Judy Gellman Makes Excellent Costume Choices in “American Woman”

Alicia Silverstone is currently singing her dramatic song in Paramount’s new television series “American Woman.” The show, based on the childhood of actress and socialite Kyle Richards, takes us through 70s wave of feminism as women began entering the workforce in higher numbers, seeking independence from traditional roles.

Costume designer Judy Gellman managed to capture the wealth and wonder that went into the wardrobes of those upper crust Beverly Hills women in the 70s, showing us how women communicated through 70s fashion their style and passion. Fashion Reverie had the privilege of speaking with Judy Gellman about her role costuming “American Woman.”

                  Judy Gellman, Costume Designer for “American Woman”

Fashion Reverie: How did you get involved with this project?Judy Gellman: The guy who created the show and I had worked together before. When he was putting it all together he contacted me and asked for my input on what things would look like in 1975, and so I helped him put together some things to show prospective writers. I became involved when the project was bought and he got a green light for the pilot.

FR: Where did you get your inspiration for the garments in “American Woman”?

Judy Gellman: There was so much actually. It was a complicated process, but one that costume designers always relish. There is the research of trying to bring the period to the screen without it being “Hello, here’s a fashion show of the most iconic things that happened in 1975 for characters like this.” The main thing is to serve the story. We wanted very much to have the clothing be fun, evident, and exciting, but to support the characters. My inspiration came from the fashions that were promoted at the time, the culture, and people of Beverly Hills, and the economic bracket these three women lived in.

FR: How did you do your research?

Judy Gellman: I first started with things like Time magazine copies from that era, other vintage magazines, and of course the Internet, as well as information about New York in the mid-70s. Alicia’s character came from New York, which made her unique in that her look had to encompass what a woman from New York would dress like going to Beverly Hills.

FR: Is that why she had that mink coat?

Judy Gellman: Yes, that was an iconic look from that era, the Diane von Furstenberg dress, and the mink coat.

FR: What other fashion brands did you use?

Judy Gellman: There were so many, we found, Pucci, Chanel, Hermes, Pierre Cardin, Halston, even jackets from Fiorucci. There was a designer who did his own prints out here whose worked I managed to find. We also used Mary McFadden and Fendi. There were tons of designers that I really wanted to present.

FR: Did you have difficulty finding clothes that were in good shape?

Judy Gellman: In some cases, I did have difficulty. The two biggest issues were condition and size. Sizing was very different then. Everything that I acquired or made for the show had to be measured. A size 4 back then was like a size 0 today. The sizing was a challenge, as well as, the condition of the pieces. Sometimes, I’d find something and we’d have to remake the lining or buttons would be missing, a new zipper would be needed. All sorts of things needed some attention. However, we found some amazing things.

FR: Were replicas made?

Judy Gellman: I can’t say I actually needed a specific garment that I had to have copied, but there were things I had made. I found a pattern for a Peignoir coat, and I found vintage fabric and to make a top for a nightgown. I was able to find vintage patterns on etsy.com and different Internet sites.

FR: What can viewers expect from Alicia’s wardrobe next on “American Woman”?

Judy Gellman: What we’re going to see is more things she has to work in. At the beginning of the series, Alicia’s character doesn’t have a job, and doesn’t know where to get employment. You see her a few times working at a department store. You’ll see her in things that would be suitable to that environment. Her character also grows in many different ways between levels of independence, self-confidence, and her romantic life.

FR: Talk to me about feminism wave one and how that affected fashion in the show?

Judy Gellman: One of the things that is really important in “American Woman” is what a professional working woman of the 70s needed to look like. Nowadays, fashion has exploded to such a level of freedom in the workplace that didn’t exist back then. If you look at Jennifer Bartel’s character Diana, who worked in a bank, her wardrobe is very conservative. What was appropriate back then was to support designers like Calvin Klein and Anne Klein. It was the whole development of suits that were appropriate for the workplace and had some style to them. That was an important visual that I was glad to have there. Things couldn’t be considered provocative in any way. Women were trying to be treated as equal, but fashionable at the same time. If you were working in a law firm or bank, you had to be concerned about certain things to be taken seriously.

                                All images courtesy of the Paramount Network

Judy Gellman: Alicia is so easy to work with, there was nothing that was a challenge, except, trying to acquire and make the things we felt were appropriate, as she came into being a working woman, I think what you’ll find that in work suits back then the fabrication was much different. The fabrics were not stretchy, even though there was a lot of polyester. In the workplace, the suits and other garments were more rigid.For me, what I wanted to do was to give Alicia’s character things that were appropriate to work in that might not be a suit. I wanted to put her in things that still showed off her figure and had texture and color. It’s a complicated process to find things your character can stand out in and work with the color scheme of the set. It’s kind of a complicated process to make sure that the colors, styles, and silhouettes don’t disappear and don’t clash with what’s happening on the set.

“American Woman” stars Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, Jennifer Bartels, Lisa McHugh, and James Makenna. “American Woman” premiered on June 7, 2018 on the Paramount Network and continues through August 23, 2018. 

—Kristopher Fraser

 

 

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