'Vampire Diaries' costume designer Jennifer Bryan talks shirtless scenes and leather jackets
Image Credit: Kharen Hill/The CWAt last, The Vampire Diaries returns tonight (The CW, 8 p.m. EST)! To get us through the last leather jacket-less month, we phoned costume designer Jennifer Bryan as she was out and about in Atlanta looking for pumps to talk about all the shirtlessness we were missing, the secret to buying a leather jacket (one of the excellent reader questions submitted for her), and what we have to look forward to next (Damon on a bender!).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s just get right to it. The shirtlessness: Is that something that’s usually in the script, or something you negotiate with the actors?
JENNIFER BRYAN: There’s a couple of ways that it has evolved. I would say almost all the time, the writers put it in. But they dole it out in small measures. If the story calls for it, that’s what happens. But I don’t think they had expected such a strong positive reaction, like, “More! More!”
Do the actors embrace it? What’s their reaction?
It’s middle-of-the-road. Paul [Wesley] and Ian [Somerhalder] take what they do really seriously, so we really try to not be gratuitous.
There was that one episode when Stefan was putting on his shirt as he walked into his bedroom. I’m not complaining, but I was like, he had to do that right then? He couldn’t have done that in the hallway on the way to his room, off-camera?
It gave him something to do. It’s almost like we used it as a connector because we needed him to work into another scene where his shirt was on. So we had to make the shirt exist. I’m puttin’ it on, and I’m walking into the room, so the next time you see him, it wouldn’t seem like a continuity mistake.
Do you ever have weird moments on the set where you have Paul trying on different shirts to see which one is going to come on or off easiest?
I do, actually. It depends on the weight of the fabric, and it has to fit a certain way so if he’s pulling it off on-camera, it’s not awkward. It doesn’t look like a three-year-old trying to get out of a snowsuit. It’s done with a lot of grace. [Laughs]
There are some shirts that we’ve discovered are a great fit for those guys. I’m a huge fan of John Varvatos, the cuts on their shirts work great on Ian. There’s an episode where Stefan stabs Damon, and Damon says, “Damn, that was John Varvatos.” Like, “You ruined my John Varvatos shirt.” We actually used the label in the dialogue because it actually was a John Varvatos shirt that he had on. We use Ben Sherman, a T-shirt line called Alternative. We also like some Converse and Boss shirts. We do Diesel jeans and Levi’s.
We got a lot of questions about the leather jackets they wear.
That leather jacket that Ian wears as Damon, that is a John Varvatos jacket. Stefan’s jacket is a Boss, a washed leather so it has that distressed, worn-in process built-in, like he’s had it forever.
One reader pointed out that you incorporated Stefan’s leather jacket and sunglasses from the book. “Was that an intentional nod, or does Paul Wesley just look good in practically anything and women love a man in a good leather jacket?” (Submitted by frencht)
We did a little nod to it. We don’t want to tie ourselves down to the book too much. Being a television show, you have to flesh it out even more. But we do, every now and then, do visual nods and readers of the books recognize it. I’m so impressed with how knowledgeable the fans are. They have episode numbers.
Yes, there was a very specific question about Elena’s leather jacket in episode 14. Apparently, she wore a different one than she usually does. (Submitted by Robyn Scheiwiller)
I saw that question! To answer that girl’s question, tell her she has a really sharp eye. They were actually two different jackets, but they were both KRMA jackets. I decided to introduce a new one just to give a visual relief, so it didn’t look like the poor girl only had one leather jacket.
Have any tips for picking out the perfect leather jacket, and insuring that it’s the right fit? (Submitted by FNL)
I do. The thinner the skin and the softer the skin, the better that leather jacket will drape and fit you. You want to look for what’s called garment grade leather. It should just feel like butter and have a drape. If it’s rigid, then it’s going to stand away from your body. If that’s the look you’re looking for — the ’80s, a bomber jacket that is very, very rugged — that’s fine. But especially on guys, the lighter the leather, the more it will fit like a cloth jacket and really mold onto your body and fit you really well in the shoulders. That’s one of my tricks.
Is Elena’s necklace one-of-a-kind or can fans buy it somewhere? (Submitted by Amanda)
That was a one-of-a-kind. It was inspired by a vintage piece.
Do you ever get frustrated having to work Elena’s wardrobe around the necklace?
Yeah. [Laughs] There are times when it does limit my neckline choices. But luckily, I knew the necklace was going to be introduced before it happened, so I made sure I locked down her look with scoops, V-necks. I had that as her silhouette. Occasionally, when I want to go a little higher and do a little collar or something, I have to be aware of that. The moment it was introduced, my neckline choices became fewer.
Who’s your favorite character to dress? (Submitted by Kay)
That’s like asking me who’s my favorite child! [Laughs]
Well, people often say it’s more fun to play a bad boy. Is it more fun to dress a bad boy? What’s the difference between the brothers’ styles?
Damon’s style is very narrow. With Stefan, I can get to do a little bit more because he’s in high school. I do a little bit more color on him because at one point, we felt that we needed to separate them so they didn’t start to look alike.
What can you say about Bonnie’s style? (Submitted by Kelsey)
She’s the kind of earthy girl, in touch with what’s going on around her. And then Grams was introduced, and you see that’s who Grams is, she goes to the beat of a different drummer, so it would make sense that her granddaughter would kind of rock that vibe. She’s a 21st century flower child, so her clothes have a little ethnic inspiration, embroidery, florals, she might wear a little shawl and funky little shoes. I use Free People tops on her quite a bit ’cause they have that little folksy influence in their line.
How did you develop the looks for the flashbacks to 1864?
I did a lot of research. That’s the joy about doing this show: It’s so unusual for a designer to get contemporary and period in one show. We have a young audience, but they love the history. I do sketches, and when time permits, I get most of the things built. Katherine’s dress, I designed.
And the actors are as excited for the period costumes as the fans are?
They like it. Sometimes I’ll have to explain to them. “Well, what is this for?” “People wore this because so and so.” I have to give them a little history lesson so they understand what they’re wearing, the purpose of it. Back then, a lot of what you wore was determined by your activity. You’d change clothes more often. You’d have morning clothes, evening clothes. Women of a certain economic stature would change two or three times a day. Not like we do now, throw on jeans and that’s it. So this is what you’d wear if you were home, this is what you’d wear if you were coming out of a carriage. They get into it.
We had a question about Jeremy’s style. Any chance of it evolving? (Submitted by bambi)
We needed to have him start from a bit of a sad place. He was at a place in his life where he didn’t care about his clothes, whether they fit or not. He was a slacker. That’s the message we sent with his wardrobe. It was oversized, it was slouchy. If you watch, his clothes are gradually, gradually coming together. They’re not as loose, a little bit more thought out. As he’s cleaned up his act, his clothes have also cleaned up.
Damon will be going on a drinking bender since he wasn’t able to find Katherine in the tomb. Will we see that reflected in his wardrobe?
Yes. Just like how you see Jeremy clean up a bit, then you’re gonna see Damon go down a little bit. There’ll be sometimes when he just won’t be quite as put together as you’re accustomed to seeing him because he hit the bottle. There’s also a big flashback episode coming up. So I get to do more fun stuff, hoop skirts and silks.
What’s the most challenging situation to dress for?
It’s the times when I have to think about the action and the blood and make the clothes be practical to the scene. If we have stunt guys, making sure all of that works. We need to find multiples. Someone’s gonna get bitten in the neck or something, and I’ll find a really cool top, and ohmygosh, there’s only two in the store and I need, like, four. That gets to be challenging. And something new for costume designers is now everybody has really big televisions. You have to think about magnification of patterns and stripes. That’s a new consideration. Stripes and checks, I have to make sure that they don’t strobe on HD.
How do you straddle the line on the show: It’s sexy because it’s vampires, but it’s also for a young audience?
That’s the word: I do have to straddle that. I think we push the envelope in a good way. We’ve been able to keep the show sexy, but not having it be gratuitous. On [her previous jobs] Las Vegas or Dark Angel, you could just put it out there. On this show, I have to bear in mind that it’s high school, the time slot. We do have restrictions. So a lot of it is suggested. I think that’s why the shirtlessness is such a big deal because we give them small doses, and it’s like, “Ah! Ohmygod!”
It’s like a little treat.
It’s a little treat. “Here you go!” It’s bacon strips. [Laughs]
What’s next for you personally?
I want to do a really sexy sandal line, when time permits. When I was in college, I had ideas of being a shoe designer. Now, it’s like, I want to do this. I really love shoes. I mean, look at me, you’re talking to me in the middle of a DSW where the salespeople know me on a first-name basis. What’s wrong with that picture?
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