Hello there 🙂
Welcome to Firefly Lane! The year is … well, it depends on the episode. Netflix's adorable adaptation of the Firefly Lane Kristen Hannah Books play Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke as two lifelong best friends in a 10-episode first season that spans five decades of family, relationships and, of course, fashion. Fans of the film Now and then (1995) will be happy about the thrown back mood of the music, the time jump narrative and the incredibly precise costumes of the main characters in the 70s, 80s and 00s. Confessing that I saw the entire show in just two days shouldn't come as a surprise.
As fashion journalist Elizabeth Holmes regularly notes, I had "so lots of thoughts. ”Thankfully, costume designer Allisa Swanson had all the answers (plus a few pro tips) which made me appreciate the depth of Firefly Lane and its characters even more. Without spoiling the roller coaster storylines, Swanson provided incredible insight into what it takes to outfit an entire cast (including background actors) in an authentically vintage way, and how the smallest details are crucial when it comes to decade-long Signature style is all about.
You have been a professional costume designer for over 20 years. So what was it that got you excited? Firefly Lane?
I loved the idea [of a show that spans multiple decades] because I like projects that challenge me and I knew this was going to be a big one. The 70s were generally a fun time and the 80s is a fabulous decade for costumes. The 2000s weren't our greatest time for clothing, but the way we dress is so different from now. I was really excited to do something that took my design skills this broad.
Were some decades more difficult to design than others?
It was difficult to find children's clothing – especially for the early 60s scenes. For the scene with baby Shawn, I had a local lady in Vancouver who knitted these little onesies for us because we couldn't buy anything that would be contemporary for a one-year-old in the early 1960s. I found reference photos from the early 60s of what babies would wear, so we sent the photos and some yarn and she knitted these for us.
For looks from the 70s, I went on a huge shopping spree in a second-hand store right at the beginning of the preparation. My assistant and I have visited every small town within a five hour drive of where we live and visited every thrift store we could. We filled up my minivan and a half-ton truck for four days. We were able to find authentic items from the '70s,' 80s, and 2000s because people cleaned their next few things and got rid of things that they'd been holding on to for over 20 years. There were even a couple of stores in the small towns we had relationships with and every time they got new stock we would hold a video conference (this was before COVID) and they would send us the things we liked.
What references did you use to create the overall look and feel for each decade?
I've used a lot of catalogs from the 70's and 80's, especially Sears catalogs, because everyday people wore it. I had a few magazines from the 80s in my collection, but this was high fashion that our girls couldn't afford even if they were after it.
I also have a huge collection of patterns from the 70s and 80s, some of which were owned by my grandmother and some of which were what I made in the 80s. We referenced many of these patterns to get a feel for how a blazer would be cut differently than it is today, or how princess seams would fit in different places.
And of course the internet is always helpful. Pinterest is one of my all time favorite websites so I've spent a lot of time creating boards on my personal account. I had 70's Kate, 70's Tully, etc. Then I had general 70's and 80's boards. Every time a new character showed up, I would create a new Pinterest board, even for supporting characters and background actors.
When it came time to create the mood board for certain characters, I read and highlighted the book beforehand, perked my ears up, and took notes, using those along with the script for clues to compile character profiles. Kate is shy and withdrawn and smart and ambitious, but ambitious in her own way about her own life. Tully, who was larger than life from the start, always strives for more and for better. Based on these character attributes, I built their mood boards that contained overlapping color palettes. In the 80s, Kate was all about pastel colors. Tully was very bright and gem-colored. Kate was always softer than the maternal mother. Everything was comfortable for her, even when she was at work.
Who were some real-world references or sources of inspiration for Tully and Kate?
Brooke Shields was a huge icon that I channeled for both of her college looks. The funny thing about the 80s was that it's not just a look from start to finish. The 80s had so many different trends that if we did 82 it had to look different from what we did 87. Brooke Shields embodied the early 80s, while Cindy Crawford was my muse for the scenes of the late 80s.
Plus, Oprah was someone I was looking for in Tully's style in the 2000s Oprah Winfrey Show was at its peak. Oprah has always been very elegant, so I tried to recreate that for Tully. Many of the icons of the early 2000s, like Paris Hilton, were too young for Tully. She's still a 40 year old woman so she won't be walking around with her diaphragm on. Jennifer Aniston was a great source of inspiration for Kate from the 2000s.
What was your favorite decade to style Tully? What about kate
I especially loved the '80s as a whole because they have changed so much over the decade. All the characters had a really cool, sleek '80s look with big hair and shoulder pads. In the 80s everyone was done. You left the house in a glance – there was so much personality. You might look very different from the person you were standing next to and yet you were dressed appropriately.
I really loved all of the costumes for the late 80s wedding. Tully's purple and black suit was one of the ones we found in a thrift store. With a little tweaking, very small changes, it fit. We didn't have to do anything about it – it was perfect and fitted Katherine Heigel like a glove.
We modeled Kate and the rest of the bridesmaid dresses from a bridesmaid dress I actually wore in 1987, with a boned bodice and a Basque waist that dips in the front and exaggerated sleeves. We needed so many yards of the pink raw silk that we had to pre-order it, and it came straight from the factory in India. It's just beautiful stuff.
For the men, Richard Gere was a major influence, as were popular films of the time such as Ferris turns blue and Back to the Future. Interestingly enough, men's fashion doesn't change anything in women's fashion. There are subtle differences, like in the 80s the waists were higher and the shirts tucked into hook and cuff jeans.
In the 2000s, everyone wore their pants very low on the hips and super baggy. All of the men on the show, especially in their 2000s, look like they're in dad's clothes. Everything is too big. It was actually very hard to make the men look sexy in the 2000s when it was necessary and still stick to the fashion of the day.
What are your tips for vintage shopping or thrifting on pieces from a specific period? Were there certain brands that you were looking for?
My approach was more about achieving the overall style of the decade. There were so many people dressed head to toe that shopping for a particular brand wasn't a priority. I thought when we did our frugality it was just background and concepts, but we found pieces so good that a lot of the things we did frugally were actually worn on the show. In the trailer, Tully wears a beautiful black knitted overall with a pearl neckline from the 80s. We found this in a thrift store and it was in fantastic condition.
When we started shooting, high waisted jeans came back, so we bought pants a few sizes up to get a good high waist and then picked them up at the waist leaving the legs taller. Overall, the jeans were a mix of vintage pieces and some from today's stores, many of which have been scaled up to fit the girls' waistlines.
Let's talk about accessories. Kate's glasses obviously evolve over the course of the year, which I love as a glasses wearer. How did you get these frames?
Glasses generally fall under the props department, but because fashion was so important, we'd choose them together. First the actress would come in for her customization, we'd get her looks going, and then about a few glances would come in, props would come in with the glasses, and together we'd pick our two best pictures. If I didn't think glasses would fit Kate's overall look, we wouldn't let Sarah try them on at all.
Jewelry is also widely used, especially for Tully. Can you tell me about working with Jewels for Hope?
The 80s were specifically geared towards jewelery – everything was big and oversized and everyone wore jewelery every day. As early as the 2000s, jewelry was an important part of completing an outfit. By the time we hit the 2000s on the show, Tully has a lot of money, so her jewelry had to look luxurious and expensive. Tully will never go out and look bad, and that includes the jewelry that frames our faces.
While filming, we shot two episodes at the same time, which is known as blocked shooting. Before each block began, it took me at least an hour to go through Tully's lineup and plan the jewelry that went with each outfit. It could take hours depending on how many changes she had. There have been a few episodes where both Kate and Tully had nearly 40 changes in two episodes between the 80s and 2000s.
Sourcing the jewelry was fun too. I will call Valerie Guerrero from The Artisan Group, who works with independent artists around the world, and she will share what I am doing: "Firefly Lane Netflix requires rings from the 70s, earrings from the 80s, and big statement jewelry for the early 2000s. "In this case, I got the job two months before we started prep, so I literally called her the next day and said," I'm doing a show that's spanning three decades. What got you? "
All artisans send handwritten notes about the jewelry, how they made it and where it came from. I took all the notes on setting and whenever we used a piece specially made by the craftsmen we would write down who went and what episode it went on so we let Valerie know when they could see their work on screen. This is a great way for local artisans who handcraft everything to get the exposure they normally wouldn't.
As soon as the episode comes out, I'll tweet or Instagram and tag it. I've been using this service since 2015 and I love it. I used it The hundreds and There was onceand every piece they sent me came on the show on Firefly Lane. Every artist who did something for me was introduced. All of the jewelry was so unique and special. I hope the audience enjoy it as much as I do!
Next up: I stopped wearing jewelry during quarantine – this is how I got my shine back