It’s hard to picture Jenn Rogien where she started out—at Yale, studying chemical engineering. Now, she’s clearly found her true calling, which she shows off running the costume departments for both Girls and Orange Is the New Black. And neither seems particularly easy, with the former involving four extremely different, always changing characters, and the latter rooted in regulation orange prison jumpsuits. We chatted with Rogien while she was in town to introduce Winners’ fall offerings and found out how she wins at her job, and why she feels a little stalker-y sometimes.
How did you land your gig on Girls?
I was assisting a designer on The Good Wife, and one of the producers on the show was friendly with one of the producers on Girls and it came up that they were in the process of looking for a designer. My producer on The Good Wife recommended me, and then I drafted the most important cover letter of my life, put together a pitch and went in for an interview. It was both a completely atypical job process, and also the most normal.
How does what you do contribute to telling the stories about these really strong women?
I love dressing characters, which is why I do this in the first place. But a character that is strong good, strong bad or any kind of strong is fun because what I do needs to be a bit more subtle and supportive, and a bit less cartoonish. So there’s a challenge in dressing strong characters because I don’t need to bring a lot. But it’s also an opportunity for me to back off and let the actors really bring what they bring and let the writing bring what it brings to the story and have a little bit of fun. I love dressing strong characters, particularly strong women.
I read that when you did your research for Girls, you wandered around Williamsburg and just observed people. How did you do your research for OITNB?
I’m afraid I’m going to get labeled as a notorious stalker, because I’m such a people watcher. And not just for Girls and OITNB. I’m constantly watching what real people do because so much of the writing I’m attracted to is about real, complicated characters. It just helps me to see how real people are putting themselves together, even if it’s in a completely unstylish, unfashionable way. To me, that’s just as interesting. Girls tends to be much more street style focused, and for OITNB, it’s more historical and research-oriented. It’s a combination of what we find online, historical references, books and photography, especially for flashbacks. For the characters who are not in prison and are current day, it’s back to my people watching.
What are some of your favourite looks from both shows?
Marnie’s plastic dress [season 2, episode 6] will always stick out for me because there were so many things wrapped up in that one costume. I got to build it for the show, and it was such a signifier of what was going on in her head in that moment. For OITNB, the Miss Rosa flashback was really fun for me and my team because we felt a little bit like we were making a mini ’70s action movie. I’m incredibly lucky that both shows are constantly evolving, and there’s always some new fantastic challenge that we’re up against that really keeps us on our toes.
Speaking of which, the characters on Girls have really changed since the beginning. What kinds of challenges have you faced in helping these characters evolve visually?
My main challenge on the show is keeping up with those girls. I live in Brooklyn, so I’m able to see how it’s is changing and translate that into the show. A lot of that is just taking my cues from the writing, and what Lena and her brilliant team of writers are doing with their stories. With Marnie, she started out in one place, and has come to know herself in a different way, so we’ve just tried to tie that in with her looks and keep her looks in sync with where the story is going. Hannah is the same. We took advantage of the GQ moment to really turn her look in a way that was more assertive and more put together. All of the characters are evolving, and they’re at a time in their lives where they’re changing pretty quickly.
Neither Girls or OITNB are really “fashion” shows. What is unique about working with characters who are more raw?
The biggest thing about the shows is that they are real women characters on screen and in a lot of instances, we are taking beautiful, glamorous actresses and turning them into these everyday characters, and that’s a challenge. Making them look like inmates and neighbourhood residents and stripping away the conventions of television and beauty to let the story shine through is a real challenge. It’s really been gratifying to see that find an audience and strike a chord with millions of fans.
Do you find working on these shows is more like styling a “real” person?
I think I get to have more fun playing dress up here with Winners because the clothes are so amazing. We talk a lot about where our characters would shop, and we do rely a lot in on these stores, because that’s the accessible price point for our characters. We do really make an effort to shop where our characters might really shop.
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