You only have to take one look at Shiona Turini’s website to marvel at the amazing career she’s had in fashion and style even before she was hired by Issa Rae to be the Costume Designer for her HBO show, Insecure.
Turini’s latest project is David (Hunters) Weil’s seven-episode series, Solos, on Amazon Prime Video. It allowed her to design for and dress an amazing cast that includes Helen Mirren, Uz0 Aduba, Morgan Freeman, Anthony Mackie, Anne Hathaway and more, each of them doing a single-episode monologue that lets us into the world of people in the future. It’s best going into each story not knowing much about if and how they might connect with each other or our current world, but as a series made fully during the pandemic, there are quite a few episodes that strike eerily close to home.
Below the Line got on a Zoom with Ms. Turini for the following interview about her work.
Below the Line: I checked out your website and Instragram, and I love that you have so much of your gorgeous work out there. You’ve taken a really interesting path to costume design from being a stylist for magazine and print. What was the defining moment that had you switching roles? I’m not sure which was first, HBO’s Insecure or the movie Queen and Slim?
Shiona Turini: Insecure was first actually. I’d been in editorial for a very long time, and then I started to do commercials and music videos. Through personal relationships, I met the director, Melina Matsoukas, and she joined the Insecure team. I had styled Issa [Rae] for some editorial projects, and then they had approached me and asked me if I had ever costume designed before, and I said “No, but that does not mean that I could not figure it out,” and I figured it out. Insecure was first and then I did a pilot for Y the Last Man, and then I did Queen and Slim.
BTL: Did you go to school for fashion design or some other related field?
Turini: Absolutely not. No, I’m from Bermuda, and I am from a very traditional Caribbean family, and my parents would not allow that. I went to school. I was first an economics major, and then an English major, and then a public relations major, so it took me a while.
BTL: Still all useful skills to have in life. How did you connect with David Weil, and what were some of the early meetings and discussions about doing Solos?
Turini: They reached out, and it was during the pandemic. I wasn’t sure that I had wanted to be on a set, but I met with him and in my first meeting with him, I hadn’t prepared anything — I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go back to a set. I didn’t know what that would look like. But he and I really connected. I wanted to know what his idea of the future and space was like before I signed on, just to make sure that we kind of had some sort of visual connection. And I really loved his answer. I really loved his ideas, I loved his references, I loved some of his favorite movies. A lot of my work has been rooted in color and exploring color, and we made that one of the core references in Solos. We assigned each character a color — Peg [played by Helen Mirren] was red, and Otto [Dan Stevens’ character] was kind of these earth tones. So he really convinced me from that first meeting, and I went off, and I made some mood boards and references, and we met again, and we felt like we were aligned from a creative perspective. And off we went.
BTL: Did he already have scripts for all the individual episodes or some idea who was going to be in them and what they’re going to be about?
Turini: When I first decided to join the project? I think I may have had the first few scripts and an idea of who might be on, but no, I did not have all of them or know all of it.
BTL: I assume that on Insecure, you worked with different directors on each episode as well. I know David directed a few episodes of Solos himself, and then he has three or four other directors, so did you start out by working with David before working with the other directors that came on board?
Turini: Yeah, and I love that process, because each director is different, so you get the experience of just like a different process each time. Everyone works differently, so you get a taste of a different creative process, and you’re able to walk them through your process and collaborate with them your way but also learn something new for every episode. David and I kind of went into it like, “Okay, this is the color palette we want for each episode,” and then we bought that to whichever director was assigned each episode.
BTL: I spoke with Ruth Ammon, the production designer. How much did you work with her on synchronizing your costumes with her sets, some of which are quite elaborate? How much communication did you have with her?
Turini: A lot. I think that I had the most fun with her for Uzo Aduba’s episode, Sasha. It was pretty elaborate, so she and I collaborated a lot with the color palette to see what color I was gonna put Uzo in. I was exploring blues and greens, and I love how that came out. We wanted to make sure, because the character spends so much time on the couch to make sure that it all played together, and it was just like a visual explosion. I love it.
BTL: Obviously, a big part of the job is working with the actors very closely to make sure they’re comfortable in what you design for them, which you also did as a stylist. At what point do you go to the actors and say, “This is what I have for you. What do you think?” What’s that collaboration like?
Turini: Well, because we were shooting during the pandemic, especially at a time when everything was so uncertain, I only had one or two fittings with each actor. I went into it knowing that they would have to spend a considerable amount of time in the costume, because it’s only one costume, except for Anthony Mackie and Anne Hathaway. I wanted to make sure that it was a costume that they can move and live and feel comfortable in. For Constance [Wu], she had the wings as well, and they had to be quite light, so we 3D printed them. They look really heavy and they look pretty intricate, but we 3D printed them, so we made them out of almost a paper-like material and just had them glossed. That was a really interesting project and task, but it was a collaborative process with all of the actors as well. They had really great feedback. Helen was so interesting to dress. She had really fantastic stories about things she had worn in the past and landing on the red leather jumpsuit was a highlight. We custom made that. For Uzo’s character, I went into it thinking very much about Grey Gardens, the documentary. I wanted her to feel kind of eccentric but still pretty fabulous. I thought about if I got stuck in the house now, and just because I lived in the house for 20 years, I still have access to technology, that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be ordering things and still want to feel good about myself. So what does that look like? What do I wear? There were still so many stories about what people were wearing during the pandemic. It made a lot of sense, and that influenced and inspired me a lot during this process.
BTL: What sort of conversations did you have for the multiple characters played by Anne Hathaway, either with her or with the director, Zach Braff?
Turini: We did a lot of research about what was popular during those eras and kind of what we wanted to hone in on, the trends during those time periods, and what felt right for this person who would be stuck in a basement doing the research. What trends would have impacted her and what she would have been wearing? Anne was very involved. She came in, she went through the rack — she walked through it, talked through it, and she was super-collaborative.
BTL: I feel like all the actors on this show have experience doing red carpets and photoshoots, so they’re used to being dressed up in that way, and they have some fashion sense. Do you ever deal with actors who just don’t care what they wear and you have to ease them into fashion? You don’t have to name names, but how do you go about easing someone into the idea of fashion?
Turini: That’s fine. I like working with people like that as well, because I get to do what I want. I can work with people who are super into fashion, and I also like people who are like, “What should I wear?” No one in my family is interested in fashion, and so I’m so used to that personality, and a lot of my friends are not interested in fashion. So it’s always like, “What should I wear to this?” and I’m like, “Just wear this.”
BTL: Every show and movie is different, but Solos is definitely an anomaly, because we haven’t really seen anything like it. It’s almost like seven individual stage plays. But you also had to make it during the pandemic, so what were some of the things you had to deal with? Were you on set every day and did you have a smaller team than usual?
Turini: We had a really small team, and it was a lot of our first time back on set. It was the first time we were testing every single day and everyone had different comfort levels. So some people did not want us adjusting clothing, they did not want us jumping in and fixing them, which was a new experience because we’re so used to fixing and nudging. We had really limited time. [Either] one fitting or they have to fix themselves, and there were different processes and procedures when it came to disinfecting clothes, and it was a whole new world.
BTL: I think Ruth mentioned that the camera team had a camera on a 20-foot techno-crane, since the camera team had to shoot everything from a distance.
Turini: Yeah, all of it. It was a new experience, I think, for everybody.
BTL: Is there anything you were doing during the pandemic that you thought, “Oh, yeah, we probably should keep doing this from now on”?
Turini: The hand washing thing. Wow, why haven’t we ever had these? All the disinfecting stations? Now, I feel like they’re so much cleaner. I don’t know why we never had those.
BTL: So many news articles came out in the past year where you start thinking, “That’s disgusting. Why did we never think about these things before?” I’m really interested in your transition to movies and television. How that work has differed from your time as a print stylist, besides obviously the movement. What were some of the main differences you’ve seen?
Turini: I definitely have to let go of some of the control that I always wanted to have over clothing. That was one of the biggest things that I had to learn with costume, where I always [understand that] clothes are going to do what clothes are going to do. My editorial styling, a lot of it was rooted in fantasy, which is also why I loved working on Solos so much. I got to think about the future and fantasy a bit more, whereas my costume design has been primarily contemporary. So it’s like very real life and what’s happening right now. Another big difference is in editorial styling, or even in music video, you can have things pinned and clipped, and it’s just not real. Whereas in costume design, the fit and how clothes fall and move, it’s so important. It’s just real dressing for real people, like the comfort of an actor is probably first and most important, and it’s also much more collaborative, like I said. You’re talking to the director and the creators and sometimes the writer, and also the actor, to make sure that we’re all on the same page. And the set designer, making sure that everything is falling together and living together in this sort of perfect harmony.
BTL: I’m not sure if you answered this before but did you have a smaller team than usual, especially since you weren’t dressing background actors and such?
Turini: For Insecure, we have a big team, because we have just a bigger cast. And for Solos, it was one actor, so we just had a smaller team to execute it. We still had a core team to get it done, but we had the perfect amount of people. I think
BTL: You mentioned doing the costumes just for the pilot of Y the Last Man, which is a comic book I loved. I was curious if there was anything in the comics that you drew from as source material to dress the cast?
Turini: Before I signed on to do that, when the pilot was directed by Melina Matsoukas, I did not know that much about Y the Last Man, but then I bought all the comics and read them all, and I have a huge stack of them, and my nephew was like, “What is this?” and I was like, “I’m doing my research.” It was really interesting, because I admittedly have never been one who is interested in comics, but it was an interesting story. I took a little bit of inspiration — it was interesting to pull bits and pieces, and put pulled bits and pieces. Melina wanted to make a lot of changes, but they reshot that with a lot of cast changes.
BTL: Gotcha. So what have you been doing since finishing Solos? Are you back at a level where you’re comfortable on set or where’s your comfort level as far as working?
Turini: I went straight from Solos to Insecure, and I actually overlapped for a couple weeks. I’ve been on Insecure, and I’m still on Insecure. I’m headed to set in a few minutes, right after I get off this call. I’m on set every day, so I’m pretty comfortable. I feel very safe. We take all the necessary precautions, daily testing. I feel like now I’m so educated on COVID at this point. We have so much information from our COVID compliance crew, so it’s just not as scary anymore. Before, I just felt like everything was changing so fast, and everything was so unknown, that it just felt so scary. And now, we just have so much more information, and a lot of time has passed that I just feel really comfortable on set.
All seven episodes of Solos can be watched on Amazon Prime Video. All photos courtesy Amazon. (Click on images for larger versions.)