Spanning three decades from the 1970s through the 1990s, FX’s Pose follows a cast of colorful multi-cultural, multi-ethnic LGBTQ+ and gender-nonconforming characters in New York City. At the center of their world is the underground ball scene, emceed by patriarch Pray Tell, played by Billy Porter, where chosen House members strut outrageous outfits befit of a designated category, for trophies and recognition of their House matriarchs. Analucia McGorty, CDG, is the two-time Emmy®-nominated costume designer for 2019 and 2020, who dresses these bells of the ball with one-of-a-kind head-turning creations. Her inspirations are as diverse as the characters and communities represented on the show.
The show which came to its finale on June 6, 2021, after three seasons was a labor of love for McGorty who was part of creator Ryan Murphy‘s universe for American Horror Story as the assistant costume designer to Lou Eyrich. Graduating to costume designer on Pose, she collaborated with Murphy and Eyrich to create these elaborate fantasy ballroom pieces vs. every day that fit each of the character’s unique identities.
Identity is the driving force in Pose, which celebrates diversity in a community that can really let their hair down and be who they are through the clothes they wear. McGorty tells Below The Line about where she turned to for inspiration to create some of the looks that were informed by pop culture icons from the time, film characters, famous artists, historical figures, and reveals the challenges of the fierce finale costume.
Below The Line: Take me back to the beginning when you were first approached to be the costume designer for Pose.
Analucia McGorty: I was brought on by Lou Eyrich. She and I worked together on the first season to develop these characters together. She sent me an email, “Don’t do anything else or take another job. I have this amazing pilot and it’s about Paris Is Burning. I was like, “Oh my God!” because the dream is to work on something like this.
BTL: You have worked with creator Ryan Murphy before. What were those conversations in terms of character development on this show?
McGorty: His shows are always fun. He is an encyclopedia of pop culture, literature, music. I don’t know how he stores so many shows in his mind all at the same time and has time to creatively talk about the costumes. We worked closely with Ryan on this. It needed to be over-the-top for the “Royalty” scene [from season 1, episode 1]. I’d never done anything like that on television and I’d worked on Ryan’s shows before that. I thought this is gonna be a big one. This is gonna be different. Lou and I had giant binders full of inspiration. We worked for months figuring out what makes each of these characters unique and their own voice through their clothing. We stumbled along through the first couple of fittings just trying to figure out who they are and you get feedback from the actor’s personalities and how they use their bodies. It’s very important to understand how the actor works.
BTL: Are there some costumes from other Ryan Murphy shows that crossed over to Pose?
McGorty: A lot of them go to different archives like Disney/ABC and Ryan has some. In the first season, there were a couple of costumes from Lady Gaga’s costumes from Hotel that made its way onto the show. In episode five, there’s a little scene where Blanca is getting some gifts from Elektra and the movers are wearing jumpsuits similar to the gas station workers printed with “Junior Movers”, which is a wink towards Hollywood. We try to interconnect them in the same way that Ryan connects a lot of his actors who he likes to work with.
BTL: Can you describe the script descriptions for the characters that inspired their looks?
McGorty: We really wanted to make sure we were following the script’s description of them. For instance, we knew that Elektra [Dominique Jackson] was glamorous and beautiful. We knew that she had the most style of everybody on the show. There’s other people that we had to figure out like Angel [Indya Moore] or Pray Tell. Angel was described as a teenage streetwalker who was very beautiful and very tough and she could take care of herself. We tried to think like who during that time period was the “it” girl and the person you wanted to fall in love with. Who did we look up to, what were we watching in films or seeing on TV and influencing us. It was a lot of Madonna, a lot of Edie Sedgwick who had that amazing cool thing. It was what was she getting from thrift stories, stuff from the 60s and 70s mixed in with the 80s.
BTL: What was some of the defining research you did for the everyday clothes for each decade?
McGorty: I actually love buying catalogs, picking up Seventeen magazine or Jane magazine or public access programs that were really big then that I was able to get a lot of views of what was going on then. There would be a lot of small little music shows. For me, a great way to look for background in the 70s, 80s and early 90s was at stand-up shows like Richard Pryor. They would always film the audience going into the venue and they would sometimes interview them about the show. You would see what the people on the street would be wearing and it was very informative. I like things that are tactile which is great because my storage spaces are all filled up it’s not very New York-friendly to have that kind of obsession! I think it’s important to feel it and see the photos and look at the things that aren’t so edited together. You want people to feel real.
BTL: How do the ballroom pieces define the characters?
McGorty: The ballroom is the fantasy part where we can really stretch our legs creatively and really do over-the-top. But, at the same time, the ballroom is the place where people get to be who they know they actually are, where they aren’t afraid to express who they are. They can figure out what they like, what they don’t like and people accept them and love them for that especially in the 80s and 90s in New York. A lot of the ballroom community would never walk down the street, take the train, wearing what they wear inside the ballroom because they would be attacked and scared of walking anywhere. That ballroom was just an explosion of color, community, love, music, dance. The love you felt even when we were shooting it and not even being at an actual ball, was just a frenzy of feelings where all your senses are touched. That was an interesting thing, especially over the three seasons to see develop.
BTL: Was the finale costume worn by Praytell and Blanca the most challenging to design?
McGorty: For me, it’s not about challenging because I like that aspect. It’s about making all the elements work together. I can design something that would look fabulous but it might not function well, like a fabric making the craziest sound or interrupt what the actor is doing. The last episode in the ballroom scene was a triple tearaway that was extremely difficult [laughs]. Ryan was very influenced by Diana Ross and her concert in Central Park when it rained. I watched the videos of that so many times! But she didn’t tear anything off. We had to make ours tear off, and the same way every time. We realized in the final rehearsal that it’s not gonna work the same way every time for every take so we had to start all over again. We were really lucky to be sponsored by Swarovski and we hand sewed every stone onto every one of those jumpsuits and there were eight total for each of them. So, you can say that was challenging, even more so than a blooming wedding dress or wings that moved or the Marie Antoinette costume.
BTL: Is it true that you put little notes in costumes to show your support for their journeys throughout the show?
McGorty: It started in the first season. I think I really appreciate the actors and how open they are to giving their lives to this story. I don’t think people really realize what a big deal it is for a lot of our trans actors to be in the public eye like that, especially trans women of color who are murdered every year. Our actors are very brave for putting themselves out there like that. I always felt very appreciative and very humbled and inspired by their bravery. For me, it was always, “I’m here to support you,” especially for scenes that were somewhat difficult to portray. The first one I did was with Candy [Angelica Ross] in the red French dress in episode 4 in season 2, and it was so emotional for everybody involved. So, those little butterflies that I put on the inside of the fringe of her dress are not seen on camera. They were meant to say, “We love and support you and your journey is important.”
BTL: Now that it’s over, did you have a favorite guilty pleasure working on this show?
McGorty: I’m such a nerd for wanting to bring art into what we do like little paintings or sculpture or references to film. I started out as a painter so I want to show how inspired I am by all that. A lot of things are Picasso-inspired or Elektra looks like Dick Tracy in an episode. There’s so many artists working together to create this final masterpiece, this final piece of artwork. If the props department is using a car with a red interior, I want to make sure I choose the right material that can really pop against it. For me, it’s the development and the journey of getting to see it come all together.
Pose can be seen streaming on FX On Hulu. All pictures courtesy FX.