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Debate the Highs and Lows of Fashion in TV

Streaming and binge watching have pretty much wiped out destination viewing, but television’s prismatic take on fashion carries on.

Isaac Mizrahi, “Girls” and “Orange Is the New Black” costume designer Jenn Rogien and actress and producer Zosia Mamet hashed out TV’s influence on fashion and vice versa at the Paley Center for Media. WWD executive editor Bridget Foley moderated the “Ready-to-Watch: TV and Fashion” discussion Thursday night. Before diving into how societal and fashion trends seep into TV, the trio ran through what they’re watching now — “Schitt’s Creek,” “Victoria,” “The Crown,” “Last Week Tonight,” “Wolf Hall,” Bravo’s “Real Housewives,” “Catastrophe,” “The End of the F***ing World,” “Wild, Wild Country,” “The West Wing,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” “Easy” and “Silicon Valley.”

While Kim Kardashian’s influence on contouring, heavier makeup and a certain physique was one point of agreement, the group spoke about all sorts of subjects with gusto. Consumers’ changing viewing habits, ever-casual dress codes, the end of situational dressing and the mystifying influence of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” were among the subjects discussed.

Current TV characters that are compelling because of their clothes
Jenn Rogien: The “Schitt’s Creek” clan — I got into the show because of the clothes. The clothes are spectacular but they don’t stand on their own. They are part of the story, part of the character.
Isaac Mizrahi: Did you see “Seven Seconds?” That costume designer Joshua Marsh, is really good. The characters were so well-defined with the tiny, tiny choices that were made about what they wore. It was to the point where you couldn’t wait to see what they wore. And it wasn’t in a fashion way at all. Then suddenly Gretchen Mol appeared and it just shattered everything. It was just a beautiful girl in a beautiful dress. It showed a funny, deep anomaly.

The role of costuming in a TV show or a movie to help reveal character
J.R.: At the simplest level, my job is to find the pieces — make, buy, rent or borrow from people’s closets or dig into my kit. It’s a whole combination to get those pieces that give you information about the character the moment an actor appears on the screen, because a split second before Z opens her mouth on “Girls,” you get a picture. My work as the costume designer, as well as the art direction, the production designer’s set all of that has to add up to tell the audience about this fictional person.

Figuring out what’s right for characters
I.M.: The thing about “Girls” that is so fascinating is it has a grasp on reality, and it’s not so huge. “Sex and the City” was so much about clothes. It was kooky ole Patricia Field who did the clothes. Oh my God, she’s a genius. But it was huge. You almost didn’t have a show without the clothes. When Sarah Jessica [Parker] first got that show, people at dinner parties were saying, “Poor Sarah Jessica. She’s wrecking her life. She’s playing such a slut,” and 10 years later she owns the world. By the way, keep that in mind as you go forth in your lives. But on “Girls” you kind of expect Hannah to look a certain way, and you [Mamet] to look a way but it doesn’t scream at you.

The Spanx debate
J.R.: My experience before “Girls” was your leading ladies in television must look good. Period. End of story — must fit, must see a waist, must be in seven-inch heels, must look fabulous. Doesn’t matter what the price point is or whether the price point relates to the character’s job. I had to let go of that particularly with Hannah. Hannah was a hot mess.
I.M.: She must look like s–t.
J.R.: That was the note that I got. Thank God our first episode was for an interview sequence. She was in a fitted blouse, a fitted pencil skirt, a belt, heels and Spanx — the whole nine yards.
Zosia Mamet: No Spanx on “Girls.”
J.R.: After that episode, there weren’t.
I.M.: Millennials don’t like Spanx.
J.R.: No one likes Spanx.
Z.M.: Who does like Spanx?
I.M.: The [Bravo] “Housewives,” like Bethenny Frankel.

Will there ever be a show that is as influential as “Sex and the City?”
I.M.: No, because there is no fashion now. You can wear anything. You know when it’s wrong, but you don’t know if it’s right.
Z.M.: Influential in general, or influential to fashion? I agree with Isaac to fashion. I believe that kind of broke the mold and now the mold is broken.
I.M.: Except for that “Jesus Christ Superstar” special. Revolting, it looked like Rick Owens from 17 years ago as seen through the eyes of…it looked like a Yanni concert. I’m sorry, I thought it was horrible aesthetically. It sounded really good — some of it.

Setting the stage for the Refinery 29 series “Fabled”
Z.M.: It was important for us that people feel at the core that they can relate to these stories. That was one of the things that also drew us to wanting to retell these fairy-tales. They were [originally] told in such a specific and noninclusive way. It’s always about a really pretty girl meeting a really pretty boy who is like, “I love you. Great, cool, let’s go.” Everybody’s happy. So we wanted the landscape, the art direction and the clothing to feel ambiguous in terms of time and place. The color palette and the vibe ended up in a bit of a Seventies world but there is nothing that places it in any specific moment.

How Mizrahi designs for QVC versus a runway collection and how, if at all, actors, movies or television are a reference
I.M.: Sure, sure absolutely. When you do a runway show, it is a whole other consideration. Weirdly to me, the clothes are secondary to the story. Also, maybe runway shows, at least the ones that are compelling and great are best left to very young people who actually know what the hell is going on. Some of it I follow on Instagram and I can’t believe how bad it is. Like a swimsuit fashion show and you want to kill yourself, or some sportswear, separates thing and you’re asking yourself, “Why are they having a fashion show and must I sit here?” I can’t think of too many older designers who really know how to do compelling fashion shows — Prada, that’s a very compelling show and it’s not about theatrics. It’s about a woman in a story and the clothes end up in the stores looking fabulous. And I think it influences TV.

The evolution of style on the screen
I.M.: Women in the Fifties made themselves look old. By the way darlings, I think makeup makes people look old. In the Fifties and the Sixties, people wore so much makeup and coifs. It’s just so aging.
Z.M.: You were presenting something different. The idea was about sophistication with women especially. Men’s fashion is a different story. Women wanted to present something else.
J.R.: There were also a lot more rules.
Z.M.: Fashion wasn’t as fresh because it couldn’t be.

The end of situational dressing
J.R.: No one wants to wear a foundation because it’s uncomfortable. It will make your clothes fit better and look better if that’s what you’re going for.
I.M.: Do you mean balloon animal?
J.R.: We also have a greater focus on fitness and what you’re supposed to be, to be in shape or to be Instagram ready. It’s a bigger reflection of where we are as a society and what we value as a society, what we want to express personally, how we want to see that reflected back through social media. Fashion is fun and it can be frivolous, but it’s also all of these things. I have a book on my desk right now, “Why’d They Wear That?” We’re going to look back at this period at some point and say, “Everyone was wearing sweatpants everywhere?” We are less presentational than we have ever been before.

The lasting influence of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series
I.M.: There is something really compelling about their stories. They’re not elegant. Some of them are kind of OK. There is something about Spanx and those tight dresses that they wear. It feels like it has influenced a great deal. I think that tight dress uniform came from this adoration of the generation that they watched growing up. Our mothers and Audrey Hepburn wore cocktail dresses and they love that idea. I guess it’s the drinking they like. They like to be in a tight dress because it implies they can have a drink in their hands.

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