On ABC's hit series Black-ish, about an extended upper-middle-class family going through typical suburban family motions with a gimlet eye towards race, characters have an incredible sense of style that sets the tone for the show. Colors are bright, styles are simultaneously nuanced and over the top, while the detailed fantasy sequences and flashbacks Black-ish is known for are pure magic.
The strong, vibrant look of the show's characters come courtesy Costume Designer Stacy Beverly, who cut her teeth on UPN's beloved Girlfriends (as well as The Game and All of Us) and is currently also working on her own clothing line. As Black-ish completes its successful first-season run, Jezebel spoke with Beverly about what goes into creating the show's unique sartorial feel.
Jezebel: Tell us about transitioning from studying design to designing costumes for TV. And how do you go from an idea to a sketch to a reality?
Stacy Beverly: It was an easy transition to me. Costume design sharpened my senses as far as fashion and design go. TV and film are so much more unforgiving. Close ups, tight angles and high definition add ten pounds to everyone. Not to mention the patterns and dynamics. It forces you to consider so many more things than regular life does. You've got to be on it. I've done some scary things early in my career. I've learned to be more meticulous as far as fashion is concerned.
As far as bringing ideas to reality—it all starts with a concept or an idea, a need. It's got to be stylish. And then style tends to be an extension of your personality and who you are and how you're feeling. Only then do I start doodling and sketching. When I've got the basic idea down I picture the colors and shapes and then I'm off to the fabric store and start swatching. For film and television, all of it starts with the script. I read the script first. Television is much faster. We don't have much time. There's more shopping and fitting and rebuilding altering. For film you have more time. Television is film condensed.
Black-ish combines humor with underlying serious messages and incorporates different age groups and a mixed familial socioeconomic background. How do you go about creating something unified that clearly shows the look of the show while incorporating all of these moving parts? The bold and defined look brings to mind the elegant cartoonishness of Clueless.
Thank you for noticing. To me, Clueless is that youthful Sex and the City—it's a conscious effort to pull everything together. That's kind of my stamp on shows I do. We get to put it out there, exhibit what we as black people might consider "insider" style—a uniqueness and all the places we come from. One moment we can be in the neighborhood we grew up in, and we have that type of look. Then there's the look that we go out into the world and show off. A lot of us are well traveled and educated, and that aspect of our personality combines with the couture and edginess. A big melting pot of experiences that I like to portray in the wardrobe. It's just about setting the tone for the show and portraying each character. They live together in the house, and they influence each other. The parents, who grew up a certain way; the kids who develop their own style and fashion as they go to school. They have different experiences that show in their clothing.
What about the flashbacks and fantasy sequences? Tell us a bit about that and your use of bright colors throughout.
You are watching so closely! In the flashback or fantasy, we try to be clear about what we're showing and when they take place. Sometimes they're recent and sometimes they're very far back. Sometimes it can be a flashback to earlier that day or the day before. A place where Dre (Anthony Anderson's character, an advertising executive) is at work that's pretty easy and cut and dried. For the period stuff, we have to research and go a little deeper into it. Dre is from Compton—is that Run-DMC inspired? What kind of cars? What's the structure of the shirts or patterns that they wear? Dre is himself, so we think what even in flashbacks Dre should be wearing what he alone would wear at that point in his life.
The cinematographer is so good and that allows me to have fun with the colors. The fantasies start in the writers' mind. In the Valentine's episode, we showed two generals at war. In that case, I got to go to the costume house, and I think we used WWII costumes—I think it was a Russian general and an American general. We went on a quest to embellish and decorate their costumes, and that was the fun part, the epaulets and medals and chaps and boots. These fantasies get pretty elaborate.
You've worked with Tracee before on Girlfriends. What's it like to create different looks for such different characters portrayed by the same actress?
It's pretty easy. Tracee is fun and stylish and pretty open and she has a lot of depth and intensity as an actor, and she's able to transition well. The same goes for her wardrobe. She translates to this quirky anesthesiologist and a flower child and in a very different way than she did from the attorney she played on Girlfriends.
What about the men on the show?
It does take a little more digging and creativity putting together the looks together for the guys. Mens' clothing lines are limited colors and sizes. So we use a lot of up and coming designers, and there's a lot of altering. In a way, it's even more challenging finding a color palette and a great fit and combining the new brands and designers and creating a whole new look.
In the end, my work is about sharing visual stories to form the show. And the show is not just for black people. It's just a spin on the word.
Rachel Weingarten is a lifestyle writer and columnist and native of Brooklyn. She's also a style expert, personal brand consultant, and former celebrity makeup artist. Rachel is the author of three nonfiction books, including Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year(Fall River Press, 2014) For more about Rachel, visit her online hub or tweet her @rachelcw
Black-ish airs Wednesdays on ABC. The season finale concludes Wednesday, April 8.
Images via ABC