Well Suited: The Man Behind ‘Damages’ Chic Style

by | March 11, 2009 at 11:24 AM | The Ziedgeist, TV News

Thanks to its intricate storylines and A-list actors, Damages has enjoyed much praise, including time in the Emmy spotlight. Less noticed: It’s one of TV’s most stylish shows. Not trendy. Think classy, smart and sophisticated. Just listen to Glenn Close. When asked what she likes best about starring as the legal thriller’s brilliant, cutthroat lawyer Patty Hewes, she replied, “Patty’s clothes.”

Agreed – and that’s said enviously. Credit goes to wardrobe supervisor Frank Flemming, whose job is outfitting Close and co-stars Rose Byrne and Tate Donovan. By creating the classic looks with ultra stylish designs from Givenchy, Akris, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Venetta, and Narciso Rodriguez, he’s proved that in the fast-paced world of high-profile litigation, there’s no defense for bad taste.

In an interview last week, Flemming said his goal in dressing the cast is to make everyone look “effortlessly chic.” He also dished on his inspirations, why it’s been so fun to work with series newcomer Marcia Gay Harden this season, and he addressed other burning questions, like where he found Patty’s “signature sunglasses.”

When you first got the script for this show were there any designers who immediately popped into your mind for these characters?

The first season there was designer who I worked with for Glenn in particular named Domenico Vacca. He was sort of the first choice. He does a lot of her more serious suiting and her shirts. But the second season I just wanted to make it more rounded, a little softer, and a little cleaner. For Ellen I used Akris, and she wore Loro Piana, and some other designers like Yves Saint Laurent, and Martin Grant. So it was a bit of a mix there, but it was more in the direction of trying to make the character more fully developed.

Watch the latest episode here.

I assume you’re getting all the suiting tailored to everyone’s frames?

Oh yeah. I have an on-staff stitcher. Glenn’s suits, some of them are made to order and then tweaked. Rose doesn’t actually require too much tailoring because she’s a little slimmer this season, and it all just sort of hangs the right way.

With Rose, the idea in the first season was that she was a little bit green, and a little bit new to that world. This year she’s been up to a lot and her lines are a lot sharper, and she’s a lot more confident. So that opens up a lot. There wasn’t a specific designer I had in mind but I think it’s about understanding her shape. Cleaner is better. She wore Bottega, she wore Narciso, and she wore Givenchy, but at the same time she looked cute in her Urban Outfitters and Zara stuff.

Ellen was “a bit green” in the first season, is it any coincidence that so much of that season we saw her running around in that green trench?

No, but we can make it one! That trench coat we just picked in terms of something popping on the screen.

Who makes it?

I think it was Costume National.

You mentioned Rose losing some weight this season. Has that been difficult in terms of repeating pieces from previous outfits, thus giving the sense that these are real people with real wardrobes?

No, it actually makes it much easier. This year it’s a little bit trickier in the way that it’s edited because they shot the entire season before they aired. I do believe in repeating costumes throughout to reflect real life, and to reflect that they’re real people with real closets.

The way that it’s edited, there are bits and pieces from episodes that we shot later that in order to make the story work, we’ll put in earlier episodes. Things appear a lot more than they actually did.

Pinstripe suits appear with frequency. What is it about pinstripes that works?

I think there are varying degrees. With Patty in particular, women’s suiting can sometimes be really flat. The stripes are sort of the things that differentiate. Like the red stripe, which you don’t see too often for women. So it’s a way to do classic with a twist.

In terms of mens suiting, I do like pattern mixing a little bit, but keeping it clean. I’m a big fan of English traditional Saville Row suiting. And a plain suit looks flat on TV. There’s no definition.

There’s definitely an abundance of bold ties. Do you have a favorite tie maker for the men’s stuff?

I use a lot of Zegna, but in reality men really only have a few suits and a few ties, so when talking about Tom in particular, how do you make it look fresh? I spend a lot more money on shirts and ties than probably most people, but I think that helps sell the fact that they are living at this income level without changing suits every episode.

Still sounds pretty expensive. What’s the average cost of a Patty outfit?

What we’ve figured out is that we’re typically spending with Patty about $5,000 per change, and Ellen about $4,000. It doesn’t always quite work out that way, but it’s pretty much an average of head-to-toe. Suits, which are so much more expensive this year, are about $3,500 to $3,800, and you know blouses are around $600-$700. So it adds up!

You must have an outrageously generous wardrobe budget.

No, I don’t! It’s kind of about balancing. Most of the money goes towards Glenn and Rose, and I do Marcia when she works. When the three of them work it’s always a fight about how much money it takes to get them all on camera.

Most people can’t afford $5,000 outfits, especially in this economy. Where do you recommend people shop for less expensive additions to their wardrobe?

Well, for instance, I did Marcia for her appearance on The View and Martha Stewart when she was promoting her new play, Carnage. She said she wanted to look effortlessly chic and wanted to do it for under $1,000. Basically I found a Diane Von Furstenberg skirt for $225, a Valentino blouse for $300, and shoes from Zara for $99. And she looked fantastic.

So it can be done. It’s a mixture of places. I tend to like Zara for professional but hip stuff. They knock off designers really well and really quickly.

Marcia’s had some flirty, suggestive pieces this season. Has it been fun to dress her?

I think it’s fire and it’s ice. Glenn is ice and Marcia is fire. I think for women of a certain age, it turns out that their personalities dictate what goes into the characters, and that happens to fit both of those women perfectly in terms of their certain physical issues. Well, I should say ‘concerns.’ Glenn likes to be closed up more, and Marcia likes to show her legs and cleavage. It works in that way.

I have to say its about making a woman look like she’s got a certain lifestyle at a certain age, and that tends to cost more money. It’s so much in the cut and fit.

Have there been any favorites that have stood out to you, for Patty or Ellen?

To me sometimes it’s the little things. One of my favorite looks for Patty, which no one else necessarily liked – but it was such a departure for her as a person and a character – was a blush-colored crew neck sweater, and she had an Alaia nude belt and this pencil skirt and beautiful Prada shoes.

For Ellen it was probably this Givenchy black dress. She just looked like a young Audrey Hepburn. It was so clean and it was just a perfect fit. You know it’s nothing that stands out but I just think they look the best in very simple things.

Is there a least favorite which you may have liked at the time but then you look at the episode and aren’t satisfied?

There are always those moments. The way the scripts are written and the way the show unfolds, we’re kind of like the audience in that we don’t really know where it’s going. So for example, the green sweater that is dominant in the flashbacks this season: I found that sweater kind of last minute and I had no idea that it was a sweater that was going to be shown over and over again. It probably wouldn’t have been my first choice for a sweater if I knew it was something that was going to have so much screen time. It’s not horribly offensive, but I would have liked to have known it was going to be on the screen so much! [laughing]

Is there something else you wish you’d put her in?

Well probably not a wrap sweater! Probably something a little stronger.

It seems like you don’t follow trends as much as you tend towards classic looks. Is there absolutely anything you won’t put Patty in? I assume we’ll never see her in liquid leggings.

No. But I should never say never, because you never know. Glenn trusts me, but I think it’s just got to be relevant to the character. You know, I use color to pick up her eyes and hair, but it’s never going to be orange, or stripes, or something.

How would you describe Patty and Ellen’s styles?

Well I aim for a sort of effortlessness with everybody. I don’t want it to ever look like a costume. It’s effortlessly chic. Patty’s lines are a little sharper, and Ellen is a little drapier, if that makes any sense.

Where does the inspiration come from? Are you going to runway shows and reading WWD? And where are you shopping?

I do it all. I read the magazines and WWD. I usually just go to style.com. I get invited to shows but I’m not a huge fan of going.

I shop at Bergdorf’s, Barney’s, Saks, Akris, Tom Ford, but you know it’s all over. As long as it’s relevant. I’ll see a young designer or young jewelry person someplace and I’ll think that’s great, and so I’ll try to infuse other elements into it, as long as it matches.

Speaking of jewelry, that ruby ring has been a big part of this season. Where did you find it?

I didn’t! That was something that was actually brought in by someone else.

The scenes when Patty is wearing those sunglasses always seem to stand out. Who makes them and where did they come from?

They’re Oliver Peoples. They actually came from Glenn’s own personal things.

Glenn once said her favorite part about the show is Patty’s clothes. Does she get to keep her wardrobe? Does she have a favorite outfit?

Contractually for every job I think she’s ever had she gets the clothes. She has a huge barn full of all the clothes she’s ever worn in every movie.

You know, she’s funny. There are different things she likes for different reasons. Whenever Glenn does casual it’s always tan and khaki, so she tends to like things that are tan and khaki. Sometimes trying to deal with that, well…[laughing] yeah.

The latest episode of Damages airs tonight at 10 PM EST on FX.