Meet Janie Bryant: The Woman Behind The Mad Men Wardrobe

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Art Credit: AMC

Janie Bryant, a Primetime Emmy® Award Winning costume designer, has received critical attention for her costume design for “Mad Men”, as well as her work on HBO’s “Deadwood”. I loved sitting down with her for a chat. 

Q: Now that we’ve seen the dramatic season finale of Mad Men, I’m sure all the viewers will be at the edge of their seats for next year! But we want the backstory! Tell us about your journey with fashion design.

A: I started my costume design career in New York City for 9.5 years before making the trek out west. I felt very grateful by the time I got to LA, because I had such an amazing training ground living in NYC and working in NYC and coming up with different solutions to problems all the time.

Q: And as Tim Gunn says, you really “make it work,” don’t you? What do you do when you have a limited budget?

A: With Mad Men - it’s about creating a character through costume design and being able to tell that story without using words. A lot of times, I will have a certain budget allotted for each character, so often I will buy a vintage dress for $35 and redesign it, make it into a $500 dress, or one worth thousands.

Q: And you’re from a small town, right? Did you ever think you would grow up and become a Primetime Emmy Award-winning costume designer?

A: From the time I was really little, I knew that I wanted to leave my small town of Cleveland, TN and create something big and important for myself. My father and mother always taught us that it was important to broaden your horizons and really understand the bigger picture - to get out there and meet all different kinds of people. They were a big influence on me.

Q: As you like to say, costume design is about conveying a character. How do you communicate the essence of a character through their clothing? Take Joan, for instance.

A: Joan is the commanding force of that office. I love the idea of her being in real power colors and jewel tones. The strength of those jewel tones are powerful, but also seductive. She is a woman who knows how to use her feminine assets to her advantage. But she is also more complex than that, because she is the commanding force in the office and her dialogue is quite strong. She’s a natural leader.

Q: Do you think it is possible for women to convey their own “character” when choosing their outfits?

A: Absolutely! We do that and make those choices every single day. A perfect example is people attending a funeral; traditionally I would be in something black because of the somber mood and moment in time. These are more obvious moments, but we get up every morning and make those choices about what we’re going to wear. Our clothes can help us present ourselves to the world in a way we want the world to see us, even if we don’t feel it on the inside.

Q: As we like to say at Verily, fashion is a language all its own and conveys who we are. Where can women go to find their own timeless Mad Men style?

A: I’ve been working with Banana Republic for three collections, which is about giving the consumer those garments that really are about the show. It’s been a great honor to work with them.

But, if you want to wear real vintage, wear one vintage piece and mix it up with the modern. Don’t walk around looking like a character from the show. Create a great individual style for yourself. These pieces are so unique. I’m always inspired by wearing great vintage pieces. They really are a treasure.