Megan McLachlan speaks with costume designer Allyson Fanger for her Emmy-nominated work (Outstanding Contemporary Costumes) on the Season 5 episode “The Wedding” from Grace and Frankie on Netflix.
Dressing for a wedding is stressful enough. But try dressing an entire wedding party on a television series. It can be even more challenging than planning a real-life wedding.
I chatted with Emmy-nominated costume designer Allyson Fanger (Outstanding Contemporary Costumes) about her work in the Season 5 Grace and Frankie episode “The Wedding” and learned about the importance of trend forecasting and why orange might be an underrated wedding color.
Awards Daily: Frankie (Lily Tomlin) wears a beautiful caftan in this episode and places Post-It notes all over it, which look amazing. Were you strategic with the Post-It note colors? I would wear that with the Post-Its attached. It looked like a piece of fashion art that Lady Gaga might wear.
Allyson Fanger: (Laughs) We did do quite a bit of work with the Post-It note placement. There was a lot of deliberate thought and detail put into that moment. And also the caftan that we chose had to showcase the Post-Its, and we liked the primary color blocking on the caftan that went well with the Post-It theme. I’m so happy that you noticed all that! That’s so great. It was a vintage piece that I’d been waiting to use. I gather all my pieces and keep them in a closet and wait for the right script moment that works. So it was exciting when that piece came up in the script.
AD: That’s so great. There are so many great looks in this episode. I love the description about Allison’s wedding dress from Brianna (June Diane Raphael): “Allison’s dress is very specific. It’s more like what a dead child was buried in in the 1800s.” How did you convey this idea? I thought this dress was elegant and beautiful.
AF: I know! Everyone did really like the dress, as it turned out. It was a strange trend forecasting moment on my part, that actually was not deliberate. I do tend to find those things that are about to happen fashion-wise. It’s kind of a thing that I do. I guess I do it deliberately most of the time, just to try to keep on top of trends, but by the time it airs—our post is quite lengthy and fashion is fast-moving—I’m usually right on trend with fashion girls like Brianna.
In that Allison wedding dress moment, I had that dress on my mind when I read the script. I had thought about an ’80s/’90s Gunne Sax look that happened back then and is happening again now. I was researching all those crazy wedding dress shows and trying to find the most outlandish, extravagant, poofy dress. I just kept going back to that Gunny Sax look, and Marta [Kauffman] loved that. I showed it to Marta, and we kept going back to it. I think they rewrote the line after we decided on the dress. We made the dress, but it was kind of Frankenstein-ed. I took three or four dresses and took pieces and added a lot on top of that. We added a lot of tulle and additional layers and lace to make it what it was. Before the episode even came out, Rodarte and Carolina Herrera and everybody was making this style of dress, and at first I was like, ‘Oops!’—because it was supposed to be so crazy!—but then as it turned out, it was all good. You could still see how Grace or Brianna would hate it, because Allison (Lindsey Kraft) has such a quirky sense of style.
AD: Shades of orange were prominently featured in this episode, too, from Brianna’s orange dress to Frankie’s orange caftan for the wedding. Were you in an orange mood for this episode?
AF: That episode was experimental for me as far as the use of a very definitive palette, which I conceived along with the production design team. I just wanted to know what they were doing with their palette. I came up with a palette and then I consulted with them and we had a meeting, and [the palettes] were almost the same, because it was a beach wedding. You’re looking for colors of beach, sand, and sunset. Generally when I’m doing clothing into a set, I’m asked to use something that’s not the set colors, for obvious reasons—you don’t want to lose your characters/actors into the background colors. What I really wanted to do was make a cohesive palette that goes along with the sets and the choices for the set team—instead of going against it, I want to go with it. I feel like when you go to a wedding, there’s always a strong palette. I wanted to keep all of the characters all in one palette. Persimmon was your pop color, that orange, but the rest of it was blues, tan, and beach colors, including every background person. There was not one person in that entire wedding scene that wasn’t in one of those palette colors, and it was not deviated from. My shoppers were ready to kill me, because they kept coming in with these pieces, and I’d say, ‘That’s not in the palette!’ And they thought I was crazy, but I’m so happy how it turned out. I took a cue from Wes Anderson, because his films always have such a strong production value and design and look, and that is something that he does throughout his films. He uses a very strong palette and never deviates from it.
AD: Very true! People often talk about how women’s fashion has changed on TV, citing your efforts for women of a certain age. But how do you think men’s fashion has changed? Your nominated episode really demonstrates that men can have fun with fashion, too.
AF: Men’s fashion never gets the same kind of attention as women’s does. I think for our characters, in particular Sol and Robert, Robert is a perfect male match to the style of Grace Hanson, classic, nice fabrics, good fit, and Sol is quirky and textural. We did trend-forecast with his weird shirts though! Those were not a thing in fashion until the last couple of years. No kidding—when I was shopping for Season 3, the crazy Sol shirts were everywhere! I feel like I gotta get a little less trendy for Sol.
AD: You’re like the Miss Cleo of fashion. You know everything that’s coming!
AF: I guess! I gotta channel it in a more lucrative way.
AD: Everyone’s personality comes out in their fashion attire. How much time did it take to select each piece? It takes enough time for one person to choose what they want to wear to a wedding, but to choose for an entire cast had to be time-consuming.
AF: It was a lot. We put a lot of effort into it. We had many fittings. Some people were faster than others. In particular, we had so many fittings for Bud (Baron Vaughn), because it wasn’t working and I kept having him back. And I never stop until I have it exactly how I want it. Thank god my actors are amenable and cooperative in this way. Him and Peter Gallagher, too. I had to get that one right, and it kept not being right. But again, in the end, they appreciate it and see the work that goes into it. The ladies were a little easier because they had so many dress choices, except for Mallory (Brooklyn Decker) because the palette thing was so tight. That is why weddings are difficult for the most part, too, especially if you have to be in a wedding. Frankie’s was the easiest. I found that caftan pretty fast. Nothing you see if off the rack. A misconception of contemporary costume design is that we just go shopping and throw things on people. We customize everything. We had a belt made for Jane’s dress, leather dyed to make the belt match because we wanted it to have that definition.
AD: When it comes to style, do you see yourself as more of a Grace or Frankie?
AF: I have my days, of course! I love a Grace moment. Depends on my mood. If I have any events, it’s all about how I’m feeling that day and in that moment. That’s why I respect the actors process so much, too, and I like to be in the room with them when they’re dressing. We make changes all the time at the last minute, just based on the tempo or mood of the actor in this character moment—is this the right choice? Even down to the jewelry—would you wear this much jewelry during this scene? I think for me, personally, I’m all of them.
Stream all five seasons of Grace and Frankie on Netflix.