In Conversation with “Mad Men” costume designer Janie Bryant

When the last episode of “Mad Men” aired in 2015, the show referred to its seventh season as “the end of an era.” The finale, however, also represented the beginning of a new trend: vintage fashion. Although wearing clothing from other decades wasn’t something revolutionary before “Mad Men,” it was nonetheless unusual to see celebrities and style icons wearing anything but fashion-forward pieces.

Costume designer Janie Bryant, who worked on the show for all seven seasons, is largely responsible for people’s obsession with vintage– including my own! Not only has she won an Emmy Award for her work, but Bryant has also written a book called “The Fashion File” and is developing a design reality show with the producers behind NBC’s “Fashion Star.”

In addition to “Mad Men,” Bryant designed the costumes for the 2017 horror film “It” and the hit HBO series “Deadwood.” As if she isn’t busy enough, Bryant also released a capsule collection with the Los Angeles-based store Unique Vintage earlier this fall. It is an honor to feature Janie Bryant on The Zeitgeist this month; I’ve admired her work for years, and in her interview, she shares everything from her typical work day to her favorite fashion moment she created on “Mad Men.”

When did you realize you wanted to become a costume designer? What inspired you?
I was living in New York City working as an assistant fashion designer for someone on 7th Avenue. At that time, I was meeting a lot of people in the film industry, and one night, I was at a Christmas party and met a costume designer. We had a very long talk about costume design, and after that conversation, I knew I needed to make a career change. Costume design was it!

Janie poses with some of the costumes she designed for “The Last Tycoon,” starring Lily Collins, Kelsey Grammar, and Matt Bomer. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Could you tell me a bit about the creative process that goes into designing your costumes?
It all starts with the script. It’s a process of being inspired by the writing, breaking it down by each character, and visualizing what all of these individuals will be wearing. Of course, a lot of research is also involved. I’ll do this by watching films from the time period and looking at magazines, newspapers, and catalogues online. I’ll then decide on color palettes, details and silhouettes for each character.

The Season 7 poster of “Mad Men,” styled by Janie Bryant. Image source: This Weeklings.

What does a typical work day look like for you? Is there such a thing?
Every day is unique, but they usually include fittings, meetings, reading and dissecting the script, working with my costume team, preparing for the next shooting day if we’re in production, going to fabric stores, and pulling from costume houses like Western Costume.

You’ve done an incredible job of bringing back the ‘60s and ‘70s through “Mad Men” and the ‘30s through “The Last Tycoon.” What other time periods do you hope to explore in future projects?
I would love to design a French Baroque film or TV show. It’s my favorite period– swoon!

Each time a new episode of “Mad Men” aired, I felt equally excited about the fashion as I did about the storyline. Who was the best character to dress? I have to admit—Megan’s style continues to inspire me!
It really depended so much on the story and season. Also, I hate picking favorites, but I too loved Megan’s costume design. I was truly inspired by that character.

Jessica Pare as Megan Draper. Image source: Pinterest.

Throughout the seven seasons of Mad Men, do you have a favorite fashion moment from the show?
I really loved all of Season 2. It really embodied the iconic image of “Mad Men,” and it was the season that changed fashion for men and women– not only in contemporary American style but internationally as well. It was a very exciting time for me.

I love all of the pieces from your collection with Unique Vintage. Where did you find inspiration for all of the clothing items?
I also love the 1950’s, and the collection was inspired by some of my favorite pieces from the decade.

What piece of advice do you have to offer to aspiring costume designers?
Believe in yourself and your creative talents. Always know that whatever advice you’re getting, it’s only from the perspective of the person giving the advice. Everyone has their own experiences and journey; there are no two paths alike. Don’t compare yourself with others. There ultimately is no competition. You are unique and have your own vision. Also, always remember someone will eventually say, “YES!”

What’s next for you?
I’m designing another collection with Unique Vintage coming out in Spring 2018. The collection is so beautiful, and I’m so excited about it.

Check out Janie’s Instagram account HERE.
Featured image photo credit: Elisabeth Caron

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