Beyond the obvious intrigue, Search Party’s highly stylized feel is a huge draw. Everything from minor set details to single-camera shooting was carefully chosen to reflect the very of-the-moment culture the characters live and breathe. Wardrobe is a major component here, so we sat down with Search Party costume designer Matthew Simonelli to learn more about the art of dressing like you don’t care (when you really do), and the real-life reference points that inspire this aesthetic.
Read on for Simonelli’s insight, and get pumped for the premiere of Search Party. Binge the entire first season on TBS November 21-25, with two episodes each night starting at 11/10C, or catch them on demand. In the meantime, you can watch episode one here.
Search Party is all about the “hipster” look. Why is the whole hipster thing so divisive?
I think it’s divisive for a couple of reasons. It’s young and it’s fresh, and people have their own ideas on what kids are supposed to be wearing to work, or to the office, or wherever. Kids are wearing things in new interesting ways; there are no set rules. It’s a lot more mix and match, which I think is why it works.
I like this whole trend of fluidity. Before, there were men who wore women’s jeans because you could get a skinnier fit. And now, what I’m seeing a lot is men wearing women’s blouses — there’s a lot more fluidity happening, which I think is really fresh and interesting.
What do you use as reference points or inspiration for achieving this aesthetic? How do you make the call between what's cool versus already stale in this scene?
The first thing I do, especially on a project like this, is to read the scripts. The scripts will dictate what the characters are — where their motivation is. Sometimes I think that things are better when they’re not super fashionable, or they’re a little dated, or a little less on point. You can kind of make a statement about the character and what their wants are. Maybe they’re just so in their head that they’re not experiencing the trend.
I also keep track of people on the subway — that’s actually my favorite thing to do. I try to snapshot people secretively on the subway that I really like [laughs].
I’m definitely influenced by The Sartorialist and different bloggers and magazines, but I really try to pare it down to the world that we’re living in in Search Party. We have Dory and Drew, who are constantly thrifting — Dory’s like a little thrift mouse. We have Portia and Elliott who have tons of money, and we don’t know where their money comes from. They’re kind of this new wave of hipster. Maybe they were living in Manhattan and now they’re living in Brooklyn because it’s cool, but they’re still shopping at Barney’s. I see this reflected in a lot of blogs right now.
How do you go about selecting pieces that don’t feel overly “costumey”? Is dressing the characters a balancing act of sorts?
When it’s right, it’s right. I try to follow my gut and I’m not afraid of going too costumey or going too bonkers, because I like that. I like seeing that in New York; you see people going to work in bonkers things, and I want to use that for this show. I want this to speak to our generation. I don’t want these kids to look like typical TV characters at all. What I really try to trust in myself is collecting the pieces that I like and make me feel a certain way with the character in mind. Of course I’m thinking about the overall vision of the show, but I try to allow myself to really roll around in it, and sometimes that does mean this “costumey” thing.
But, that costumey thing can really punctuate a scene. For example, when you have someone in a really beautiful floral outfit and all of a sudden they’re crushed because something sad has happened, there’s something endearing about that, the way costumes can speak. You can have these little beautiful moments.
How do the characters’ personal journeys affect your wardrobe choices? For example, is Dory’s quarter-life crisis reflected in her wardrobe?
When we were starting with prep, I talked to Alia [Shawkat] and we were on the same page as far as the silhouette and the style we wanted. Part of the discussion was also that, in the beginning of the season, clothes wouldn’t be as tight; she’d feel more awkward in her clothes and gradually transition into a more confident woman. The lines would become cleaner, and she’d be dressing in a more flattering manner in relation to her body. As Dory feels like she has a personal mission, it’s reflected in her clothes — they’re more dynamic and everything has a lot more purpose.
Does the overarching plot — the search for a missing girl, Chantal — influence your costume choices as well? If so, how does this play out?
In terms of subtleties, besides what was happening in fashion currently when I was creating the looks, I was also really reflecting on film noir in the ‘40s. I was equating our characters with characters that have lived before. I was thinking about Dory in terms of Humphrey Bogart: What kind of pieces does he have in his wardrobe that translate to her? What is this back and forth, and how can we turn it on its head? And always in film noirs, there’s this man-eater role, a beautiful woman that’s always a starlet or a showgirl, and I thought of Portia filling that role: the glamour girl the guys always fall for. Beyond 1940s film, other older inspirations were Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo.
It is a comedy, but it’s this dark comedy. There’s something sobering about it. The focus was to build this cinematic world — this 1940s world, this Nancy Drew world — that has these cinematic moments that punctate the scenes. I wanted Drew and Dory to be pretty sober in their looks — to be stylish and cute, natural. And then, when things really start happening, there’s Elliott showing up in a bonkers outfit, or Portia showing up in something completely inappropriate for what they’re doing. For example, if they’re going on a road trip to find Chantal, Portia’s wearing a chiffon one-piece jumper.
I tried to tie that all in so that you have this very serious-looking piece, but with these moments of comedy; these moments where you can take a break and laugh at what they’re wearing — and how they’re still sort of in this Instagram world while a person’s missing. They’re literally posting photos while they’re on the hunt. The dream of the thing comes first for Portia and Elliott. They’re not living in reality, they’re living in an Instagram reality.
How did you source the pieces?
My number one favorite piece for Dory is her blue boucle jacket. It’s a vintage jacket that has red buttons down the front and a little lapel, and it kind of cuts the line of her body and then flows away. I really wanted a long jacket on her and we were thinking about making it, but I happened to find this piece at Beacon’s Closet. It was amazing.
My favorite look for Portia is in the third episode, I believe. We literally took two dresses and cut them apart and formed this amazing black swan outfit. For Elliott, it’s going to be his three-piece floral ensemble. For Drew, it’s his Texas tuxedo: He wears a denim jacket, a denim shirt, denim jeans with little socks and sneaks and he looks so handsome in it. It’s a little ‘80s, a little Matthew Modine. And, I love all of Julian’s stuff. He’s really of a New York moment; he’s what’s happening in men’s fashion right now.
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