In the aptly named “Bomb Cyclone” Season 2 episode of And Just Like That, a massive snowstorm hits New York City. Along with its gusting wind, the blizzard also boasted a flurry of luxury clout pieces. Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) wore a fringed Balmain cape, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) boasted Burberry earmuffs, and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) stole the show with her pièce de résistance: the sculptural blue puffer ball gown by Valentino Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli for Moncler Genius Fall 2019.
That runway-esque scene could also represent the proliferating bomb cyclone of designer labels and logomania involved in bringing characters and stories to life on the big and small screens. “I felt like it was the perfect Sex in the City moment to push it,” says Molly Rogers, who co-costume designs the sequel series with fellow Patricia Field-alumni, Danny Santiago. They’re in good company: Pink Chanel suits and quilted bags fill the Dream House closets in the new Barbie movie. Heritage (and indie) labels fuel the fashion reverie of Emily in Paris, where young creatives apparently earn hedge fund salaries and speak English all the time. And all the while, old monied wardrobes in Succession quietly telegraph the Roy family’s ruthless business prowess. After each episode in the fourth and last season of the HBO series, fervent fans would rush to identify the high-end labels behind each logo-free, “quiet luxury” wardrobe piece. By the series finale, the Instagram handle Succession Fashion had racked up an impressive 188,000 followers.
“Historically, traditionally, and culturally, we are not only incredibly nosy but absolutely, without any boundaries, obsessed with wealth. Obsessed with what we don’t necessarily have,” says the HBO show’s costume designer Michelle Matland.
With crucial wardrobe IDs and costume roundups so easily accessible online and on social media, the top streaming consumers — millennials and the coveted Gen Z — now engage with fashion on shows as another riveting storyline. The wardrobes allow viewers to directly participate in the thrilling, glamorous, and romantic stories themselves. “Gen Z absolutely sees [TV and movies] as a way to enter into a different plotline and to take some of the main character qualities that maybe they don’t always feel they inhabit or exhibit in their day to day,” says Olivia Frary, lead in community and partnerships at Zoomer agency Juv Consulting. “Like, Emily in Paris: The fashion on the show has been talked about so, so, so much, and not everyone has the opportunity to travel as much as they see in the show.”
“People enjoy watching this show because it’s fantasy. We are not tied to reality,” says Emily in Paris costume designer Marylin Fitoussi, who happily suspends disbelief for Chicagoan marketing whiz Emily Cooper’s (Lily Collins) constant rotation of Chanel, Céline, Fendi and, again, JW Anderson. “Of course, Emily couldn’t afford any of the outfits with her salary.”
Fitoussi, who worked with costume consultant Patricia Field on the first two seasons, fulfills her colorful, print-infused and aspirational vision through a mix of bought high-low and vintage. She also borrows from designers through partnerships. For instance, Chanel and luxury bag line Polène generously supported the show from Season 1. Fitoussi appreciates the steadfast relationships she’s continually forged for “building my characters,” she says, into her Emmy-nominated Season 3.
Strong alliances are key to Rogers and Santiago’s work on AJLT as well. This includes their ongoing collaborations with Valentino, which helped the duo pull off a stunning finale in the show’s Season 2 premiere. Their longtime friendship with the house dates back to the midaughts, when Rogers was an associate costume designer on Field’s team for The Devil Wears Prada and Mr. Valentino Garavani introduced himself to Meryl Streep on set. Cut to the costume designers attending the Fall 2022 Valentino Couture show in Rome, where they ripped from the runway a feathered headpiece and majestically caped gown — which the atelier graciously remade in red — for LTW to stride across Park Avenue to the Met Gala.
For brands and design houses, these on-screen cameos involve understanding that an on-screen production will hold onto samples, custom or ready-to-wear pieces for months, if not a year, due to filming schedules and possible reshoots. Plus, multiples are often needed. But the effort is expected to pay off in brand awareness and hopefully sales. The day the Met Ball episode streamed, Google searches for Valentino spiked 50%. After the Season 1 finale, when Carrie wore full couture — a neon orange taffeta gown from Spring 2019 and pink leather opera gloves from Spring 2021 — to deposit Big’s ashes in the River Seine, search interest in Valentino surged 150%.
Viewers this season may have also noticed International Best Dressed List honoree LTW sporting plenty of Louis Vuitton, including a green monogrammed bomber for summer camp send-off (casual), plus many logo’d handbags. Even her posh mother-in-law wheels in a branded suitcase for a visit. A longtime contact, now in the Louis Vuitton Paris offices, messaged Rogers directly offering free rein to borrow, with no time limits. “I was like, ‘Is it Christmas?’” says Rogers, with a laugh. “We used so much of it.”
This is in stark contrast to the early days of Sex and the City and Gossip Girl. Both shows paved the way for high-end designers to realize the brand awareness benefits of loaning out precious finite samples, ready-to-wear, or even custom pieces to productions for a then-unprecedented months on end. Unlike so many series that came before, these productions made the covetable labels characters wore an intrinsic part of the plot — thus inviting fans to join in that world by shopping the same brands. Still, even Fitoussi surprisingly faced resistance from some luxury brands during the first season of Emily in Paris, despite the SATC pedigree of costume consultant Field and creator Darren Star. The borrowing landscape is changing, but it helps to have a big name star or well-established project before making an ask.
Costume designers, sometimes in conjunction with the studio, will also make overtures to brands. For the Jennifer Lopez adventure rom-com Shotgun Wedding, Mitchell Travers needed a synergistic luxury bridal partner to collaborate on a series of dresses depicting a slowly deconstructing wedding gown. After meticulously researching, he landed on Galia Lahav, which Lionsgate reached out to with a partnership proposal (pun unintended). “I was very, very keen for a long time to get into the movie industry, and I thought it could be a very, very good opportunity,” says Head of Marketing Lynn Rozenberg, intrigued by the prospect of champagne silk tulle Galia Lahav gowns worn throughout the majority of the movie — and by the queen of rom-coms.
The Tel Aviv-based atelier provided the artisans, materials, and product, and worked with Travers to design and build a whopping 28 iterations of the wedding dress. Creative Director Sharon Sever and dedicated sewers worked consistent overnights during the tight one-month timeline. In return, the studio partnered with Galia Lahav on extensive marketing efforts. “The placement of the gown created such a buzz,” says Rozenberg, citing a spike in online searches, increased traffic in stores and a deluge of 650 inquiries, which resulted in 150 meetings with potential clients.
But, there’s a crucial reason that opulent costumes help intrigue and enthrall audiences, and keep conversations going after the credits roll: The storytelling becomes more impactful if the fashion stays true to the character — and today’s discerning viewers can tell if it’s not. “The brand experience and the products that those characters would choose have to be extremely authentic, because otherwise you’re going to get called out by your audience online,” says Frary.
In the case of Greta Gerwig’s billion dollar box office Barbie, a capsule of Chanel signature silhouettes and recognizable double-C logos designates a deep history between the French house and the Mattel doll. “When I went to Paris and went to the Chanel archive, I also discovered that Karl Lagerfeld had designed a Barbie collection in the ’90s with Claudia Schiffer and all the supermodels modeling Barbie,” two-time-Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran told People. Robbie’s statuesque protagonist even dons an archival paillette-trimmed bouclé set that Schiffer modeled on the Spring 1995 runway as an “Easter egg” in the idyllic pink matriarchy of Barbie Land.
“Wearing something high fashion does feel right for the character,” said Robbie, in a Gerwig-directed “Chanel supports Barbie” video, clocking 466,000 views so far. The expectation for Chanel sighting and fervent fashion discourse leading up to the July 21 premiere also helped hype up interest in both the brand and film: Google search interest in Chanel and Barbie jumped 100% in June, following Robbie’s Vogue cover and searches for “Barbie Chanel necklace” spiked 150% from May through July. The evident Mattel doll inspiration throughout May’s 2024 Cruise runway, with Robbie sitting front row, also feels quite synergistic — if not strategic.
Chanel, a strong supporter of cinema since the days of Old Hollywood, regularly contributes costumes and financing (even for independent films not featuring its designs, per a representative). Notably, Robbie, a Chanel brand ambassador since 2018, also wore the house’s fine jewelry in the 1920s Tinseltown-set Babylon, costume designed by Mary Zophres. Durran has worked with Chanel for costumes, too — most recently in the 2021 Princess Diana biopic, Spencer, starring brand ambassador since 2014 Kristen Stewart. Friends of the house costumed in Chanel on film could also help alleviate tight wardrobe budgets, like the Tessa Thompson-starring 2020 indie Sylvie’s Love (costume designed by Phoenix Mellow).
Of course, faces of a house are contractually obligated to wear the brand on red carpets. But these costume-fashion crossovers beg the question if the actors’ movie contracts also require their characters wear the brand. Chanel politely declined an interview with an executive, but did shed some light on its involvement in the filmmaking per an email statement: “Our ambassadors are under no obligation to wear Chanel in a film. For each project, we work with the director, costume designer, and actress to create a unique and coherent outfit or wardrobe for the character.”
Authenticity can also make an impact that goes beyond the screen. In the Netflix rom-com The Perfect Find, disgraced fashion editor Jenna Jones (Gabrielle Union) attempts a reset in the glossy New York City fashion media world. Looking for distinctively chic options, costume designer Amit Gajwani headed to Showroom Etc., which creates global awareness and opportunity for Africa-based luxury design and couture via the Hollywood screens and red carpet.
“Their production team was really big on making sure that they spotlighted Black-owned brands, but the costume designer, in particular, he was really big on showing African brands,” says Showroom Etc. founder Elaine Mensah, about their shared connection. Gajwani purchased seven pieces from Accra-based designers: Atto Tetteh, Simone et Elise from The Lotte, and Christie Brown. After posting images of Union wearing two looks in the movie, Christie Brown garnered nearly 85,000 impressions, plus 80,000 engagements. “[Gajwani] had a vision for what he wanted and the pieces that we have really just spoke to the characters and what they were looking for,” says Mensah, who even gained around 400 new followers for Showroom Etc.’s Instagram.
Borrowing from brands isn’t the only option for a costume designer. Outright buying pieces allows them to maintain control over the story and character, which tracks for the billionaire power brokers in Succession. Granted, HBO’s seemingly bottomless budget also helps. Brands have approached Matland, but “I’m in no position to design a character unless it’s written that they identify themselves with a line of clothing,” says the Emmy-nominated costume designer, referring to her purchasing process as “Etch a Sketch.” She walks into a “Saks, Bergdorf, or Neimans” and shakes and clears her head to inhabit the mindset of how, say, Shiv (Sarah Snook) would handpick Ralph Lauren pantsuits and a Gabriela Hearst turtleneck knit dress with a plunging back.
“So it’s sometimes easier to find [and buy]. For example, Kendall and Loro Piana,” continues Matland, referring to Jeremy Strong’s character’s much-discussed $500 logo-free baseball cap and austere coats and suits from the luxe Italian label. (And, yes, the famed method actor is “incredibly engaged” and “150,000% present his thoughts about his costumes,” says Matland.)
And while Fitoussi relies heavily on borrowing big name pieces for Emily in Paris, she avoids being financially beholden to brands. “I’m working old school,” she explains. “That means I’m looking in the archive or at the lookbooks. It’s not a monetized [arrangement]. It’s a collaboration. It’s a partnership. No money is involved.”
Fitoussi explains that so far, she hasn’t had to integrate paid product placements — an entirely different animal — into her costume mix yet, which she appreciates for allowing her to maintain her creative “freedom.” Studios (or producers) may make arrangements with brands, across all categories, to incorporate an item into a film or television show as a paid marketing opportunities. For example, Fitoussi refers to the Dior-logo helmet that Lily Collins, as Emily, wore while zipping through Paris on a Vespa in Season 2. “That’s certainly product placement, but it doesn’t involve me regarding clothes,” she says. (Helmets are under the jurisdiction of the props department.)
For costume designers, product placements require finding a way to seamlessly and coherently integrate the item into an already established character wardrobe — even if the brand or item aren’t synergistic with the show. Fitoussi recalls the producers once asking her opinion on a incongruent placement opportunity. “‘I don’t think it’s very Emily,’” she says, recalling her response. “‘Who could wear this flip-flop?’ And they said, ‘Yes, you’re right.” Across the pond, Rogers once agreed to incorporate Banana Republic, via HBO marketing, but only on background players and not the And Just Like That leads.
The growing synergy between on-screen fashion and immersive storytelling is also fueled by growing purchasing accessibility. “So many brands now are really building their direct-to-consumer models, [so] the leverage of television features are a lot higher,” says Mensah, also comparing the wider reach of streaming series to film. Granted, most of us can’t afford Kendall’s wardrobe, but we could easily cop a $20 plain wool hat that looks like Loro Piana. Plus, Zoomers, who are always connected to one screen or another, “have grown up in a world where commerce is so interconnected with culture,” says Juv’s Frary. The generation is just conditioned to associating the immediacy and ease of purchase with the content they’re consuming.
Still, there remains one major obstacle to shopping what’s on screen: the lag of around four to six months between filming and when a show or movie premieres. By then, the wardrobe featured most likely is no longer available.
During the frenzy leading up to the fall 2021 premiere of AJLT, Rogers and Santiago received a selection of handbags from the unprecedented Gucci x Balenciaga The Hacker Project collection, to launch in November that year. Parker selected an angular top handle bag for Carrie to walk across Manhattan clad in an intentionally out-of-character outfit. “I said to Gucci, ‘She wants to wear this one on an exterior, which is going to involve a lot of photos immediately,’” says Rogers, anticipating correctly that paparazzi pics of the outdoor shoot — and the logo’d bag — would go viral. Rogers and her Gucci contact even discussed holding that particular style to release in conjunction with the episode airing in December.
“Because the worst thing is to see something on Carrie and want to get it. But it’s from six months ago, and it no longer exists,” says Rogers. And while her idea of a joint release hasn’t worked out yet, she continues to suggest the idea to fashion house contacts in Europe and New York. The tricky part is getting the stars to align just right with ready samples and in sync timelines.
“But, maybe we’ll get there,” says Rogers, perhaps portending to the next frontier of fashion marketing and sales to unfold on our screens. “I always ask.”