Monday, 4 February 2013

Dancing on the Edge - TV Costumes for the Jazz Age

The first show that I can really rememberwatching and being concious of the costume design was 'The House of Elliot' (1992-94).  As 11 year old who could sew, nothing seemed more incredible than the world of Beatrice and Evie and their fashion collections. It has definitely been a big influence in my love of both costumes, sewing, music and the jazz age.

Which is why I'm excited to be watching Dancing on the Edge (BBC2 9pm) tonight. Stephen Poliakoff's new 5 part offering about a 1930s black jazz band, their rise to fame, along with some pertinent social issues, murder and intrigue. And from what I've seen of the costumes I'm excited. Anyone who knows me well knows that there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be than a 1920s/30s speakeasy, wearing sequins and feathers, drinking bourbon in a teacup or champagne from a saucer, dancing charleston and lindy hop to a red hot band of men in zoot suits and a female singer dripping with gold lame (it's a fantasty, it doesn't have to be historically accurate!)

The costume designer is Lindsey Pugh, who has worked her way up the ranks of costume department, working as costume supervisor on Quantum of Solace and Mama Mia! among others and designing much lower profile work. This is sure to be her breakout role as a costume designer. She knows her stuff: these costumes are beautiful, historically accurate, and you feel you already know the characters just by looking at their photos. Most of these images are taken from her homepage

Judging from the Poliakoff's previous work, as well as previews and photos 'Dancing on the Edge' will be a wonderful two edged sword, beautiful to look at but also intelligent, thought provoking and character driven as well.


 If like me, you can't get enough of the 20s and 30s, here's some other tv shows to help get you in the mood and inspire your wardrobe.

This dvd box set was my Christmas present from my mother. Its an Australian tv series based on Kerry Greenwood's novels about a women sleuth in 1920s Melbourne. It's produced by Deborah Cox, who produced Sea Change and East of Everything, so she knows a bit about interesting but lightweight tv with quirky characters aimed at the female demographic. The costume designer is Marion Boyce, who, according to IMDB, is best known for Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, but we won't hold it against her. Miss Fisher is exquisitely costumed and great fluffy fun. But it has one major flaw: there is huge elephant in the room in the question of brilliant lead actress Essie Davis's age. She's doing a wonderful job of being dressed and acting like a bright young thing, but is obviously not so young. On closer research Davis is 43 and the Phryne Fisher character in the books is about 26. If I could tell Davis was hopelessly miscast with no knowledge of the characters playing age, I dread to think what die-hard fans feel about it.

Boardwalk Empire is my Mad Men. Yes I know Mad Men is faultlessly costumed, but I just find the majority of the characters too boring to care. Boardwalk Empire on the other hand is much more fast paced, with gangsters and prohibition, dirty politics and flappers. Oh yes, and Steve Buscemi. And it's one of the few shows where the men's costumes truely outshine the women's. What's not to love?
The main costume designer is John A. Dunn (along with Lisa Padova) who costumed among many other things, The Notorious Betty Page (2005) and has work on this show picked him up many awards including the CDG Award for Outstanding Costume Design for Period/Fantasy Television Series in 2011, 12 and is nominated again for 2013.

I suspect if you are reading this blog this show about two sisters in 1920s London trying to start a fashion label needs no introduction. This is a show that makes rich and poor, fashion designs and everyday clothes all come to life. It knows you  are aware of the clothes, and yet the costume choices are always character driven. Costume Designers Joan Wadge and James Keast won BAFTAs, CableACE and Primetime Emmy Awards for their work on this show.

Underbelly Season 4: Razor (2011)
 I haven't seen the tv series yet but I've read most of the book on which it's based: Razor, by Larry Writer (until I had to stop because too many stories at bedtime about people cutting each other up with razorblades  gave me nightmares). Underbelly is an Australian tv series famous for its gritty storytelling about organised crime in Australia and showing womens breasts (from the HBO school of tv making).  Season 4 is set in Sydneys eastern suburbs in the 20s, where two of the most famous prohibition era gang leaders were women, Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh.

And just for fun, here's Clara Bow to tell us the true price of elegance:

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