The costume designers of Pose, Lou Eyrich and Analucia McGorty were thrust into the unknown, in a beautiful way, while working on the critically acclaimed FX series. Created by Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, Pose is set in 1987 New York, looking at three segments of society—the downtown social and literary scene, the ball culture world, and a Trumpian luxury universe on the rise.
Starting out on the series, which returns for its second season tomorrow, the pair knew little to nothing about the world of ball culture, so the process that would ensue for the costume designers was one of constant discovery, on a number of levels.
Featuring a huge cast of principal characters, and several worlds where costume was king, both costume designers engaged in their own personal firsts with the production. McGorty was stepping up to the role of co-costume designer on a remarkably ambitious series, after years spent climbing the rungs of her department. Acting as both lead costume designer and a producer on Pose, Eyrich had never before shot in New York, turning to McGorty as a guide through the city’s finest vintage stores.
In order to come to grips with the nature of the ‘80’s underground ball culture, the pair excitedly embraced a deep dive into research, while constantly engaging in dialogue with a number of consultants in touch with this world. And the beauty of the process was the education that came with it.
“This is something that’s never been on television before,” McGorty says. “Ryan wants to make sure that everybody has a platform, and that everybody has a voice. But he also is really wonderful in educating the audience—and at educating us, as crew members. There’s so many things that we’ve had the opportunity to learn.”
For both of Pose’s costume designers, it was nothing short of an honor to be able to work on Murphy’s groundbreaking series, which features both the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles, as well as the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series. In expanding representation on television, fresh new perspectives began to emerge.
When did you first hear about Pose? Was there immediately a sense that this would be an exciting project to work on?
Lou Eyrich: I’ve worked with Ryan now for 20 years, and he mentioned it about a year before we started. We were working on other things—American Horror Story, etcetera—and when we finally found out that they moved forward, Ana came to LA, and we did a ton of research boards and such to show Ryan. That’s when the research and the script just kind of exploded into this fun project, in putting boards together for all the characters—Angel, Elektra, House of Evangelista, the ball culture. 12 hours would fly by and we’d still be working on these boards with such enthusiasm, and then when we got to New York, our workspace just exploded with all these great ‘80s clothes.
Analucia McGorty: I think, too, it was that thing where it just keeps building and building. You read the scripts, and the scripts are so exciting, and started researching—and of course, both Lou and I love the documentary Paris Is Burning. But that was just the starting point. When you read the script and the storylines, and start getting into the community, and talking to all of our incredible consultants, that adds so much to what we do. It was just so thrilling to be able to have the opportunity to be creative in this type of storytelling.
Eyrich: When we started doing the fittings with the actors—[with] their enthusiasm, getting to know the characters that way—we would play ‘80s music, and there was a lot of dancing and voguing, and everybody came in so excited.
Ana, this show is your first as co-costume designer. That must have made Season 1 especially gratifying.
McGorty: It was. Lou’s been a mentor of mine, and a friend for a few years before that, so any time I get the opportunity to work with Lou is exciting. She’s so creative, and the way that we work together is so fun because we can bounce ideas off each other, and it just gets bigger and better and more creative. Even now, as I’m in New York and she’s in LA, we talk at least two or three times a day, and that creative process is vital to the show.
So for me, it was thrilling to have this job that is the dream job for any costume designer. It is so incredibly creative, and so artistic and freeing, and there’s not tons of parameters that you have to be in. You’re reading scripts, and making mood boards for Ryan, and then we get to really play and build costumes, and our tailors are incredible. All of the good things came together for this—getting to work with my mentor, getting to work on a Ryan Murphy show, getting to tell these stories, but also just the building and discovery of things, even this season.
I’m not going to give anything away, but there were builds that we did on this show that were myself and tailors, talking to engineers, and figuring out how to construct things in a completely different way than we ever have. You don’t really get that opportunity in any type of television or film that I’ve been a part of.
Given the nature of this show, demands on the costume department must be remarkably high. Was the extent of its sartorial ambitions reflected in your department budget? Or did you have to get fairly creative, in order to elegantly dress the enormous ensemble?
Eyrich: We did have a pretty tight budget, surprisingly. It fans quite a ways out because of the consultants and the crew to pull off this big of a show, with a big cast. But Ana and I are really good at scouring vintage stores and thrift stores—and Ana drove across country from LA to New York and hit every town that had vintage stores, and collected along the way. We’d just find great pieces—this hat, and some magical jacket—and we were able to keep [the budget] down by finding great vendors, who had amazing stockpiles of ‘80s. ‘80s clothes aren’t that expensive yet, because they’re not true vintage. And the big pieces, you can make in house. We saved a lot of money by having an in-house tailor shop.
Ana, what was that road trip like? What kinds of discoveries came out of that?
McGorty: It was so fun. One of [Lou’s] first jobs with clothing was working at a vintage clothing store in Minneapolis, and that was also one of my first jobs, growing up in Santa Fe. So, going to vintage stores has been part of both of our stories for a long time.
Having traveled throughout the United States in bands and stuff, I knew which cities had the best vintage stores and the best thrift stores. So, I created a map for myself, based on where I knew some of the best ones were that people don’t go to that often. I would call Lou when I’d get to the city, and then we’d send photos back and forth, and look for things, and she’s like, “Oh, I think we need this.” I’d go to the place that had all the great men’s vintage hats that I knew was in Albuquerque, [but] some of my favorite ones were in St. Louis. There’s one part of St. Louis where they sort of all are. They were excited to show us because I’m telling them, “Looking for ‘80s and ‘90s”—and they would pull stuff out of basements, because nobody there’s looking for that. Then, I went to Pittsburgh, and one of the wonderful things about Pittsburgh is that’s where Billy Porter is from. He’s sort of like the hometown hero, so everybody was like, “Billy Porter!” [while] pulling stuff out. Taking me to a warehouse and picking through boxes.
Elektra’s white hat that we saw with the navy suit in the first episode came from Albuquerque, so that was one of the great finds on that trip.
Lou, you had never shot in New York prior to Pose. I understand that you went through a discovery process of your own, within that vintage scene.
Eyrich: Yes, it was quite the education. Ana had a connection with a store called Another Man’s Treasure, and they had a warehouse with really amazing pieces, a husband-and-wife team that scoured the United States. They were really great. The other [discovery] was Beacon’s Closet, which was more of a formal exchange kind of place. But you would find great 80’s prom dresses that we could harvest things off of —the ruffles, or the sequins—and then build [into] a dress. So, we were able to find a lot of treasures. New York is just a very inspiring place to work.
Could you give your take on some of Pose’s core characters, and how you amplified a sense of their individuality through costume? It must have been challenging to keep everything sorted in your mind.
Eyrich: I’d start out by saying that Ryan Murphy is very precise in his vision, so he gave us a template of how he saw each character, and we riffed on that. Then, we did the boards, and he’d say, “Yes, no. Yes no. Yes, no.” So, that really refines it for us.
With Angel [Indya Moore], because she works at the piers, she wanted that kind of edgy, streetwalker look. But there’s a sweetness and soul about her, so [we were] always bringing in pinks to keep her soft and pretty, [with] crazy, high-waisted fishnets and layers of short shorts, and tall boots to give her that hooker feel, playing on finding that balance in her. And Ryan wanted some kind of fur coat that really moved in the wind, so he had ideas that we would build the character on.
McGorty: Pray Tell [Porter] is such a dandy, and he’s got incredible taste. He’s a designer and a tailor, so he would be very stylish [and in step with] up-and-coming trends. He would start them, or already know what was coming out of Paris. The cool thing about dandies is that it’s not necessarily masculine or feminine, and that’s something that’s been around since the 1900s. So, it’s something that is more about style than fashion. Even in what we’re shooting now, Lou will send pieces that would be from the 1920s, and we would add it with something from the 1980s. Then, we would find these great pants, and zoot suits and things, and just build on it.
Eyrich: In the beginning with Pray, we used a lot of bold colors, so that when he stands up at that podium, he really stands out. He’s loud and proud as the emcee [for the balls], so we’d do bold yellows or reds, or a big leopard coat, just to show his boldness.
How did you arrive at an array of costumes that would work for all the different ball categories explored in Season 1?
Eyrich: That’s where I really relied on our consultants, who would explain each category, and what it would be like if you have banjee boys and banjee girls, or [“executive realness”], or whatever the category, so that we really had an understanding of it, and it wasn’t just us putting costumes on bodies.
McGorty: We had incredible consultants who were part of the ball season [during the ‘80s], and also ones that are part of the ball community now, just being sure that we’re honoring and respecting exactly what that category is. Because it’s a very serious thing to these communities.
Eyrich: On top of the category—the ball walkers and our principals—there’s also several hundred background that get dressed for every ball. Lots of times, Ryan would walk the crowd and pull people out and say, “I want her to walk the ball,” or “I want him to walk the ball.” He would walk the streets at lunchtime and go into a vintage store; he’d find headpieces and text me, “Go buy these headpieces,” and they would be in the scene that night.
What were your favorite costumes or favorite moments from Season 1?
McGorty: Oh, there’s so many. I loved when Angel is in her little sailor hat in the first episodes. I think that was really great.
Eyrich: That opening scene where they’re all in the apartment in their street looks. Anything in the beginning when Elektra and Blanca would face off. I loved those moments.
McGorty: I also love all the moments that Pray Tell is at home. His looks when he’s at home are some of my favorite things that we put together, with these velvet dressing gowns, and these beautiful, silk-printed 80’s pants. Just seeing that hits all of the things that inspire me, personally, in life—that Harlem dandy, mixed with art nouveau.
Lou, as of the last year, you’re working as both a costume designer and producer on Ryan Murphy’s shows. What has this meant to you, personally?
Eyrich: Well, it’s always my tribute to Ryan Murphy. He is so generous, and I really fell off my chair when he called me and said, “I’m going to make you a producer.” For a little while, I didn’t even know what it meant. He just was really interesting in helping me with the whole pay equality. It was pre #MeToo, but he just saw me contributing a lot to all of his productions, and not being recognized for it. Because costume designers often aren’t. But he recognized it, and it’s such an honor.