Text: Natasha Stagg
Lena Dunham’s progressive HBO comedy, Girls, love it or hate it, gets a few things right. The women of Girls realistically portray a prominent percentage of a fringe population in Brooklyn. And however niche that may sound, America recognizes them. These characters are not poverty-stricken but they are career-less, and they are not far from Manhattan, but they do not reside on the island itself. They are the growing group of college grads with a substantially more pessimistic outlook on their future options, due to the era in which they live. Dunham’s wit makes light of these “white girl problems” while narrowing in on the painful details of a less-than-luxurious lifestyle in sky’s-the-limit New York City—a direction that has been described as both controversial and brave. She gets help from the also on-point Jenn Rogien, 2012 Style Awards' TV Costume Designer of the Year. Rogien’s contributions seem subtle at first, but the clothing worn in each episode speaks levels on the status of each character. We caught up with the designer on how she gets Girls so right.
Brooklyn twenty-somethings seem hard to pull off on TV. How did you end up breaking this pattern?
JENN ROGIEN I think some of it might be that these characters seem like they might really live in Brooklyn. And not TV Brooklyn. Real Brooklyn. I think some of it might be that I also live in Brooklyn and am constantly using everything I see while I run around my own borough as inspiration. Oh, and method shopping.
You went from working in the theater to working in fashion, and back to the stage and screen. Is there a huge difference between the two arenas?
JR On some level both fashion and costume are centered around clothing and expression. For me, fashion design is about finding inspiration in the world and bringing it to life in a collection—often very beautifully and always focused on the look. Costume design is about taking characters in a script and using clothing to bring them to life—warts and all. Both are telling stories. The approach is a little different.
How was working with the cast? Do you have a favorite girl?
JR I love the cast—the girls, the guys, the guest stars. Everyone is so creative and collaborative and brings their A-game every day. It would be impossible to pick a favorite.
Lena Dunham has been criticized for her lack of style. Did you find her taste difficult to work with?
JR Personally, I love Lena’s style. And I’m inspired by her imagination and direction for every episode. When I’m working on the characters, the focus is on making the choices that are right for the character and the story in that moment.
And I assume Jemima Kirke was, for part of the season, pregnant. Had you costumed a pregnant woman before?
JR She was, and I have.
I know that each character is based on a real person from Lena’s life. Did you go to any of these people for inspiration?
JR In some cases I know who the character is based on and in some cases I get direction from Lena and the writers and we find inspiration and research based on those notes. I did approach a friend of Lena’s who is one of our guest stars when a dress she wore in her life inspired a moment in Season Two.
And did the actors have a lot to do with their own styling?
JR It depends on the actor and the character. Some actors like to be involved and some like me to motivate the process. The variety in those collaborations is one of my favorite aspects of my job.
How would you describe your personal style?
JR I'm a bit of a chameleon—I'll often pick up accessories or even whole looks from characters I'm working on. Other than that I try to look put together. And I live in heels.
What can we expect from you coming up?
JR Right now, I'm designing for a new show for Netflix: Jenji Kohan's Orange Is the New Black. And definitely tune in to Girls Season Two! There are new roommates, new characters, new love interests and of course, new clothes.