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White Collar: Interview With Costume Designer, Stephanie Maslansky

by Lynn DeVries on October 29, 2009 · 0 comments

in Interviews,White Collar

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It’s official, folks, I have another show that I love. I just caught it by chance on USA Network last week and I’m already hooked. The show is entitled White Collar and I’ll be following it now on this site too.

Stephanie Maslansky
[Photo: courtesy of New Media Strategies]

Earlier this week, I got a wonderful chance to be involved in a conference call interview with the costume designer for the show. Her name is Stephanie Maslansky and she’s the one responsible for the sexy, glamorous look of the main characters on the show. Here’s the full discussion:

Q: I’d like to know, how much input do the actors have on the costumes that are created for them? Can you talk about that a little bit?

S. Maslansky: Sure. The wonderful thing about working on something dramatic is that the actors do have quite a bit of input and it’s a real collaboration between myself and the actors to come up with the look and pretty much the back-story, as well, of this particular character. We both have different ways of thinking about the character but in the long run, both the actor and I think about the character’s history, where he comes from. There may be some valid information that the writers have come up with in terms of the actors’ history, but often times, a lot of it has to be made up by the actor and myself.

I come with various ideas, the actor comes with various ideas and the first time we meet, we discuss these and we, sort of, feed off of one another. We actually wind up giving each other great ideas about the history of the particular character. That’s how we start to build or create closets, which would then be believable, based on the history of the character. So yes, the short answer is yes. I love getting input from the actors because I think they have a lot of wise things to say about the characters that they’re about to inhabit.

Q: What made you choose the Frank Sinatra look for Neal in the pilot?

S. Maslansky: Well first of all, I need to be honest with you and tell you that I did not do the pilot. The pilot was designed by another designer named Cat Thomas, and I will have done all of the episodes after that, beginning on Friday of this week. Quite honestly, as far as I know, that designer also didn’t come up with that idea. The writer actually came up with that idea.

The writer, whose name is Jeff Easton, I’m sure you know, had it in mind that he’s not a real clothing person but he did have a sense of that era in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. He knew about Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. He was aware of that particular look and that’s not an era that’s difficult for, say, people in their forties and fifties to reach back and think about because some of us either recall that particular era, or we have parents who were alive during that era and we have old photos to get information from, and we have movies, and that sort of thing. So, it’s not something that we can necessarily not connect to. He appreciated that time, and he appreciated the music, and he appreciated what he saw of the style, and he wanted to work that into this particular character, Neal Caffrey, who in the story also has a very strong idea about style.

Q: It seems to fit Neal’s character very, very well, I think – the rat pack look and attitude.

S. Maslansky: It sure does. I mean, that guy was made to wear, to inhabit or embody that particular look. What I’ve done in particular, what Cat used— Cat combined vintage clothing with contemporary clothing in the pilot and that’s what I’ve done too, but I’ve probably started to incorporate more contemporary clothing.

[Photo: © 2009 NBC Universal, Inc.]

We’re very lucky right now because contemporary clothing for men, very modern and, shall we say the trend right now, is pretty much following that silhouette, very slim, the jackets look a bit shrunken. One thing I will say, the jackets were a bit boxier back in the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Now they’re far more fitted and that even has something to do with the fact that people in general are far more body conscious than they were back then. They work out and that is reflected in the contemporary look and certainly in our actors. They appreciate that style.

So we’re incorporating a contemporary feel, both in silhouette, as well as in color. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the colors were more toward the earth tones and more beiges, and browns, and oranges, and rusts, and more, sort of, fall-foliage colors. What we’re doing is we’re, incorporating what we feel is more of a New York sensibility at this time in the early part of the 20th century, more cool tones, blues and grays. It’s just, sort of, the pallet of the show that’s been chosen, that we’ve all chosen and that’s the direction that I go toward.

Q: Who’s been your most fun to dress so far?

S. Maslansky: You know, that’s a really hard question because all four of my lead characters have such distinct personalities that I really, depending upon the episode and the scene, I really don’t necessarily have a favorite. I have favorite costumes and I have favorite moments. I love dressing Mozzie. He’s so much fun, he’s so eccentric and he’s such a character. We’ve had a lot of fun developing his look and we have moved away, I think, a little bit from what his look was in the pilot. He looked a little more down and out, shall we say. Now he’s got a little bit more of a— you never know where Mozzie finds his clothes. He could find them under a pile on the street but he’s got a little bit more happening, a little more slickness, shall we say, a little more eccentricity, even more so, than I think, the pilot.

[Photo: © 2009 NBC Universal, Inc.]

Of course, I love dressing Tiffani because she’s got a fantastic figure and she loves clothing. You know, it’s my opportunity amongst the lead characters to dress a woman, and I of course love dealing with women’s clothes. So that’s been a lot of fun too, and women’s jewelry.

I don’t get a lot of opportunities to deal with jewelry on men, although Neal has fabulous tie clips and fabulous cuff links, many of which come from Thomas Pink. It’s really a lot of fun. Every time I read another episode, I either think of clothes he already has in this closet, or looks that I’ve seen on the street or in different shops that are going to be absolutely perfect for that particular scene in that particular episode.

Even Peter, Peter’s character, even though his character has been wearing the same suit for years and years, we’ve, sort of, refined that and even though he wears the same style of shirt and the same style of suit, we’ve had a lot of fun choosing things that do look good on him and do work within his particular silhouette too. Sort of a Brooks Brothers’ sensibility but we tailor his clothes. We tailor everybody’s clothes so they fit them really perfectly within the particular character.

Q: You said you create closets initially at the beginning of a season. Is that an ongoing process that you do, adding to it? Then once you get a script, do you essentially just pull from that closet and say, okay, Tiffani needs seven looks for this episode, and so we just pull from that closet?

S. Maslansky: It’s a combination of two things. We do create closets at the beginning of a series because we definitely want to have that to pull from. We know that there’s going to be a variety of, for example, Tiffani works as an event planner, so we know we’ll need work looks for her. We’ll need home looks for her; we’ll need event looks for her. So we do build somewhat of a closet initially for everybody, but as the series goes on and as the specific episodes require certain things, we add to the closet and then we’re able to combine purchasing new pieces, as well as the pieces that we initially bought for the closet. So, it’s both.

Q: I saw that this week’s episode actually centers on fashion week. So was anybody famous featured? Are they going to show any designers? Did you guys actually shoot at fashion week?

[Photo: © 2009 NBC Universal, Inc.]

S. Maslansky: Well, you know, funny that you ask. We wound up shooting the week before fashion week started and we wanted to use some beautiful clothing of some of the designers, but most every designer, as much as they wanted to work with us, they were absolutely too crazed with the upcoming fashion week. So it was a little frustrating at first, having to try and figure out what we were going to do, because we just assumed we’d be able to work with some designers but they were just so busy.

As it happened though, we wound up being able to work with a particular design house called, Luca Luca, and they were just wonderful to us. They loaned us clothes. They actually made some things specifically for us. They bent over backwards to help us out during that episode and we’re always going to be grateful to them for that.

I just love their clothes. We use them on Tiffani. We used them in the episode and it was a lot of fun working with them and they never made us feel as though, you know, they were squeezing us in. So that was great. Other than that, we didn’t necessarily work with any specific designers during that episode. We created a designer that supposedly designed one of the gowns that we used, but we didn’t work with anybody specifically, other than Luca Luca.

Q: Where do you get your material for your costumes?

S. Maslansky: I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean my research?

Q: The research and just where do you shop? A lot of our readers are going to want to know where they can get that look.

S. Maslansky: Right. I’m so lucky to live in the greatest fashion capital in the world. I’m able to shop in so many wonderful stores and utilize so many fantastic designers. So for Tiffani, for example, I’ve shopped Hugo Boss, Prada, and Michael Kors.

Burberry is one of our wonderful vendors who we love using. Like I mentioned, we use a lot of clothes from Thomas Pink, both for men and women. They have fantastic shirts, and jackets and skirts for women, as well as shirts and ties for men, and they’ve started a line of unbelievably tailored jackets and vests for men, as well. So we’re having a great time using Thomas Pink. Burberry is terrific. We use Moschino, Stella McCartney. We’ve used some Armani. We love using Philosophy, Alberta Ferretti. Let’s see. We’ve used Balenciaga, Gucci, we’ve used, Max Mara. I’m not just talking about Tiffani now. I’m giving you names of some of the designers that I’ve used on some of my day players as well.

We’ve used some fantastic clothes on a lot of our ladies. As far as Neal is concerned, we’ve been wonderfully fortunate to be working with, in particular, John Varvatos, Paul Smith and Calvin Klein. Oh, Calvin Klein, we’ve also used Calvin Klein on Tiffani. We’ve got some gorgeous dresses and coats from Calvin Klein for Tiffani, but for Neal in particular, we’ve used those designers. We’ve used a little bit of Theory and of course, again, Thomas Pink has been a wonderful vendor for us. So, in particular for Neal, Varvatos, Paul Smith, Thomas Pink, and Calvin Klein.

Q: You mentioned before that you had some favorite costumes that you just love. Can you talk about some of your favorites that you’ve done so far?

S. Maslansky: Sure. Well, I had a lot of fun in the episode that you’re about to see, pretty much because it did revolve around fashion week and two of my main characters got to wear stunning Herve Leger dresses. They were different than the ones that you see on a lot of the girls. Maybe I shouldn’t say this; oh, I’ll say it anyway. They’re different— Herve Leger is a favorite of a lot of the girls in Hollywood but I feel that the ones that we chose are a little bit different than the ones that you see a lot. So those were two of my very favorite outfits to use, to design.

Other than that, going to Neal, a lot of Neal’s clothes are so much fun to do because I’m able to get really dramatic with him because after all, this is television and I want the audience to be excited about what we’re doing. I want to strike the right balance between believing the character, not distracting from the character or his dialogue, as well as drama and fantasy. So that’s important to me.

[Photo: © 2009 NBC Universal, Inc.]

I’ve been finding some amazing outfits for Neal. There’s one episode that we do that takes place in Chinatown and his looks are really strong, very influenced by the rat pack in particular. The jackets are very, sort of; I call them shrunken looking and really fitted. One in particular, it’s a Varvatos jacket with a gorgeous— It’s trimmed in a darker fabric and when you see it in the episode, you’ll know what I’m talking about. All of his ties are very narrow.

In this same episode, I was able to use gorgeous Asian-influenced designs for the lead day player, who was a beautiful Asian woman. Those clothes came from Shanghai Tang on Madison Avenue and really, really stunning stuff comes from that shop, in addition to really beautiful, narrow-collared shirts, or Asian-collared jackets and shirts for the men. So those are a few of my favorite costumes.

Also, Tiffani has a really stunning azure Costume Nationale coat that I love using. I’ve used it once and I look forward to using it again. So those are a few of my favorites.

Q: With I guess fashion on television being really strong probably started a decade ago with Sex in the City. And then ever since then you’ve got Gossip Girl and Mad Men and all of these shows that seem to influence, you know, the trends and they’ve got blogs of their own. People StyleWatch does pages – how to get the Mad Men look, etc. Do you find in your circle of costume-designer people that work on sets, especially for television shows, has that whole trend of fashion on television being so prominent, has it upped everybody’s game where you— Obviously, you want the clothes to reflect the characters, but you’re also creating a really distinct look that people off the street, you know, they’ll distinguish that look as a time back to the television show.

S. Maslansky: Absolutely. I think that these shows have definitely, as you said, sort of, upped the ante in terms of designers needing to really understand modern dress, or not necessarily modern dress, but, I mean, the Mad Men, for example, has definitely influenced how people choose to dress. I think that in general right now with a lot of these shows, particularly the ones based in New York, there’s an elegance and a sophistication that’s being promoted far more than in past years, in past TV shows.

Q: Yes, actually all four of those were talking about you guys, Gossip Girl, Mad Men and— Does Mad Men shoot in New York? I’m not sure about that one.

S. Maslansky: It doesn’t; it takes place in New York, but it shoots in L.A. I think that the pilot shot in New York but they, you know, would have a hard time shooting in New York in terms of just exteriors that don’t exist anymore. So, you know, you never for a moment don’t think that it’s definitely happening in New York.

I think there’s an attitude in New York City that is definitely conveyed in the way people dress that makes this city far more unusual than other cities necessarily in the country where dressing and style is less important. Maybe Miami is a town where style has become quite important. I think, actually, that’s rather reflected in another one of the USA Network’s shows, Burn Notice, where the designer there is doing a really good job of establishing a particular Miami look. So, it is; it’s very important. Designers have to be really good at what they do in order to, you know, really find a very distinct and prominent style for their shows. Again, I want to just distinguish that, you know, make it strike the right balance between believability, and drama, and fantasy.

Q: Yes, because what I think is so great about the television show is while, obviously, they’re wearing lots of expensive designer clothes, etc., they still are characters that are supposed to be “real people” and functioning in their day-to-day lives. So if they can wear a chic dress all day long, then it makes you feel like you can wear a chic dress all day long. She’s functioning in her normal life. Well, why can’t I do exactly the same?

S. Maslansky: I want to add one more thing. I listed a lot of high-end designers just a few minutes ago and we do like to use those designers, but we also have a budget to stick to. We like to combine those high-end designers with other designers. We like to mix it up and I think it adds to the reality of how people really dress. People are, in general, a lot of people are very eclectic and people that are clever about how they dress, that’s what they do.

They’ll wear a vintage piece or they’ll wear something, a designer’s piece, and then they’ll mix it up with something from Daffy’s, or Century 21, or H&M, or Banana Republic, or any of those stores where you can do that. You can find a great-fitting pencil skirt from, for example, we found one from Daffy’s recently that was $30 and it looked amazing with a Valentino top that we had. So, you know, we do that often, partially because of budget restrictions and partially because that’s how, you know, I think it makes it look that much more interesting. So, there you are.

Q: With Halloween coming up this weekend, if Neal, Peter, Elizabeth and Mozzie were going to a Halloween party, how would you costume them?

S. Maslansky: That’s great! Oh, my gosh! Well, I’d allow them to go as exactly what they are not. Let’s see, I think that Tiffani would make a very— You know, I take that back. I think that I would elaborate on what they already do. Tiffani would make a wonderful and very sexy witch, or, you know, she’d also make a really great female devil.

Q: I can see that.

S. Maslansky: I could see Neal actually going for a really fantastic Star Trek look from the ‘60s, really exaggerated. Mozzie, I think that we’d make him into a really wealthy yacht captain. I think that we could make him look like somebody that’s incredibly wealthy. Or I’d have to think about Mozzie a little bit more because he’s such a character already.

Q: That makes me think of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or no, Some Like it Hot.

S. Maslansky: Peter, what would I do with Peter? I think that he could go as a Roman gladiator. I don’t know if he’d agree with me but—

You know what? I think we’d have to dress Mozzie up as a woman. I think he’d have fun with it.

I think I’ll have to talk to these guys about this because I really— From what I understand, I had a conversation with Neal about what he was wearing on Halloween. He said that he was going to be dressing up as a pirate, and I could definitely see that.

Remember to tune in to new episodes of USA Network’s White Collar airing Fridays at 10:00/9:00 central.

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