It’s a man’s world when it comes to sports and sports agencies and costume designer Sekinah Brown was tasked with creating the look of What Men Want. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, who gets edged out for a promotion because men!
Ali wants to get inside men’s thoughts to understand why she was overlooked despite the blindingly obvious. Her wish comes true when she wakes up one day able to hear man’s every thought. Adam Shankman delivers this hilarious comedy with a message of empowerment.
I caught up with Brown who has designed for films such as Almost Christmas Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming, and Night School to chat about dressing Henson and creating Ali’s wardrobe.
Was there a particular movie for you as a young girl where the costumes and fashion stood out for you?
There were several films and it was such a broad range of TV shows and movies that I watched. To this day, I’m in awe. I watched The Cosby Show and admired Phylicia Rashād and couldn’t believe that I watched her as a child and here I am today, dressing her.
There were so many that I was inspired by. Sex and The City. I loved Mahogany and I love Diana Ross because she’s such an icon. There were several that I watched that influenced me.
I always knew I wanted to work in entertainment, I just wasn’t sure which avenue I wanted to take. I majored in Mass media arts in college, concentrating in TV, Radio, and Film. TV and Film were my main concentrations.
I interned with Will Packer who had a company called Rainforest Films. I was a PA on my first project and as a PA I always wanted to be in the costume trailer. I wanted to be in there touching and looking at the clothes.
I let everyone know after my first project that’s what I wanted to do and thank God everyone believed in me because they spread the word and I worked my way up from Costume Department PA to costume designer.
Here we are talking about What Men Want. Where do you even begin with creating that look of a female sports agent? When did we last see a female sports agent?
In the beginning, I had to read the script, break it down and get the psychology of her character and understand where she came from. She’s the only female in this boy’s club. As a woman, you have to prove that you can roll with the big dogs. I wanted to show a transformation in her costume. In the beginning, she starts of darker and then throughout her color palette gets lighter as she softens up and finds love and becomes one with her feminine ways. I wanted to show that in her outfits.
That’s when we go from the black/white pinstripe to the white/black.
Yes, we start off with the houndstooth. It’s very structured. She stood out because that’s what I wanted to happen. She thought she was going to make partner and it was a power look for her character. As we get to the end of the film, she’s in a lighter color palette she would not have worn back then. It’s softer, it’s got movement and that’s how I wanted to end it. It’s a pantsuit, but it’s feminine and looks good on her.
Did you custom make anything or was it entirely sourced?
It was a lot of sourcing and shopping as I didn’t custom make anything. Adam Shankman is amazing. He knows what he wants. It’s my first time working with a director who was heavily involved in the costume design. He was great. Sometimes, you’re like “Let me do my thing.” But with Adam, he’s such a great collaborator. For him having a clear vision and being on the same page was great. He’d also create boards for her character and so did I. We actually had some of the same pictures and so did I.
We simply have to talk about the look of the men from the board room and creating their look?
There were greys and taupes. With the men, it was definitely a bit more of a challenge because menswear, especially with suits, you’re going to get blacks, grey, and different shades of blue. I wanted to make sure everyone had a different silhouette.
I tried to do different color palettes. I had a bit more fun with her assistant because he’s not in suits, but he has to still look the part next to Taraji’s character. He’s quirky and has glasses. I wanted to have fun with the sweaters and bowties and mixing textures with him.
With the other guys, it was just one character wearing a tie bar that gave him a little more edge and a bit more power. The other guys were a bit messy and weren’t as tailored giving the backstory that they might not have a wife at home to help them. It was a little more of a challenge because there were so many men in the movie. I think we did a did job of showing the distinction between them.
OK, so do you have a favorite Taraji look?
Yes! Her first look, the houndstooth look. That is just my favorite because she completely stood out in that conference room. She thought she was going to make partner. She didn’t make partner but she looked like a million bucks.
Did you get to collaborate with Taraji?
She was so easy. She was like, “I’m like a Barbie doll put me in whatever.” Some actresses say that and they don’t mean it at all. It’s the complete opposite.
She has an amazing body and I always want to make sure with all of my actors that they are comfortable. So, when they put it on and they look in the mirror. I always gauge their body language. Do they smile? Does their disposition change? When she put that on, she was like, “Oh yes, that’s perfect.” She loved it. Adam loved it. We were all agreeing that it had to be her first look.
Aside from dressing a million men, was there a look that challenged you?
Yes. Some of the athletes were challenging. I had one basketball player who was 6ft 9″ so there was nothing you could find in a regular store. I had him bring some of his clothes and we mixed and matched for him. He was happy with some pieces.
Of course, Erykah Badu as sister was so much fun I was just so excited to work with her. I love her and didn’t want to get it wrong. She has her own style. Everything she wears is one of a kind. I was extremely nervous. She loved it. She collaborated and wanted to take some things with her. I was so excited about that and over the moon. It made my life.
Her look was so unique. When she came on screen everyone around me screamed and cheered.
It was so much fun. It was just a fun project for me. The director and producers made it fun. We had such a good time putting these clothes together and that’s what it should be, having fun and doing your craft and having great actors. It was a good project all around.