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HomeCraftsThe Costume Demands of FX's Starved

The Costume Demands of FX’s Starved


It may sound like a simple task to dress the cast for a show set in contemporary times, but beneath the surface it can be complex and challenging. As the costume designer on Starved, I was working with a limited amount of time and money. Also, Starved was unique in that the six episodes were to be shot at the same time, out of sequence and by location. This meant that the costume department had to be ready for all the actors’ costume changes. The four leads alone had 120 changes in total. The other challenge was that we would shoot an average of three days per episode, totaling four weeks. The norm is one week of prep and one week of shoot.
Starved, a new series for FX, directed by Eric Schaeffer, is a comedy that revolves around four New Yorkers who share a common problem of food obsessions.
For the first four weeks I was involved in prep. I generated the costume breakdowns while the scripts were still in rewrites and pending approval from FX. Once the director and I reviewed and agreed on the costume design, I began shopping for the four leads and organized the breakdowns for the other 70 cast members.
Realizing that we had limited budget for purchases, I called my contacts in the fashion industry in the hope of borrowing some clothes. As it turned out, we received lots of product placement. Esprit lent us many pieces for Laura’s character and we also received shipments from Converse, Madsoul, J Shoes, Marithe + Francois Girbaud, Rock & Republic and American Apparel. Product placement adds production value and saves a lot of time and money. Contacts for showrooms and companies are important and can be crucial on such a tight-budget show. It’s also a great opportunity for a designer’s clothes to be seen.
To prepare for the first round of fittings I shopped in close to 300 retail stores. I was able to focus on a few characters at a time, drop off the purchases, and go out again. I also combed vintage stores and flea markets for the “character” items.
I wanted to mix up the looks so that the actors would not look like they had stepped out of a catalog yet still reflect the nuances of their individual personalities. Each character was struggling with an eating disorder; this had to come across in his or her look and fit.
Every character had specific color schemes and styles. For example Adam, the cop, didn’t wear a bulletproof vest, and his shirtsleeves were fitted around his biceps to show off his physique. It made sense because his character is overly conscious of his body and, being single, also wants attention. Dan, the writer, is dressed to accentuate his girth, in a conservative, preppy style, as is his wife Amy, played by Maureen Flannigan.
Billie, the songwriter, is a creative and neurotic character, endlessly searching for happiness and acceptance. She loves the color pink and anything sparkly, and carries her food scale in a bag. Billie loves jewelry and wears two necklaces of my design. Making some of the accessories proved economical and also helped me promote my own label, astridland.
My wardrobe supervisor Arlynn Abseck started two weeks before we began shooting. She updated the costume breakdowns, helped with fittings and organized all the wardrobe changes, printing out labels for each outfit and for all the actors’ hundreds of changes.
Fortunately there are now computer programs such as ProSanity and Costume Pro that make it a little easier to organize a big project. Once the script information is logged in, the program formulates labels and character breakdowns.
During our last week of prep we received most of the remaining cast. There were over 70 speaking parts and we tried to squeeze in as many fittings as possible before the first day of shooting. Once a shoot begins, there’s little time for adjustments—it all has to work like a well-oiled machine.
Since Eric Schaeffer was writer, star and director, there was very little time for discussions. Production started on May 9. Shooting all the episodes together and out of order was a “who’s on first” exercise of mental preparation. It was absolutely necessary to have all things labeled and to know the line-up well.
During shooting I am always thinking ahead and preparing for the next day as well as organizing returns and doing the accounting at the end of each day. Television is a fast and fluid medium where things constantly change and people change their minds, whether it is the scene order for the day or an outfit that worked yesterday that no longer looks right.
On a series, there’s a continuity in the life of the characters and each person has a “closet” within the trailer. It’s fun working within the range of possibilities of a character’s closet and designing ways for it all to go together, to do it quickly, label it, while at the same time creating a juxtaposition of feelings and emotions by choosing one color over another.
Starved was a very challenging show, yet satisfying in that we got so much accomplished with so little. It made us all reach further and we hope it becomes a big success.

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