Adding believability to an actor's role, costume design becomes a supporting character of sorts, communicating a mood, setting a trend and developing the personality of the character—a job that was tailor-made for costume designer Janie Bryant.
The Tennessee native's love of fashion began at the remarkable age of six when she made her first dress out of her mother's discarded aprons. Bryant's mother also fanned the flames of her daughter's desire by introducing her to old films screened at revival theaters. "Film has always been a huge passion for me and as a child we would watch Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music. I was particularly hooked on Guy and Dolls and would watch it over and over again for the costume design," she muses. A fashion star was born.
Bryant studied fashion design in college and at the American College of the Applied Arts and eventually felt the lure of the City of Lights. "I really wanted to work in Paris and learn French and I met a lot of film people there." She soon set her horizons on New York where, at a party, she met a costume designer and the proverbial light bulb clicked in her head. Creating the costumes for independent movies, working for fashion designer John Scher and "trying to get any job I could," her first big break came with NBC's series Big Apple (2001) followed by the hit HBO western series Deadwood (2004) for which she earned an Emmy for Best Costume Design.
Of the experience, Bryant notes, "Deadwood was an eighteen-seventy-six Victorian and very different from what we think of as vintage. I have always loved period design, loved vintage and studied costume history," which made her a natural choice for the show's 19th-century western designs. The experience paid off as a little known, soon to be juggernaut pilot on AMC came calling in the form of Mad Men and the rest is history.
The sixties period drama about life at a Madison Avenue ad agency quickly became a style sensation, sparking an interest in all things mid-century modern. Designing the stylish world of Don Draper and cohorts Joan, Peggy and wives Betty and Megan was a couture delight. "Designing Mad Men takes a village. I would design original clothes for the characters, the actors would come in and completely transform into their roles. It was amazing!" she says. "We also bought and redesigned a lot of vintage clothing and worked with a variety of costume houses and vintage vendors." Fashioning period frocks involve both a great deal of resourcing and research as the designer notes, "I love period design because it creates a whole, entire world. I love the romanticism and time travel associated with that. For the nineteen-sixties, there was a lot more accessibility to vintage clothing as opposed to designing a period piece of the nineteen-thirties." The line was such a pop culture hit it translated into Bryant's own Mad Men collection for retailer Banana Republic and her designs for the employee uniforms at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Collecting vintage is a passion of Bryant's, a natural offshoot from the period films that dot her resume. "When you buy vintage, it's important to examine a garment for fragile threads and stains that you can remove. Examine a piece thoroughly." As for her personal collections, she is apparently obsessed with dress clips. "I love the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighty pieces in particular. I have many nineteen-sixties vintage clothes and accessories and look for inspiration in other periods. I love Courrèges, Dior and Valentino who is perhaps my favorite designer of all time."
Next up, the multi-talented designer works her magic on another period film, the 1930s novel turned Amazon series The Last Tycoon. Based on the last known novel by writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, many of the clothing and accessories were purchased on RubyLUX's vintage sister site, Ruby Lane. "I bought a lot of vintage bags as I am always looking for a piece that best tells the story about the character. It could be a handbag from the thirties with a sophisticated clasp I may be drawn to or a beautiful handle that tells the story of the character. I am always looking for those kinds of details."