How could somebody use clothing to retell the tale of slaves who resisted? Karyn Wagner, costume designer for the WGN Television set sequence “Underground,” faced this incredibly problem: reconstructing the experience of enslaved men and women who resisted their problem as chattel by escaping on the Underground Railroad.
Wagner is a 3rd-era movie sector veteran: Her grandfather was a cinematographer — greatest regarded for his operate on the Hitchcock typical “Rebecca” — and her grandmother was an actress her father, Richard Wagner, worked for Paramount as a audio mixer. Wagner, a native Angeleno, expended her childhood actively playing in the back again plenty of Hollywood. Her résumé features a number of blockbuster movies, together with “The Environmentally friendly Mile,” “The Notebook” and “The Majestic.”
Her to start with significant crack was “Eve’s Bayou,” a coming-of-age drama of young woman from a distinguished Creole relatives in nineteen sixties southern Louisiana. (Coincidentally, the movie starred a ten-calendar year-previous Jurnee Smollett-Bell, with whom Wagner would work again on “Underground” nearly two decades afterwards.) There ended up no major white figures in “Eve’s Bayou” Wagner’s process was to use costuming to inform the tale of a relatives in a city “cost-free of black subjugation.”
On “Underground,” she has a incredibly various process, although both projects are set in the South and grapple with the penalties of racial inequity. The to start with season of “Underground” tells the tale of a group of slaves who escape from a plantation in Georgia and embark on a 600-mile journey to liberty. Together the way, they have to avoid ruthless slave catchers even though obtaining a way to link with the sympathetic whites and cost-free blacks in the Underground Railroad who can assistance shepherd them to the North.
The 2nd season has centered the repercussions of the escape of the “Macon Seven,” as the runaways are regarded, and includes a number of new historic figures: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass (played by John Legend), John Brown and the illegal slave catcher Patty Cannon. Tubman is especially central to the storyline this season. “Costuming Aisha Hinds [who plays Harriet Tubman] was specifically tough as there are only a handful of extant pictures of Tubman,” Wagner states. In very last week’s episode, the show’s producers defied conventions with an hour-lengthy monologue by Tubman, for which Hinds was outfitted in a basic lengthy gray costume impressed by one Tubman wore in the typical portrait of her from the 1870s.
Wagner describes that the show’s costuming revolves all-around distinct palettes and silhouettes. The industry slaves’ palette is typically more neutral to create their wear-and-tear look, Wagner has a staffer whose sole career is distressing. It requires a good deal of operate to “make fabric give up,” as Wagner puts it, and it consists of repeated washing, bleaching, staining and sanding the most made use of parts of outfits.
This season, Ernestine finishes up on a rice plantation on the South Carolina coastline, a area regarded for its Gullah/Geechee tradition. Due to isolation, slaves in this article preserved a culture that was an amalgam of many West African cultures, which survives today on the South Carolina coastline and Georgia Sea Islands. Wagner combed as a result of archives and posted collections of historic photos to learn more about the costume of the Gullah folks, but identified up coming to practically nothing. She resolved to operate backwards, drawing inspiration from present-day West African manner. She chose to categorical Gullah tradition with a colourful palette of saturated pinks, yellows, blues and purples and the occasional use of Dutch wax prints.
In the to start with season, the domestic slaves’ palette matched the inside of the significant property. “It really is not often about being one hundred per cent traditionally correct,” states Wagner. “As a costume designer, there are periods that I just take licenses.” She worked with the set designer and had the domestic slaves’ liveries made from the exact same silk as the significant house’s wallpaper. The notion was that Suzanna, the mistress of the Macon Plantation, would want the domestic slaves to blend into the house’s decor as an arrogant display screen of her electricity and prosperity. “In my investigate for the present, I never encountered any individual executing this, although it is definitely plausible. It was an intervention on my portion,” she describes.
Very last season, we saw Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s character Rosalee as a property slave in the type-fitting bodice and female silhouette of her livery. This season, she undergoes a radical transformation as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, carrying looser, more masculine outfits. Her transformation displays a recurring theme this season: hiding in simple sight. For the to start with several episodes, Karyn and her staff had to disguise Smollett-Bell’s true pregnancy. At the time her pregnancy is unveiled to us on the present, Rosalee proceeds disguise her pregnancy from the other figures on the present.
Georgia (played by Jasika Nicole, pictured at the best of this site) is another character who hides in simple sight. A formerly enslaved lady of coloration who passes as a white abolitionist, she and her multiracial cohort of gun-toting abolitionists masquerade as a stitching circle. Wagner was tasked with creating Georgia and her ilk, a fairly unconventional group, look both inconspicuous and conveniently identifiable. “You ought to know anything you require to about a character before they open up their mouth and say a phrase, and you ought to know it from the costume, the hair and the makeup,” states Wagner.