Fashions For The Small Screen

Carol Burnett's costume, designed by Bob Mackie for the 2005 television special "Once Upon a Mattress," is on display at the Fashion Institute Of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, Aug. 2, 2006. Mackie was among the nominees for a costume design Emmy award for his work on the movie. Winners in costumes categories will be announced Aug. 19, when the creative arts Emmys are presented. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
The five designers nominated for best series costumes in this year's Emmys have a common thread - their honored creations are all stitches in time, from the finery of ancient Rome to modern-day Wisteria Lane to seventh-millennium space travel.

April Ferry rendered robes for the legions in "Rome." Darryle Johnson sewed the look of 1980s Brooklyn into "Everybody Hates Chris." Juliet Polcsa outfitted the mob in "The Sopranos." Catherine Adair dressed "Desperate Housewives." And Glenne Campbell suited up the crew of "Battlestar Galactica."

Winners in the series costumes category and its movie and mini-series counterpart will be announced Aug. 19, when the creative arts Emmys are presented at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Costume Emmys were first presented in 1970, but with the advent of high definition telecasting which enhances every detail, the craft is earning new respect. "We are being recognized a little more these days," says Ferry, who started making costumes in 1968.

2One example of this enhanced attention is the first-ever exhibit of the works of past and present Emmy costume honorees, presented by the television academy and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising at the institute's Los Angeles museum.

But Mary Rose, curator of the exhibit and longtime member of the TV academy's costume design peer group, still sees problems. "Less paid. Less budget. Less respect. Less of everything. The only thing more of is overtime," she says, while expressing admiration for the quality of this year's nominees.

The series costumes category received 45 submissions, typically selected by their networks. The five finalists were selected by the 230 members of the academy's costume group. A volunteer panel of 37 judges votes on the winner.

Sitcoms are often overlooked in the wardrobe department in favor of period dramas, so it was a surprise to first-time nominee Johnson that UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris" was chosen this year.

Johnson was a fashion student and stylist before actor Billy Dee Williams encouraged him to try costume design. His credits include the 1991 feature film "Boyz 'N the Hood."

For the TV series, he has used clothes preserved by family members, and buys and designs others. "We search everywhere," he says. "My neighbors save things for me. I like the texture of things that have been worn and aged, so I'm always going to yard sales. If I find a shape at a yard sale I like I will have it remade."

Johnson has no complaints about his current cast, but is outspoken about style-conscious actresses who confuse costuming with fashion. "This isn't fashion ... I'm doing a small documentary of someone's life ... when that dress reminds you of your grandmother who is going to bake a pie - the flower in the corner, the crinkle, the rip - those are the things I can bring to a project," Johnson explains. "So when you get an actress who says, 'I've got better things in my closet.' Well, 'This isn't your closet!"'

For HBO's "Rome," there were no closets to plunder. "Everything was made from scratch. We have never rented anything," says Ferry, previously nominated in 1989 for "My Name Is Bill W." She designed more than 4,000 garments for the first season of "Rome."

"Roman woman wore a lot of drapery ... I wanted to do that on all my leading ladies, but they said, 'Oh, I look fat in that,"' she laughs, speaking from Italy, where the series is filming its final season. "So between the drapery making me satisfied and them satisfied, that was the hardest job."

3Adair is nominated for a second time for "Desperate Housewives," whose stars have become instant icons of Hollywood red carpet events. "I don't want it to be a fashion show. It must be a world of storytelling and character. It's modern, but it's definitely a parallel universe, like stepping through some invisible veil," says the British-born designer, whose credits include "The District."

She combines high-end fashion labels and off-the-rack styles with clothes she's sketched and had made. She's proud to "brag" how well the "Housewives" stars understand the distinction that must exist between their personal fashion image, handled by stylists, and their costumes for the ABC series.

"The Sopranos"' Polcsa, a longtime designer in theater and movies, aimed for a realistic tip of the hat to the innate cultural taste of New Jersey Italians, rather than some Hollywood idea of Mafia style. This is her fourth Emmy nomination for the HBO series. "It's certainly a nice thing to put on your resume, but it's not like actors, where an award can translate into dollars," she says. "I've not seen that, but it's a professional mark of pride, really sort of wonderful."

As for "Battlestar's" Campbell, "My reward has always been in the fittings ... the characters start coming out as the actors are putting the clothing on."

The Canadian-born Campbell is a 30-year veteran of the business, but a first-time nominee for the gritty, survival-at-all-cost clothing for the Sci Fi Channel series. "For me it's both an art and a craft, and even more so a passion," says Campbell. "So getting nominated for an Emmy has put a permanent smile on my face."