When one thinks about the Chippendales, we always think about the thinks being slinkily removed from a dancer’s body. Or we also think of the famous cufflinks and bowties that accompany the pecs and the muscles. For Hulu’s Welcome to Chippendales, however, costume designer had to not think about what was left on the stage but something else entirely: what kind of clothes would stay on a person’s body.
The late ’70s and early ’80s have very distinct lines and silhouettes when you think about the glamorous nightlife of that era. If someone asked you to describe this time period, in terms of clothes, people wouldn’t struggle with describing looks that are instantly recognizable. Schnitzer grew up at this time, so she was eager to look back.
“The seventies were my backyard, and it’s the time that I developed my aesthetics,” Schnitzer. :I am very partial to when I see movies or shows, and I have a lot of personal reference. The sleek aesthetics from this decade is one of my absolute favorites. With this show, there is so much darkness and so much underbelly, but you can frost it with glitzy, polished clothes. It helps the story.”
Kumail Nanjiani’s Steve Banerjee is a man who wouldn’t normally be caught dead at a male strip club, but, as the boss, he has to always look like he’s in charge. Banerjee’s suit accentuate his puffed up chest, and as he and his wife, Irene, gain more and more money, the more expensive his suits become. Of all of the people who work behind-the-scenes at Chippendales, Banerjee cares the most about looking like he belongs in the in-crowd.
“Because we did multiples and they were so specific, I modeled them after period suits, and a lot of them were made,” she says. “All of his shirts were made, because he wasn’t the type to just buy something like that. All of his sleeves are monogrammed. In the beginning of the series, it was important for him to look accomplished since everything about him was aspirational. I loved the cream colors on him, because that’s very late-seventies. Everything was beige, and I loved doing that when he went back to India since everything else was in white. Then when he is realized, he is more self-indulgent, and everything is so tailored to his body. He adds more tie pins and pocket squares and maybe the dots in his ties matched his jewelry. Steve needed to look like a man on the rise.”
Annaleigh Ashford’s Irene wants to fade into the background when she joins her friends in the audience to watch the Chippendales. Her costume arc is one of the strongest, because, with every outfit, we gain a sense of how much money the club is bringing in. Even more important, we see how money brings out a different kind of confidence in her. Irene begins wearing more expensive fabrics, and her neckline becomes lower.
“I had an amazing team, and we did a big dive into finding very elevated, period clothes for her,” Schnitzer says. “She started very buttoned-up and very dull, and she comes into the club as it was getting legs. Since she is the accountant, her mind thought in tunnel vision in terms of numbers and that is also advantageous to the story. Irene is the woman behind the man. She says, ‘If you’re going to do bad things, you need to do them well.’
There were so many beautiful, delicate things with gold and black and embroidery, and she is the perfect body type for that. Even her Chinese pajamas had that gold and black running through it. I wanted to turn this church mouse into a strong businesswoman, and I wanted her to be one of those women who dressed to the nines at all times. Some of the things she would wear to work would make me laugh, but it’s so accurate. I come from a family of New Yorkers, but, in those days, women dressed head to toe. They looked fantastic all the time, and I wanted her to be very discerning about what she wore since she has come into so much money for the first time in her life. I wanted her to really pop.”
We cannot talk about Chippendales without discussing the art of the g-string. Comfort was paramount to Schnitzer, because you cannot perform in front of a crowd unless you feel good in the moment. One of the best looks is when Quentin Plair’s Otis wears a purple thong held together with thick gold rings. It’s even featured in the opening title sequence.
“That was a whole other part of this show ,” Schnitzer says. “In addition to the principal cast, we were doing between 200 and 300 fittings a day to costume all of the background actors who play the women in the club. I think that look [for Otis] was called ‘Super Pimp,’ and we made a purple robe and the g-string was the lining of the coat with leopard lining with gold rings. All of the g-strings were custom-made as were the breakaway pants. Everyone’s body is so different, and our main goal, besides getting it to work and look sexy, was to make sure everyone felt comfortable The men were all made by Bill Hargate Costume, and they were very instrumental to make them very exact. I drew out with the fabrics that I wanted. We needed to also take the choreography into account if they had to dip or kick, and Hargate was very exact in making sure everything fit. The breakaway pants was a nail-biting situation. They work because of stress points on your body, and it’s done with snap tape down the sides. It was a process to figure out which fabrics would look best–you’d think that stretch would work but you’d run the risk of it bot breaking away evenly on both side. That was definitely a new thing for me.”
With so many distinctive personalities throughout Chippendales, it would be difficult for Schnitzer to pick one outfit to steal, if she could.
“I love all of Juliette Lewis’ jumpsuits,” she says “I love all of Annaleigh’s vintage robes. There was a pink one with little embroideries–I am big on loungewear. Something that I might not wear myself but I thought was beautiful was the gold dress that Nicola [Peltz Beckham] wears as Dorothy Stratten with the gold necklace. I love suits on women, so I might take one of each of Murray Bartlett’s and Kumail’s. I love the sleekness. I am certainly not going to take the breakaway pants.”
Welcome to Chippendales is streaming now on Hulu.