Boardwalk Empire Costume Q&A: John Dunn & Lisa Padovani | Clothes on Film

On the eve of Boardwalk Empire: Season 2 commencing at HBO, we have had a chat with the show’s costume designers, Emmy nominated John Dunn and Lisa Padovani about what is in store for dandy gangster Nucky Thompson, sourcing vintage dresses and upcoming trends of the 1920s.

Clothes on Film, Chris: What do you have planned for Boardwalk Empire Season 2?

John Dunn: In Season 2 we will be continuing to explore the decade as our characters and their pasts are further revealed. We are also introducing some of the new currents in fashion as the 20’s begin to unfold and our characters’ situations shift. The big trends of the 20’s are still ahead of us but we will begin to set the groundwork.

In addition, our shop has become very adept at building beautiful women’s pieces from scratch at the speed of light. While it is always exciting to find beautiful vintage pieces to use, we also like to create original pieces and the skills of our drapers and stitchers to recreate the period has increased as we progressed through Season 2. We also found some new equipment for our shop. We were, for example, very pleased to locate a vintage faggoting machine which creates a seaming used so prominently for constructing dresses and blouses starting in the late teens and early 20’s.

Despite troubles ahead, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) won’t be letting his appearance slip. It would cause his enemies to “smell blood in the water”.

CoF: Will you gradually be incorporating more classically twenties’ elements, such as cloche hats and soft collars for men?

Lisa Padovani: We use soft collars on men now, usually on younger characters. We also use cloche hats on women; cloches come in several shapes and proportions, we are using more asymmetrical, larger brimmed cloches which are the earlier styles. The close-to-the-head, small brimmed cloches, of which the term “cloche” has become synonymous, came into fashion in about 1925.

CoF: Nucky (Steve Buscemi) looks to be in for some tough times this season. Will his costume reflect this in any way?

JD: Nucky is not one to let life’s trials impact his appearance. In fact, as he is a very shrewd man he would be aware that his enemies would smell blood in the water if he were to let his appearance slip.

CoF: Is Nucky’s overall look based on the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor)?

JD: Nucky’s wardrobe is inspired by the Prince in two ways, but neither is meant to be a copy of the Prince’s style per se. First of all, The Prince of Wales had great individual style and we wanted to imbue Nucky’s wardrobe with an equally bold style. We mix lots of colours and patterns, but it is all carefully researched for accuracy to the period. Secondly, The Prince seemed to be one of those individuals with an innate sense of dressing to catch the eye and also to photograph well. He had strong sense of projecting a confident man at the top of his game and this is something we wanted for Nucky as well.

Most female costumes, such as this lilac dress on Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) are made from scratch as vintage finds are often too soiled and fragile.

CoF: Are you still able to use vintage dresses? It must be increasingly difficult finding items in wearable order?

LP: It’s very difficult to find vintage dresses that are in good enough shape for a principal to wear. Sometimes we get lucky and we find something that just needs some additional beading or perhaps a new silk slip, but for the most part we make all their costumes. Even if we find a vintage dress in excellent shape, sometimes it’s so fragile that it doesn’t make it through the scene without ripping. These pieces can also look too “tired”, especially compared to another character in the scene (like Nucky) that has had his clothes freshly made.

CoF: Will we see more of Chalky’s (Michael Kenneth Williams) marvellous colourful suits this time around?

LP: Of course. He is to the Atlantic City African American community the yang to Nucky’s yin.

CoF: Is Chalky’s look something of a precursor to ‘Blaxploitation’ street wear worn during the 1970s?

LP: We do dress Chalky in bolder colours and prints than we do any of the other characters. The trends of the 70’s were inspired by the late 20’s and early 30’s so there is a similarity in the silhouette. I actually like to think that Chalky is more of a precursor to the zoot suits of the 40’s, not as exaggerated of course, but bold and colourful.

Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White. His bold look is precursor to the colourful and politically significant ‘zoot suits’ of the 1940s.

CoF: How did the silhouette for women alter in 1921? Was there really much change from 1920?

LP: There really isn’t much change from 1920 to 1921; hemlines got a little shorter and the waist starts to drop. The real change comes in 1922 when the waist line completely drops to the hip and the hemlines actually get longer – not the most flattering to most figures but fortunately this trend went away pretty quickly.

CoF: What excited you most about working on Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire?

JD: The opportunity to continue dressing these complex characters is really exciting. The clothing we are presenting seems to truly fascinate the audience and to have such a positive response makes working on the series quite thrilling.

With thanks to John Dunn & Lisa Padovani.

Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire begins in the U.S. on 25th September and 8th October in the UK.

© 2011 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.