Deadline TV Contributor Elizabeth Snead files this report:
John Dunn began researching costumes for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire by scouring the legendary libraries at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, as well as photographs inside the Library of Congress. Executive Producer Martin Scorsese even compiled a 1920s film reel for the costume designer, who also visited New York vintage shops and Los Angeles costume warehouses. “That’s what really informed us about the construction, the fabrics, materials, details, colors. And the latter was really eye-opening,” says Dunn, who was Emmy-nominated for the first season of Mad Men “We are so used to looking at that period in black-and-white films and sepia photos. Not a lot of the original color survived. But if you take apart a hem or a seam in a vintage garment, you’re like, ‘Holy Cow! Look at that color!’ It was not a drab period at all. We were amazed by the colors even the men were wearing back then.”
Dunn used only authentic fabrics, nothing that did not exist in 1920, and often had to have fabrics specially woven for the men’s suits to get the proper period weight and texture. Steve Buscemi’s clothing was custom-made by master tailor Martin Greenfield, who could turn out a suit for the show in just four days, often in triplicate.
Fashion also reflected the era’s fast-moving social changes and increased freedom. “Women were liberated from the corsets of the earlier Edwardian era,” says Dunn. “The feminine silhouette became straight and rather shapeless.” Dunn chose Episode Four (“Anastasia”) for his Emmy submission:
— “I really liked the spectrum of characters in that episode. We have Chalky in his wonderful, colorful suits, a big birthday party that shows the rich and famous having a wild time in Atlantic City, as well as everyday folks and the working class. This episode has a strong overview of everything that we do on the show.”
— “Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta), Nucky’s first mistress, is seen wearing a real vintage find. It’s teal and has lots of little mirrors sewn on it. It also has a combination of fabrics that would only be put together in the Roaring Twenties when they were very experimental. We didn’t want to glamorize fur but, in our quest for authenticity, we couldn’t leave that element out.”
— “I had a lot of fun dressing the showgirls in the slightly sleazy Belle Epoque nightclub. So these particular showgirls’ costumes look a little tired and a little tacky. They were experimenting with nudity and how much they could get away with. They look like they’re naked but they’re actually wearing total body stockings because they would be shut down if they were really nude.”
— “I designed one of Nucky’s tuxes to resemble a tux worn by the Duke of Wales. I loved the shape of the Duke’s waistcoat. It’s tightly tailored, and it just creates a strong silhouette. I really wanted Steve to be transformed because his character is known to be a dresser.”