The sartorial influence of “Mad Men” — the Emmy-winning TV show has inspired everything from runway collections to in-store promotions — proves the truth of the adage “what goes around comes around.”
The show’s sleek, cropped suits and skinny ties — staples of Sixties office dress worn to dashing perfection by Don Draper, the show’s lead character played by Jon Hamm — have become a marketable touchstone for contemporary tailored clothing vendors and retailers, which, for the past few years, have promoted similarly slim suits.
So it’s no surprise the program’s costume designer, Janie Bryant, has seen her own clout grow since its debut, designing special edition apparel for retailers and booking speaking engagements and public appearances with brands that want to latch onto the show’s well-tailored shadow.
Now, after three years with “Mad Men,” Bryant is trying to solidify her newfound cachet in the fashion world via an agreement with Matchbook Company, which she has retained to ink licensing deals and guest designer partnerships with fashion brands.
“I am pursuing the licensing and guest designer collections at this time, so it enables me to continue in my current role with the show,” said Bryant, adding she’d like to launch her own line one day. “This approach allows me to branch out and use my creativity and ability to interpret period [fashion] to create designs for real collections that people can enjoy.”
It’s rare for a costume designer to cross over to fashion in Hollywood’s modern era — with the notable exception of Patricia Field — a reality that only highlights the unusual position of “Mad Men” as a period show whose fashion has modern relevance.
“The early 1960s in New York have this appeal,” said Bryant, a Tennessee native who won an Emmy for her costume work on HBO’s “Deadwood,” and who has been nominated for an Emmy for “Mad Men.” “It’s gorgeous, classic silhouettes. Americans have been so casual for so long, I think they long for this kind of considered dressing.”
Retailers have been quick to recognize the show’s fashion potential since it debuted in 2007. Both Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s promoted the Sixties look via “Mad Men” window displays last year. Michael Kors acknowledged his fall 2008 runway show — which featured trim suits and ladylike dresses — was heavily influenced by the show.
This year, “Mad Men” was a major message at Banana Republic, which decorated windows and stores with images of the show that tied back to slick, Sixties-inspired merchandise. And on Tuesday, Brooks Brothers unveiled a “Mad Men” special edition suit that Bryant modeled after one she designed for Don Draper. Brooks Bros. has been donating and making clothing for the show’s male characters since its first season.
“We have worked with [Bryant] since the beginning of ‘Mad Men’,” said Brooks Bros. chief executive officer Claudio del Vecchio. “Given the look of the show and our own involvement, the idea of the limited edition suit seemed a natural for us.”
In addition to the suit for Brooks Bros., Bryant was hired by Joseph Abboud to talk to customers about achieving Sixties style (A good starting place, she said, is having Jon Hamm’s looks). She also designed a dress for Oprah Winfrey for her recent show on Sixties style.
While it’s unclear whether Bryant will get to use the “Mad Men” name in partnerships she creates through Matchbook, she said the licensing agent is close to inking a few deals, adding she is looking to guest design men’s and women’s apparel, lingerie, swimwear, home, footwear and accessories.
New projects aside, Bryant plans to continue with “Mad Men,” which is airing its third season. “The show is too good and it’s too much fun,” she said. “Think about it: this is a show where all the characters look so chic and amazing, but on the inside, are miserable and unhappy. That is rich territory for a costume designer.”
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