How ‘Julia’ Costume Designer Created The Show’s Vibrant Wardrobe
Julia Child has been a part of John Dunn’s life for as long as he can remember. As a child, he watched his public television cooking show, “The French Chef,” so often that it came to mean much more to him than just someone smiling encouragingly at him from the small screen. “She was one of those people who (had such an impact on me) — kind of like the idea of ducklings’ footprints on their mother, where you’re at an impressionable age when you look at something,” he tells TheWrap. “She was a very iconic person in my upbringing and in my DNA, almost, growing up in America at a certain age.”
So finding yourself years later designing the costumes for “Julia,” the HBO Max series about the chef who brought French cuisine to the American masses, seemed almost fatal. “It was awesome, great fun to get in and dive deep into researching this person who I thought I knew as a TV personality, but really didn’t know anything about his private life and his story,” said Dunn said. “So it turned out to be a wonderful trip.”
“Julia” tells the story of Child’s rise to culinary stardom, delving into the development of “The French Chef” for Boston public broadcaster WBGH in the early 1960s and exploring how fame changed her life. For Dunn, creating the wardrobe for this version of Child, played by English actress Sarah Lancashire, required understanding who the woman behind the apron really was.
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“His whole life, growing up in California and even his family history, which started in the East and then, with a very pioneering spirit, was part of the movement out West,” he said. “And his family built a great industry and wealth wherever they went, actually. And they ended up in wonderful Pasadena, where she grew up in luxury and didn’t have to cook because there was someone cooking for her family.
In addition to numerous written sources, Dunn also drew on Child’s extensive photo collection, including those taken by her husband, Paul Child (played by David Hyde Pierce in “Julia”). “One of his professions, actually, was a photographer, and he loved taking personal photos,” said Dunn, whose work on “Boardwalk Empire” earned him five of his six Emmy nominations. (The sixth was for ‘Mad Men.’) “In the years they first got married, he documented a lot of her look, her style. And then, of course, once she became known, more and more photographs of its surface that we were able to deepen and on which to base our work.
Here, Dunn walks us through what some of the key “Julia” characters look like.
Julia ChildSarah Lancashire
“I really wanted to define each of the characters and give them each a personal style because they’re all very individual and idiosyncratic and most of them are older and have lived full lives,” Dunn said. “The clothes had to reflect the journeys these people had taken.”
For Julia, he continued, “I have a few key notes that I was trying to hit. One of them was the fact that she had a very developed sense of taste and flavor and putting things together. And I wanted her clothes to reflect this interesting mix of patterns and colors, away from bland American cuisine, which was reflected in her wardrobe where she made interesting choices. I thought it was a reflection of his style of cooking and his desire to bring a sense of sophistication to the American palette.
With that in mind, Dunn mixed patterns, much like Child herself did, and created a series of striking looks, many tailor-made for Lancashire, like her green and yellow blouse (above) and its bright orange and red ensemble (below). ).
“I also wanted to reflect that she came across as an extremely confident person. Part of that was that she was very tall, probably six-foot-two, and had always stood out since she was a teenager. So she had used to be someone who stood out and I think she took that ball and ran with it. She reflected that in her wardrobe: she had a love of color. She loved patterns and loved put them together in an interesting way, which was also key to presenting her to the world and how people were drawn to her.
Dunn avoided making direct replicas of what Julia wore in real life, preferring instead to capture her overall spirit. “I always think it’s really important, instead of making a carbon copy of what that person was known for, even if they were very well known, you should always modify it a bit and it should be personalized for the actor particular one who’s playing the part,” he said. “It helps the actor a lot because then he doesn’t feel like he’s trapped in the asp, to use a cooking term, and can inhabit the character more comfortably.”
The one exception to this approach was the uniform Child wore on “The French Chef,” a blue smock emblazoned with the “Ecole des 3 Gourmandes” patch, a tribute to the informal cooking school Child ran in Paris in the 1980s. 1950 with Simone Beck. and Louisette Bertholle, her co-authors of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.“I thought it was important because people would be very familiar with it,” Dunn said.
Reviews DeVoto (Bebe Neuwirth)
Julia’s best friend on the show is an extremely sophisticated woman of letters who recently lost her husband. Thus, her wardrobe in sober colors reflects this period of mourning, while remaining perfectly chic. “That’s how you would have perceived her in real life because she had a full and cultured life in New York, her and her husband,” Dunn said. “And when he passed away, she was right up there in Cambridge, (Massachusetts), and away from that life, but (her style) didn’t go away. That elegance was part of who Avis was.
Dunn sourced the majority of Neuwirth’s costumes from vintage designers online. “Bebe wears vintage clothes so well,” he said. “Vintage clothing can be a tough challenge as it’s hard to find the right sizes. But we knew how to dress Bebe with a lot of designer vintage.
Alice NamanBrittany Bradford
The series features three impressive women who work in competitive, male-dominated workplaces. Brittany Bradford’s Alice Naman is an ambitious young WGBH producer who is the first to see Child’s potential and is instrumental in launching her show. As a young black woman in a 1960s company, Alice must prove herself over and over again, only to see her male colleagues take credit for her work. Her wardrobe at work is professional — think cute, soft cardigans and pencil skirts — and more conservative than the fun, vibrant designs we see her wearing at home (above). Although the character is fictional, she is key to the story.
Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott) and Blanche Knopf (Judith Light)
Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott) was the legendary publisher who rescued “The Diary of Anne Frank” from a pile of discarded manuscripts. In the series, she works with Blanche Knopf in her eponymous publishing house, where she publishes, among other things, a novel by John Updike and the second cookbook by Julia Child. She is a strong supporter of Child as she develops her television program. Like Avis, Judith and Blanche are at the pinnacle of sophistication, but their wardrobe has a harder, more formal edge, reflecting the corporate setting where high-ranking women were still anomalies.
“Judith Jones was a very, very famous editor. She was a powerhouse in what was truly a man’s world,” Dunn said. “She was mentored, of course, by Blanche Knopf, who was kind of molding her into a next-generation editor who had to prepare to be in this rather hostile environment of New York and the industry. of editing. Judith Light as Blanche, we have a lot of resources in Los Angeles of vintage couture that she wears for her office scenes, all the gorgeous costumes that she wears.
“I got really deep into the known thought processes and what these people had to go through on each of their journeys,” Dunn continued. “They were such a diverse group of people that Julia had around her that it was fun because there was nothing cookie-cutter about it.”
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