Everyone has an idea of what the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds look like, because the Grease property is so loved. I’m sure you know at least three or five people who were even in a high school or community theater production of the musical, or you might have a fond memory of watching Grease (and Grease 2) at a sleepover or at a drive-in. With all that history in mind, costume designer Angelina Kekich had to tap into that affection but also make something so well-known feel completely original. Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is an origin story like no other.
When you watch pilot episode, the first sequence, naturally, takes place at a drive-in, but you notice the ambition of this show right off the bat. The camera captures a lot of people on screen all at once and the colors will shake you by your shoulders. Kekich told me, in the plainest terms, how big the costuming was on this show.
“In the pilot, there are 56 cast members and we average between six to nine costume changes,” Kekich says. “With the continuity and background actors, everyone had the same amount. Each episode had a minimum of three dance sequences, and we created all of those looks from scratch as well.”
The creation of the Pink Ladies jacket was a spiritual process for Kekich. She speaks very affectionately about how she wanted to make sure that any character lucky enough to don that pink material felt the gravity of being accepted as part of this group. Some people may not know exactly how much care was put into a Pink Ladies jacket.
“Designing the Pink Ladies jacket was a very emotional, passionate experience,” Kekich admits. “I had the opportunity to go down to Los Angeles, and Paramount set me up to see an original Pink Ladies jacket. It was Marty’s from the original Grease. It was so valuable to see that up close and personal. I remember taking numerous pictures of the jacket on a mannequin. I wanted to make sure to get a good look at the lining, the embroidery, the size of the collar, the way the pockets set into it–I needed to see how they made it. Bringing the pictures back to Vancouver gave us an opportunity to create our own version, which is unique to our show. Nancy designs all of the jackets, and we wanted to show the four year difference in time from when she made hers to when the original 1978 film started. It was important that our fans were able to recognize the jacket right away. I worked very closely with the creator and showrunner, Annabel Oakes, and producer and director Althea Jones, and we started the journey of bringing this jacket to life.
We did intense research and looked photos before doing numerous sketches. When we finally came to the classic Harrington, 1950’s jacket worn by James Dean, this became out guideline for designing our version of the jacket. Then we had to find the perfect fabric. We shopped in Los Angeles, and we found a tensile fabric which is a man-made fabric made from wood bark. It’s durable, and it allows the actors to dance and move. It also absorbs dye very well. Next we had to find the right shade of pink. We settled on a beautiful, saturated shade, and then we had to find the lining. We found this amazing two-way stretch lining in Italy, it it was amazing because it gave the jackets structure but it didn’t inhibit the movement. It was truly an honor to do those pieces.”
Tricia Fukuhara’s Nancy is a fashion marvel. While other characters are making out at the drive-in, Nancy is thumbing through the newest issue of Vogue and trying to pull inspiration from wherever she can. Her mind is always turning, and she isn’t afraid to experiment with shape, color, and silhouette. The more dramatic she can make an outfit, the better. There is tremendous freedom in costuming a character like Nancy, and Kekich had a ball.
“Nancy is a fashionista, but she’s also a chameleon,” Kekich says. “We see that her costumes change with her moods and what an event needs. Not only is she into fashion, but she has a passion towards surrealism and the arts. I like to say that Nany is influenced by rock and roll, Bollywood, and the latest trends. On her first day of school, she embraces that cinch and flair–that rock and roll silhouette. She manipulates each of her costumes to express her own surreal sense of fashion. We built everything for Nancy. On her first day, she is wearing a vibrant circle skit with contrasting pink crinoline, and we did a very large lobster applique that has a leash on it. That squirrels across the skirt to a surreal hand on the top of the bolero shoulder with a diamond ring and the leash is attached. That was a nod to Elsa Schiaparelli’s designs. In episode three, we get to see her exploring Bad Nany when she’s wearing a black, leather, polka, sculpted suit that’s inspired by classic Christian Dior sculpted two-piece suits. We complete it with this exaggerated bejeweled snake motif that wraps around her bodice. I finished that off with an amazing, vintage sequined beret. In London, I found these 1940’s inspired kitten heel loafers. Every character is very well thought out, but there is a lot more care with Nancy.”
The Pink Ladies have a signature look, but the young men and women who are against this girl group have some striking looks of their own. The character of Susan is heavily influenced by her mother, and always strives to look her best. Dot, however, was the character who always caught my eye. She’s younger the some of her friends, and her father is a candy store owner. Her dresses always sport colors that would make a candy salesman proud, and, in episode three, she wears an orange, gingham dress that makes her look like a creamsicle.
“I wanted to create dress that felt like a three-tier cake, because her father owns a candy store, she says. “The costumes needed flamboyance and candy flavor. If you look at Dot straight on, you will see that she is done up from the tip of her hair all the way down to her shows. She always has tiny, matching bows everywhere. Her home economics outfit–the green and white gingham with the matching bows might be my favorite of Dot’s costumes. Her bows matched the jackets, and we did a contrasting crinoline to pop in that scene.”
Ari Notartomaso’s Cynthia is unlike anyone else on the show. She longs to be one of the boys and earn her own T-Bird jacket, but she finds real friendship with Jane, Olivia, and Nancy. Cynthia’s self-discovery is one of the best things about this first season, and Kekich was aware that she dresses differently than any other character at Rydell.
“With the character development, I like to look at their journey through Rydell High inside and outside the school,” Kekich says. “Cynthia is a wild child, and she is desperate to be a T-Bird. She comes from a working class background, so I thought that Cynthia would have received a lot of hand me downs or would have borrowed clothes from her dad’s closet. The first time we see her in school, she is wearing a loose fitting collared work shirt which was probably taken from her dad. It’s a ill-fitting dirndl skirt that fell on her waistline with a fourty-niners jacket with her bobby socks and saddle shoes. I remember having conversations with Annabelle and trying to find a signature piece. A thing about the T-Birds is that they love to carry a comb in their back pocket. In her bobby socks, we put a little comb, so that was her signature nod to the T-Bird.
Back in the ’50s, there was school attire and not at school attire. If you go into some research, you can really see this. When Cynthia was not at school or hanging at the Frosty Palace, she was definitely wearing tomboy-ish pieces that still reflected the greaser look. It was important to have that distinction.”
If Kekich wanted to take something of her designs for her own closet, she would have a lot to choose from. I personally love a lot of Richie’s striped t-shirts, but I would to swipe Nancy’s Frosty Palace uniform. It’s whimsical, and I love the shade of blue. Kekich might have to take multiple trips to steal some items.
“I love Jane’s first look at the drive-in, and that’s a big 1950s vintage piece,” she says. “That sundress she wears is so simple, but I love the pop of colors. It’s an ode to Sandy from the original film. I love Nancy’s badass look from episode three. Susan’s costumes are all so beautiful. I loved Olivia’s costumes. She rocked a neck scarf, and that’s a nod to Marty and Rizzo from the original. ”
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is streaming now on Paramount+.