Today, Netflix drops their latest series, Girlboss, based loosely on the life of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso and her book of the same name, with Britt Robertson as the brash but undeniably stylish titular character. (Speaking of, The New York Times has an interesting take on the challenges of making a show about a somewhat unlikeable protagonist, a real person who also happens to be one of your executive producers; Racked also did a great fact-checking piece on the series.) The show is sartorially compelling, rampaging through the San Francisco of the mid-Aughts with great visual style. Given that the clothes in Girlboss are as much of a character as Sophia is, we were especially delighted to get on the phone with the show’s costume designer, Audrey Fisher — who’s also the woman behind the costumes in Man in the High Castle and True Blood — to talk about the joys and challenges of outfitting a television show that’s truly all about the clothes.
GFY: Girlboss is set in 2006. That doesn’t feel so long ago — but looking back at it, it is visually a totally different time. Could you talk to us a bit about how you crawled into the aesthetic of that era?
AUDREY: We really wanted to make sure that we were placing the story when it happened in the mid-2000s, and we did a lot of research. I basically relied heavily on internet research, and magazines — I went to vintage magazine stores to find old Peoples and old Vanity Fairs, and I have a stash of that stuff as well. I tried to find images that were appropriate to San Francisco in the middle of the 2000s, because San Francisco, of course, has a much more ecletic look and feel than LA or New York, or any other big urban metropolis. It’s just very funky. There’s a lot more risk-taking and a lot more accessories and I really noticed that when I was putting all my research boards together. So, I basically quickly saw the trends that were happening then and realized that, even though it’s only twelve years ago, it’s so different. Today’s silhouette is much more streamlined, and sleeker — in terms of jeans, especially. Like, the jeans of that time were sort of the low-rise, wide-waistband style. The skinny jean was starting to come in — the Gap started to do it in 2006. But if you looked at normal people on the street, it’s wide-legs, boot-cut, with the three-inch inseam and the three-inch-wide belt. They’re like hip-huggers almost. That tiny little zipper, right?
AUDREY: Cropped sweaters, cropped little jackets, little vests. Remember that satin craze? Like, satin slip dresses, and those satin sort of cargo pants? There was also the ironic tee shirt moment, like “Free Winona,” and the Dare logo, and then trucker hats. Trucker hats were really in. The western shirt craze started then. So there were a lot of very strong trends happening. I was really trying to at least, with our background, create a really strong sense of the era. With the principal characters, I didn’t want to create such a retro feel. I really wanted them to feel a little more timeless, and reference the period but not too strongly. So I really tried to give us that backdrop that made you feel like it’s not now, and then with the principal characters be a little more specific to their body-types and what looked good and what felt good and sort of keep it classic. And then of couse, with Sophia and Annie [Sophia’s best friend and partner – J], they both have such distinctive styles, they aren’t related to the mid-2000s as much. Sophia’s always rocking her 70s look, and Annie goes a little mod. She’s got her own thing going that’s not specifically 2006. So it was a really careful calibration between really giving a sense of 2006 and not hitting it too much.
GFY: It was interesting to see that Sophia was wearing, as you said, kind of a mid-2000s interpretation of a 70s look. It’s almost like Costume Inception: We’re in 2017, and she’s in 2006, and she’s wearing 1973. It all starts to fold in on itself, which must have been challenging. Other than just keeping that all straight in your head, do you think the aughts felt as distinctive as the 70s do, in terms of costuming?
AUDREY: I really see it. I think for the average person, the farther away the decade is, and the more celebrated the decade is, and also, the more political references the decade has, and news events and politics events — certain looks and silhouettes get burned into our minds. When it gets into the 2000s and beyond, I doubt most people would think that something set in 2006 would look any different than it does n0w. I think they’d be surprised to look at the research and be like, “oh! Wait!” Because, you know, a lot of us still have things in our closets from ten years ago, or five years ago, that we might still wear. Things time out a little less slowly nowadays. Because that’s how fashion is — it’s sort of gotten homogenized. It was really fun to be able to go back to the 70s for Sophia and have that distinctive, specific look on her, and then try to figure out how to show people that 2006 is different as well.
GFY: How many of the costumes were you able to source, and how much did you create yourself?
AUDREY: My favorite thing of course, as a designer, is to build things for characters. However, when you’re working in film and television, the thing that is the issue is the schedule. The production schedule is really the master, and what drives us and drives production. So usually what I have to do is work with the schedule and figure out what I’m able to make within the deadlines that are already on the books. I do my best to try to plan things out as far as possible, but sometimes you just don’t have a script or you haven’t had a meeting. So, for Sophia, I really had to make it a priority. She has such a specific look, clothes are her thing. And Britt is petite, she’s a petite, gorgeous creature, and I really couldn’t find that much stuff, vintage or otherwise, that would fit her. So I had to do a lot of alternations, regardless. It really was better for me, and I think for the show, and I think for the character, to build as much as I could. So, actually for Britt, I made quite a lot of stuff. And that was just my priority to make it happen and that’s what we did.
GFY: What was your turn-around? I know it’s never as long as anyone ever wants! Was it a super-tight production schedule?
AUDREY: Oh, yeah, when you’re doing a five-day comedy, which is what basically [this was], you’re supposed to have five days to shot the half hour of television, right? And you’re prepping and shooting simultaneously. You’ve got a prep period of five or six weeks. I think I had five. And then you start shooting, and then it’s just like a runaway train. You’re prepping and shooting. So there’s kinda no turnaround. Everything has to happen right now. If you’re lucky, you can get ahead of something by maybe a week, but that’s kind of unusual, because you can’t prep too far ahead because script revisions aren’t out or you haven’t had your production meeting or you can’t get the fitting because the actress is in scenes all day, so there’s no time for her to come to a fitting. Sometimes I’d fit things at 8 p.m. that [filmed] at 6 a.m. Ideally, I like to have 48 hours between doing a fitting and it going onscreen, but more often than not, I wind up fitting the day before. Not because anyone wants it to be that way, but because that’s the way it is. It’s always a lot of time management. Turnaround can be a week to eight hours.
GFY: So, in terms of that — of just creating the clothing — how do you go about the process of figuring out who these characters are, and what they would wear? How much of it is collaborative with the actor or the producers? Are you set free to do you own thing? I know this is probably also additionally challenging because your protagonist is a real person with a real sense of style. Did you work with Sophia at all? What’s the creative process as far as that goes?
AUDREY: It starts with the script. For all of us, it starts with the script. My first priority and my roadmap is the script, and I always start with breaking it down. I do it by character, just figuring out how many looks, how many days — what the scenarios are, you know? And just trying to imagine and understand what the requirements of a scene are. Like, if it’s a sex scene. Do I have to put the actress in something easy to get out of? Or, for instance, there’s a scene where [Sophia] has her hernia. [She flashes the hernia at a someone as a way to escape a sticky situation. -J] I had to make sure that her jeans had a really simple closure. You know, it couldn’t be a normal jeans closure. It had to be a zipper and a snap. Things like that. I’m trying to make sure that the performer can do what they need to do, and the clothes won’t be an impediment. And then, of course, there’s thinking about the larger portrait of everyone in the scene, and how the colors will balance and how the styles will balance. Then there’s even the metaframe of the production design — like, what’s the wall color? What’s the chair color? Are they sitting on a sofa? There’s all sorts of kinds of color balances and stylistic balances you have to take into account. But mainly it’s about what’s happening in the scene and what the clothes need to transmit, you know? And how the clothes can support the narrative.
AUDREY: So, yeah. There’s all that breaking it down, and then I do all this research, about the looks that I want. I always sort of instinctually know what I think it should be – you know, like, “I want it to be this.” Often, Kay [Cannon, the EP] gives me really great hints and/or notes in the script directly. Like there’s a red pant that comes straight out of #Girlboss, the book, and landed right in the script. And it was for me to make those perfect red 70s jeans. So it’s really helpful when you have a show-runner like Kay, who really understands costumes and really understands what they mean, and how they help tell a story. And she will want certain specific things to happen and to see certain specific things. Like, she gives me notes in the script directly so I will know, like, “Sophia, in red jeans,” so I know I’m making red jeans, right? And then I can go from there. Then I do research boards. I get tons of research. I go online. I have a huge library of photography books and all kinds of fashion books, just a bazillion books that are all over my house. I cull through them and find what I need, then I go shopping and look at all the magazines that could make sense. I look at vintage magazines. That’s the first step. Getting a bunch of research. Tear sheets, boards. And that’s how I had my first conversation with Kay, and Laverne [McKinnon, another EP]. We sat down, and I presented everything, and that’s when we figured out the direction we were going for each character. Then it’s up to me to create closets for each character and create looks for each scene. So it’s very collaborative at the beginning and then I’m sort of on my own, working through the script to figure it out. I always get approval from my fittings photos from the producers. Everyone takes a look and gives the thumbs up, and then I move on. So it’s a constant collaboration, really. First I sort of establish the language, then I just start the conversation. And it goes on for the whole duration of the show.
And Sophia was wonderful. She was so kind and supportive, in the beginning especially, when we were just getting started and having a lot of meetings and trying to figure out looks, and the vibe, and who the character of Sophia was and what she would be wearing, and all that. She was involved. She came and looked at all of my boards and looked at my first big batch of fitting photos and she had very kindly invited me to her home and I wound up going into her closet with her, and I feel like I saw everything in her closet. She pulled out so many beautiful pieces and many of them were from that time in her life, and she told me the story of each piece. I took pictures of everything and created a sort of bible of Sophia’s closet. And I constantly referenced those images when I needed a boost or a little bit of inspiration, like “what would this character be wearing for this scene?” I would just go back and scroll through it, you know? Like, “oh, oh, right, this. Oh, right, what about that?” And then I would try to use it as a springboard. And there were a couple of things that I actually did recreate because they just felt so right. Like, there was one jacket that I made that actually was complete a knock-off of a 70s jacket that Sophia used to wear. It’s turquoise baby cord, with ribbing, and stripes. I made it in multiples. Often we have to make things in multiples of the same costume, because of stunts, or rain, or whatever. So I made that, and I made a jumpsuit that I really loved, and that was really an homage to Sophia now, because she always rocks the jumpsuit and I felt it made so much sense to see Baby Sophia rocking the jumpsuit.
GFY: What’s your favorite costume from the show? Can you pick one?
AUDREY: You know, it’s so hard. I do feel like it’s the jumpsuit, because it is sort of an iconic piece for Sophia now and then. And it fits Britt so beautifully. I had an incredible full-time seamstress, and she got to know Britt’s body so well and her patterns were perfect. It was beautiful. So I really have a soft spot for that. Everything that I get to make, you have such a deep relationship with it, because you start with an idea, then you swatch it, then the pattern is made, and you fit it a couple of times, and then, there it is! It’s magical. I love what I do and that’s the most wonderful part of it, to be able to create things from scratch. That denim jumpsuit is, I think, really Girlboss.
GFY: Is there anything you made that never got used, or never made it to fruition? What’s the one that got away?
AUDREY: I gotta be honest, we had so many changes for Britt in each episode that I used a lot of clothes. I really went through a lot of stuff. All of the things I wanted, I’m pretty sure I got them on camera. I don’t really feel like there’s something orphaned that’s still hanging there, that I kept trying to get in. I’m pretty sure I used it all.
GFY: Is that an unusual thing? It seems like it must be a costume designer’s dream, to get to use everything they made.
AUDREY: Oh, yeah, it was great. She had so many changes per episode, and each look had to be so…cool, you know? There wasn’t ever really an outfit that could be, you know, “oh, whatever.” It always had to have strong perspective, and a strong visual look to it. It was funny, there’s a story arc where she goes to work at the art school, and when she’s wearing that uniform, that was so fun. We’d been putting her in all these spectacularly 70s outfits that kind of had to look really real. Like a girl who didn’t have a lot of money would piece it together. So they were spectacular, but real. And then to put her in this polo and chinos? It was so awful. [laughs] It just felt so wrong. Like, creating a character who had such a sense of expression through clothes that was so vital, and then her having to put on this uniform to go to work to get health insurance to fix her hernia, like, I really felt it! This burden of wearing this polo, and these chinos! And that’s when I thought, “oh, wow, this is so wild. Her story of clothes is so intimate, and intense, and you really feel like, this is just wrong! This person should never wear a polo and chinos.” It felt like a punishment. It worked perfectly for the storyline. So, yeah, I used so much. I think whatever is left in the closet is stuff I tried over and over again and it was never quite right. I didn’t have the right scene. I know there are still some gems, but there’s nothing I think back on mournfully. I really used all my best stuff.
GFY: Are there any good fashion Easter Eggs that fashion fans can look out for? Secret stuff that people should keep an eye out for, maybe that you sourced or that you made? Anything that you made that you want to give a special shout-out to?
AUDREY: Sunglasses are kind of an Easter Egg. They were such a distinctive part of how Sophia styled herself, and also styled her models. I became obsessed with finding amazing vintage Christian Dior, and other sunglasses, for her to wear. And it was challenging because Britt is petite, to find a smaller scale, and the right tone, and the right lens. I became obsessed with that. Also, one piece that I kind of cherish is the Orthodox cross necklace that [Sophia] wears. I saw it when I was in her closet, and I basically had it made. I felt like it was a talisman. It’s a Greek Orthodox cross that was her grandma’s, it has an extra long chain, it’s silver, it’s so simple. But that felt really special to me. That’s a reality link between fictionalized Sophia and real Sophia. And also her rings. Sophia has an incredible collection of Brutalist silver pieces, a lot of spheres and really cool orbs and silver things, and I went also kind of nuts trying to find and recreate really distinctive pieces. She always had a lot of rings on, beautiful bracelets. Very cool and sleek, Brutalist, amazing 70s silver. Most of it I think she found at flea markets. For her, it wasn’t expensive stuff. For me, finding it was harder, and it was more expensive. I scoured all the flea markets and all my vintage vendors to find things that I felt worked on Britt’s petite hands, so it wasn’t overwhelming. And then trying to find multiples, because we did a lot of insert shots with a hand-double. But I felt like it was so important to nail that detail, because I think that was such a huge part of Sophia’s look, her accessories.
GFY: And jewelry is such a personal part of someone’s look.
AUDREY: Apparently, among my crew that I’ve worked with for years and years, I’m kind of known as the crazy jewelry person! I’m super focused on always finding the perfect little charm necklace, or the rings that really tell a story. Like the opal with the little diamond chips that your dad gave you when you graduated from high school. I’m always trying to tell little stories like that, and [accessories] are a great way to do it. Because hands are often seen close-up. TV is often seen waist-up, because of the way that it’s shot and the way people watch it. And focusing on the hands and the earrings and the jewelry gives you a lot of bang for your buck, because that’s what the viewers are going to see. I like to be aware and tell a story with little special trinkets, and Sophia was a dream character for that.
GFY: What other television shows have great costumes? What are you watching now that you think is really great?
AUDREY: My most recent production before joining the Girlboss team was Man in the High Castle, so I was steeped in that early 60s alternate universe world for like two years. Being in a period world, doing period costumes, focusing down on all of those details was a joy. There’s something about having that more restrictive vocabulary, where you have to turn your eye back and go back in time and try to understand the trends and why things were being worn that way, and then try to skew it with the alternate universe. That such an amazing opportunity. And so I think that then I longed for period stuff [to watch] as well. The one I most recently watched was The Crown. I mean…I just gobbled that up. It’s the opposite of Girlboss, and maybe that’s the reason I liked it, because I watched it while I was doing this. It was a wonderful counterpoint. Michele Clapton [the costume designer] was phenomenal, and I know it was the most expensive series ever. That was really satisfying to me, to see the detail and the historical accuracy and the recreations of all of the royal garments, and how she interpreted those fashions. I thought it was beautiful. Of course, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, because of the craftmanship — it’s astonishing. I think Insecure is really amazing. I think Transparent is incredible. Contemporary, risk-taking, ground-breaking. I love it, I think it’s incredible, bold, wonderful, real. Those would be my two contemporary ones. What else? Feud, I’ve been watching. The costume designer and the assistant costume designer, we’re all in a really tight and close community, and I’m just a huge fan. I could go on! But I’m so behind, there are so many things I have to watch.
GFY: Isn’t that the truth? We better get back to it. Thank you so much for taking the time, Audrey!
If you enjoyed this GFY interview, you might like our chat about Sleepy Hollow's costumes with Kristen Burke.
[Photos: Karen Ballard/Netflix]