“It was immediate Roman Colosseum,” says Molly Rogers, costume designer of “And Just Like That,” the reboot of “Sex and the City,” sitting from inside the show’s costume closet on the set at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. “Thumbs up, they live. Thumbs down, kill, kill.”
Such is the reality that Rogers and her co-designer, Danny Santiago, were faced with, as those in charge of the costumes for a reboot of one of the most influential cultural phenomena in the fashion space.
“We knew we were being judged severely every time an actor or actress walked out of their camper,” Rogers continues.
But the pair kept their focus, and today, as “AJLT” premieres, at long last diehards of the original and new fans alike get to see their creations, and how they’ve interpreted the fashion of Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte (and four new characters as well) for life in 2021.
Rogers, originally from the South, has lived in New York since 1984, and met Patricia Field the day she moved to the city. She started working at her store, and would go on to collaborate with her on projects like “The Devil Wears Prada” and “SATC.” She worked with Field since the beginning of season one of “Sex and the City,” making her a natural successor for “AJLT.”
Santiago, meanwhile, got his fashion start in Miami, and, a vintage specialist, linked with Field and Rogers when they were in Florida for the “SATC” films.
When she got the call offering her “AJLT,” Rogers initially tried to talk herself out of doing it.
“But then [I realized] that I wanted to get back into the circle of life with the girls. Like, it was really exciting. I was just telling Danny, it felt like a high school reunion,” she says. “Then, we started making our plans for world domination and what we were going to do.”
The show has shot throughout the pandemic, which provided Rogers and Santiago with new challenges from a logistical standpoint, as well as a call to arms to bring a level of joy to the show through clothes.
“We lost a lot of stores that we would normally count on in television, in episodic television,” Rogers says of the pandemic’s effect on retail. “One specifically, which I don’t think you can really do episodes without it, and it’s sorely missed, is Century 21.”
“Also, the stores didn’t have the same hours as before either,” Santiago says. “That was tough, too, because stores were pretty much opening up at 12 p.m. and closing at 6 p.m. So, we didn’t have all that time. We had to really concentrate on where we needed to go. Concentrate on the neighborhoods where we were going to shop. We did a lot more online shopping, I think, than we normally would have done. They were open all night.”
The pandemic also affected what kind of fashion they wanted the women to be seen wearing — chiefly, pieces that would inspire joy and creativity.
“Danny and I talked about this a lot, because before, while we were prepping and we knew everyone was coming out of what I call ‘Zoom and doom’ clothing looks, we really wanted to heighten things and make it colorful and happy,” Rogers says. “We were interested to see what the scripts would hold. So, we definitely wanted people to have eye candy. Definitely.”
“And celebrate,” Santiago adds. “Celebrate coming out of this. Celebrate New York City. Celebrate something new that we’re so excited about with this project. You know, there’s so much anticipation with the fans and we really wanted to bring something to them that we could bring them. And make it happy and fun and creative.”
The pair focused on silencing all the outside noise and following Field’s wisdom to “shop what you love,” and put together their dream wardrobes. Shooting in New York City meant paparazzi shots came out whenever scenes were filmed on the streets, and people would rush online to voice opinions.
One of the earliest controversies was around a long bohemian-style dress worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, which people quickly assessed — “wrongly accused,” Rogers says — of being fast fashion.
“Actually, that was a piece that we’d brought up from Florida — part of an archived piece that I had, from some of the things that we brought up,” Santiago says. “And that happened to be a dress that had no label in it, that I had purchased maybe five years prior. I got it at a thrift store. I think I paid maybe $5 or $6 for it. And had no idea where it came from. We had it in our fittings. We had pulled it as one of the looks. It was something that Sarah Jessica had pulled out. There was also a storyline to it. How we wanted to use it in the shot we had.”
“There was a reason for it,” Rogers says.
“So, again, we had no idea of what it was or where it came from. It was just, I thought, a vintage piece that we had,” Santiago continues. “And then afterward, it became this thing and we were as surprised ourselves. But, I think because of the way that it was purchased, from what I can tell, it was probably from the original designer. We found out that this was a piece that Forever 21 knocked off from an Indian designer. But, I think it was more recent when that was done. And because of the timeline that I had gotten it so long ago, I think it was the original piece. That’s as much as we know.”
They did their standard mix of shopping for new items and vintage pulls, as well as some custom commissions, which is, as Rogers says, “not the easiest thing to do on episodic television.”
One such piece is a floral Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress that SJP wears, which came together purely by chance of Oscar co-designer Fernando Garcia being in the area on shoot day.
“We saw the schedule and we realized we had like a week to get something for that scene. It kind of snuck up on us. And, Fernando, that day, happened to be in the neighborhood,” Rogers says. “Not just in the neighborhood, but with swatches. I mean, I don’t know if he’s a mind reader, but he ran over. [Sarah Jessica] was in hair and makeup. We looked at the swatches. He ran away. And that magically appeared.”
Each of the three original characters — Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda — already came with their own fashion identities, so it was a matter of modernizing their styles and imagining how their fashion sense would’ve evolved.
“What we brought in new was just updating it. Making it more modern. Working with new designers, new young designers, internationally,” Santiago says. “Because of Instagram, we were able to find all these new people that we could bring in. But again, sticking to what the girls had already as far as their types of looks.”
They also had full access to Sarah Jessica Parker’s archived wardrobe, full of all the pieces she’d saved from the original — in other words, a costume designer’s dream come true.
“In the beginning, she said ‘you have total access to my archives.’ And I went through it all, and cherry-picked,” Rogers says. “I was like, ‘that’s something the fans would want to see again.’ We didn’t want to overdo it. We wanted to treat those kinds of things as precious. Like the Roger [Vivier] belt. But, in the end, we really dug a lot of stuff out of archives, because we had a closet we needed to dress. And you know, we ended up taking more than I thought we ever would personally.”
“And, I think that also says something about how people really dress,” Santiago says. “You know, they do reuse things out of their closet. They do put something away and they bring it back out again after a few years. If it was a favorite piece then, you still have a love for it. It’s almost like a special piece that you never want to get rid of. Especially with her clothes, because they are so one-of-a-kind, a lot of them. The vintage pieces. Or the designer pieces that are so coveted by people. There’s so much excitement to see them come back out again. It was great.”
Both promise there are plenty of fashion Easter eggs tucked in the episodes throughout the season.
“There’s things to look for. I tried. We tried,” Rogers says. “There was one I wanted to sneak in, the Judith Leiber cupcake bag. I wanted that deep background from somewhere. But I heard that people hated what happened with that bag so much that it would trigger them. So, I didn’t use it. Kristin Davis had posted it. It was sitting in here on a shelf, and Kristin had posted it on Instagram. And people went nuts. Because that’s where Lily hid the cell phone [in the original]. And people were like, ‘kill, kill.’”