Within the first few minutes of Hulu’s new series “Welcome to Chippendales,” which debuted Tuesday, it seems like a story of the American dream.
But the story about Somen “Steve” Banerjee (played by Kumail Nanjiani) founding the world-famous male revue quickly goes from an entrepreneurial narrative to the darker history of Chippendales, including Banerjee’s arson attempts on rivals, arranging to have business partners murdered, and racketeering.
Banerjee started the original Chippendales in the ‘70s in West Hollywood, a hub for gay culture in L.A., where he was inspired by go-go dancers he saw at a gay club. It later expanded to New York and other cities over the years.
“’Welcome to Chippendales’ was a very research-heavy project,” said costume designer Peggy Schnitzer, who added that she found inspiration in old photography books and old films set in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. “The background team had so much research themselves, as they could be fitting up to 100 people a day. As I’m watching episodes, I think, ‘Wow, a lot of work.’”
Costumes seen on the dancers in the show range from the male version of the Playboy Bunny outfit — men donning white cuffs and tuxedo collars, but of course, no shirt — to cowboys in tear-away chaps.
“There is a system to tear-away pants,” said Schnitzer. “I am lucky to know Christopher Peterson, who costumed ‘Magic Mike.‘ When I booked ‘Welcome to Chippendales,’ I called him, and he guided me through fabrics that would work and wouldn’t work. Tear-away pants are so technical.”
The dancers’ pants, which are synonymous with the iconic Chippendales striptease, were custom-made for the show, Schnitzer said. “Then you must figure out how many pieces of snap tape to design a piece with, and it’s so different for each guy.”
Many of the actors who star as the Chippendales dancers came from dance backgrounds and Broadway, where they were used to quick changes, so Schnitzer said she lucked out in that regard.
“We had a lot of time to make it look effortless, and we had so much rehearsal time to practice the tear-away shirt and pants scenes,” Schnitzer said of the show’s most challenging wardrobe pieces. “There were no real disaster situations during rehearsal when it came to practicing with those pieces, but it was definitely a nail-biting situation where we were hoping everything was going to work and go smoothly.”
Customizing the G-strings proved an easier challenge than some might expect.
“The guys were all very comfortable with their bodies, so it was just a matter of making sure everything fit well,” Schnitzer said. “We had to make sure not to use fabrics that were too thin or revealing, so it was a lot of thick stretch fabrics that were double-lined.”
Schnitzer had to develop a costume wardrobe across multiple eras, with the story starting in the late ‘70s and going through the ‘90s. Between the main cast and the club scenes requiring many extras, a single episode could see Schnitzer doing up to 80 costume fittings.
One of the advantages she had going into the project is that she witnessed some of the history of that era and saw the club-wear looks in real-time.
“I was in New York and L.A. of clubbing age when Chippendales was on the rise,” Schnitzer said. “I started researching all the clubs I could remember to look at people and see people walking down the street. I looked at many fashion photographers and their work from that time to inform ideas of color. One of my biggest inspirations, especially for the ‘70s, was the work of fashion photographer Guy Bordin because his saturated color of greens and yellows all played into what I wanted to do with club clothes.”
For the real-life characters portrayed in the film, Schnitzer had pictures of them that she referenced to recreate their looks.
As the show continues, viewers will notice the characters’ clothes getting progressively more expensive in appearance, especially Banerjee. In real life, he had everything custom-made, from suits to ties, by the time Chippendales’ had become a national phenomenon by the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Banerjee’s secretary Irene (Annaleigh Ashford) also elevated her style, going from subdued secretary to a color palette that included lots of black and gold, and she accessorizes with plenty of jewelry.
Schnitzer said every character has a distinct look and arc for their costumes, except for actress Juliette Lewis’ character, Denise, the company’s costume designer, who always had the nightclub-ready look. Schnitzer used a lot of jumpsuits so the character would have clothes that could function in the nightclub, but also offered versatility for working.
Schnitzer said her favorite costume pieces were for the characters Paul Snider, a nightclub promoted and former pimp played by Dan Stevens, and Dorothy Stratten— Snider’s Playboy model wife who he murdered, played by Nicola Peltz Beckham.
“Dorothy’s clothes were so specific to a beautiful person that had such a tragic ending,” Schnitzer said. “I wanted each piece to be very noteworthy so the audience could remember her beauty. She wore a lot of my own vintage jewelry.”
“Welcome to Chippendales” is available to stream on Hulu now .