers at the waist, to her New York City fashion, all dark rich jewel tones with lots of gold and black and silver accents. Fur, jewels, sparkle – her new monied life. This is also reflected in her silhouette of the clothes. You can think of the south as an upside-down tulip. Still soft but full. Her New York look feels like a skyscraper. Tall and long and lean.
Sometimes in period pieces, the women get the flashier or more ornate costumes. Do you think dressing men is an underappreciated art?
Dressing men is 100 percent under appreciated. It’s very complicated. I always think of men as the rock of a production. They’re the solid mass while, yes, the women get the flashy sparkle. But you must have a good foundation, a solid foundation or the sparkle doesn’t work.
In this period, the men’s clothes are gorgeous. The high button starched collars. The beautiful fabrics for the three-piece suits. The gorgeous cotton fabrics for the ties and shirts. It’s really under appreciated
You were one of the best side characters on 30 Rock! Do you have any plans to act in front of the camera again?
It’s funny about being the costume designer on 30 Rock. If you look closely in Z, I also play a character. I play F Scott’s tailor in Episode 6. As a friend said, “Look! Lee from 30 Rock traveled back in time!” And he looks fabulous doing it.
Season 1 of Z: The Beginning of Everything now streams on Amazon.