We present an exclusive interview to Giovanna Ottobre-Melton, costume designer for Marvel’s Agent Carter tv series. Mrs. Melton worked in the last 20 years in numerous tv series as Providence, My Name is Earl, Numbers, Mob City.
How did you get involved in this project?
When I heard about Agent Carter as a series, I was excited about the thought of designing for a female undercover agent, set in post-war New York. The era was a challenging time for women trying to work in the men’s world. I loved Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger, and knew this was going to be a great series.
After a calling my agent daily, I finally was given an interview. Upon receiving the fantastic first script, my head was flooded with ideas, and I started sketching immediately for my meeting. With my great passion for the script, luck, and fingers crossed, I got the job.
May you tell us the creative process involved in the realization of the Agent Carter’s costumes?
In the beginning I created a palette based on color tinted photos of 1940’s New York for an overall tone for the costumes. Definitely I spent much time putting together period research; my computer and files are filled with inspiration. This era is one of my favorites . I really appreciate the great silhouette and how the style compliments the body.
As for each episode, I would read the script , then search for historic photos that relate to what the episode story is about for design inspiration. Afterwards I shop for fabrics, and then sketch the outfits.
You worked in another tv series, “Mob City”, sets during the ’40s. Which is the main difference in comparison to “Agent Carter”?
Fortunately New York (the setting for Agent Carter), and Los Angeles (the setting for Mob City), have completely different style looks, this is still true today. New York then had a solid fashion industry of beautiful classic designs, and Los Angeles was emerging as the sportswear capital of the world .
Mob City was based on the book LA Noir , and Frank Darabont wanted the series to reflect classic noir. The color palette I used for this series was inspired by the colors of the beautiful hand painted Malibu tiles created locally in 1920’s and 30’s. These iconic tiles were used in many homes throughout Los Angeles, and the train stain that was used in the series.
For Joe Teague our lead detective, I designed tweed sport jackets with contrasting pants and paired the look with muted 1930’s ties. Overall there was a slightly disheveled look to these Los Angeles detectives .
For the gangsters style I used more Hollywood glamour . Bugsy Segal wanted to be an actor and even had a studio camera test and Mickey Cohen owned his own men’s clothing store on the Sunset Strip. Because they had plenty of money, their flashier suits and bold print ties reflected a fashion forward styling that was popular in California.
For Agent Carter I designed the look to reflect an east coast sense style, coupled with a comic book noir flare. For example: the iconic blue suit and red hat that was juxtaposed against the grey and black suits of New York. Agent Carter is always well dressed and never disheveled .
The men of the SSR are also dressed with a great sense of style and all maintained a cohesive professional look .
As for Jarvis, Howard’s Starks butler, I designed classic several 3 piece tweed suits that were accented with tasteful but conservative ties. His character style is the complete opposite of his wealthy employer Playboy Howard Stark who wears unconstructed casual jackets and shirts with open collar styling both finished with hand stitched details .
In “Agent Carter” the first things that emerge is the setting but even the photography that is very sunny. How was the collaboration between you and the director of photography, Gabriel Beristain, to choose the colors palette for the costumes even for narrative ends?
Before costume fittings began, I showed our amazing DP Gabriel the color palette I had created for his approval. The saturated colors of the palette work well with the era, and the digital camera . Once principal fittings were complete, we had a camera test so our director/producer Louis D’Esposito, and our producers Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michele Fazekas, and Tara Butters could look at the costumes, hair, make-up, and the different camera filters to see what worked best for the show.
About the main character Peggy Carter, did you realized the costumes to underlines her characteristics? If yes, how works this aspect of the job?
Yes I did. Peggy’s character has a well traveled sense of style. She doesn’t have a lot of money or a huge closet filled with clothes. In general, people didn’t have that may clothes then. For Peggy, many of the designed pieces were repeated throughout the series . To give a fresh look to her outfits, I would coordinate with a new belt, blouse, and / or jacket.
Peggy was already appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger and in a Marvel short movie. This helped your job in realizing costumes?
It was important to maintain a continuity for the character and audience. The short Marvel “teaser” movie is actually set a few years into the future when Peggy leaves SSR , and just before she takes over Shield . For the series, I used the short movie outfit as inspiration . She is no longer in the military, and her style is different as a civilian.
And what about the other characters as Thompson, Sousa, Dooley and the nice Angie Martinelli?
For our SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve) guys Dooley, Thompson, and Sousa, each have a distinctive style befitting their character. Chief Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) wears double breasted suits; Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) single breasted with suspenders; Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) wears hand knit sweater vests under his sport coats paired with coordinating pleated pants.
Angie is a waitress and aspiring actress. She doesn’t have much money to spend on clothes, and her style reflects that. A few simple but well thought out clothing pieces are in her closet to wear.
What was the most difficult challenge for you in this tv series?
Definitely limited time. We shoot a new episode every eight days. There are so many stunts written in the scripts. Almost all of Peggy’s outfits are made in triples. In addition many of the principle character’s outfits are custom made because of stunt action.
Which are your future projects? We obviously hope in a second season.
I have just started designing a TV movie about the Sunset Strip Killers set in 1980 . This will keep me busy until April. We won’t hear about Agent Carter until middle of May regarding a second season. Until then I’m keeping many good thoughts and wishes.