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'I haven't had a job since March 13': How costume designers are coping with COVID-19

Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- It's about five months into the pandemic, and no one is dressing for the screen. This goes for both the tiny, gridded screen of your WFH videoconference (admit it, you're still wearing sweatpants), as well as the TV and movie screens of Hollywood where production abruptly halted back in mid-March as part of California's effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.

One big difference, of course, is that while your on-screen wardrobe is totally your call, what appears on those other screens is the responsibility of a Hollywood costume designer who is earning a paycheck in the process. Since shutdown production means shutdown paychecks (unlike actors, directors and writers, costume designers don't get residuals), the first half of 2020 has found some of the most high-profile costume designers in the business -- Emmy and Oscar winners among them -- unexpectedly out of work.

We checked in with a handful of Hollywood heavyweights to see how they're faring, what they've been doing since the Hollywood dream machine ground to a halt and what they see on the horizon.

JANIE BRYANT

Known for her work on the "Mad Men" and "Deadwood" TV series (the latter of which earned her an Emmy Award for costume design), Bryant's recent work also includes "The Romanoffs," "The Last Tycoon" and "Why Women Kill." We caught up with her on July 15 -- just as she was crossing the border from Tennessee into Arkansas en route back to L.A. after a six-week visit with family.

Last gig: Designing costumes for the TV miniseries "The Old Man" starring John Lithgow and Jeff Bridges. "We had been filming since September and finished half the show and we were getting ready to go to Morocco to film the other half," Bryant said. "Then in March -- I think it was the 13th -- the day the Safer-at-Home ordinance came out -- they closed down (production). So we locked the doors and left everything like it was in a time capsule. We weren't supposed to wrap until mid-July."

 

Next gig: Designing costumes for the second season of "Why Women Kill," hopefully. "(Production) was supposed to start in mid-July and overlap just a little bit with 'The Old Man,' but we're waiting to get the green light," Bryant said.

Financial impact: "I'm down 100%. I haven't done any costume design work since March," she said.

In between: In addition to the Tennessee road trip, Bryant has used her unexpected down time to focus on two side projects. The first is designing a menswear collection for online custom men's shop Inherent Clothier with the label's co-founder and Chief Executive Taylor Draper. (It's in inspiration-board stage right now, Bryant said, and is expected to launch in fall 2021.) The second is something she vaguely describes as something in the "textile-hosiery-sock world."

"I'm very, very, very excited to be doing this," Bryant said, "because I'm from a Southern textile family, and this is where my roots are."

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