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An interview with Community and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia costume designer, Sabrina Rosen

Last week I got to have a chat with the lovely costume designer of Community and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Sabrina Rosen over the wonderful invention of Skype, and here it is:

On Screen Fashion: How long have you been a costume designer? What influenced you to become one?

Sabrina Rosen: I have been an actual designer since 1999, but I’ve worked as a costumer since 1993, and I kind of got into it by accident while I was living in New York and I had given up trying to become an actress. I was studying and working in fashion when my best friend’s husband, a director, asked me to work on one movie, so I thought I would give it a shot. Next thing I know, I’ve given up my apartment in New York and moved to Los Angeles, and that was that.

OSF: How would you describe your personal style? Do you ever get influenced by the television shows or films you work on in your own personal wardrobe?

SR: No, what I really love is the 30s and 40s and since I grew up in the 70s I like a lot of the nice stuff from the 70s era like Ali MacGraw. My main influence for my personal fashion style is my mom, I dress a lot like her and my moms sister was a very well known fashion designer, so with that and living in New York I was very influenced a lot fashion-wise. At work, it really is the character that influences you. In TV it’s more what you can find in the stores on a weekly basis that will work on that character, it’s not like a movie when you have three months to prepare. You can search in the vintage shops and do whatever you want but you’re forced to do it quickly due to the deadlines.

OSF: Which character in Community was the most fun to dress and why?

SR: Obviously Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) but I would say after that, Annie (Alison Brie) but Jim Rash is so much fun to dress. The costumes we put him in are so ridiculous – he’ll let us put him in anything which is great in comedy, plus he’s a really nice guy! It’s the same with my actors in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, they will wear any ridiculous costume, we just did a pilot and one of them is wearing a handmade gorilla costume which was fun. Going back to Community, Annie is so much fun to dress because that is a style I would personally never wear, I don’t know anybody that dresses like that – it’s so specific and very girly.

OSF: You worked on episode 1 of season 3 which opens with a Glee-esque song which has very bright and eccentric clothing – was that fun to work on? Can you explain reasons for the choice in clothing?

SR: Yeah it was fun to work on – it had to be a version of how our characters already dress but with a heightened colour situation, especially with Jeff (Joel McHale) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs) who are always in dark colours. We put Jeff in his classic button up shirt but instead of a dark colour we put him in pink, the same with Britta but with pink jeans instead of dark jeans. Sometimes it’s like, ‘what’s easy and that I can do fast? I knew that there were tons of bright coloured jeans in the stores and in TV a lot of it has to be put together in such a short amount of time. Most of the time you have to just go to the stores and know your characters enough so that you can identify what would work on them – I have to see it to know it.

OSF: Michael Kenneth Williams appears in season 3 who is well known for his super-stylish clothing in Boardwalk Empire – what was the story behind his costumes?

SR: As he always plays the bad guy like Omar Little (The Wire) and Chalky White (Boardwalk Empire) and because we’re all such huge fans of his, we were all so excited that he was coming. He’s a teacher but he had previously been in prison so I didn’t want it to be too much about his clothes but I wanted him to have a little bit of style – enough for him to intimidate Jeff. He wore a lot of Banana Republic jeans and blazers – I dressed him just like that character would think a teacher would dress after being in prison.

OSF: Abed (Danny Pudi) is dressed quite young – is this to reflect his geeky, awkward personality?

SR: Yeah, it is. It’s funny, three years in and I start forgetting how we even got to this point … but it’s funny with TV, you kind of land on a character and the clothing to match the character and you kinda go with it … so you don’t want to have a completely different look from year to year. He’s the best guy, you should expect to see him in a lot of crazy costumes in the new series.

OSF: Do you have any funny stories about the costume and styling in Community that viewers may not know?

SR: I’m sure there’s a lot of Jim Rash ones. I will tell you one thing … this isn’t really a big thing but I will tell you anyway. Joel Mchale (Jeff) is a clothes horse like you have never met in your life. He is OBSESSED with clothes, sometimes I have to remind him that I’m dressing him for his character but he is so obsessed with fashion. He’s the only actor I have ever worked with in my life that loves costume fittings, most actors aren’t too phased by it but if I tell Joel I’ve just bought new clothes he can’t get over quick enough, he is obsessed.

OSF: What is your favourite fashion moment in Community that you worked on?

SR: There’s an episode coming up where Annie wears a yellow 70s inspired princess dress and we found it in the costume shop, it’s so pretty and it kinda reminds me of Valley of the Dolls so I would say recently that’s my favourite costume.

OSF: You’ve also worked on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – are there any big differences from Community in terms of costumes?

SR: For one thing on Community, I get to buy new clothes. Two of the guys on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia have been wearing the same thing for two years because in the show they are not supposed to have much money and want it to seem real. They are both comedy’s so you both get stuff thrown at you at the last minute – the creators will say ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if … ?’ and it always has something to do with some ridiculous costume that you’re sure you can’t come up with in a 2hour/24hour period but you have to do it because it’s your job. In Community, Dan Harmon the creator of the show is always coming up with something like ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if …?’ as he’s so influenced by other TV shows and movies. In both shows, the creators have seen every movie ever made and every TV show ever made so they’ll come up with an obscure movie with obscure costumes. It’s usually an 80s costume which wasn’t as much my time, so it’s like coming up with something in hardly any time with what you have. You have to figure out how to make it happen, out of nothing and you have to have good seamstresses!

OSF: Are there any other television shows that you would love to work on? Maybe Mad Men?

SR: Obviously Mad Men would be great, who wouldn’t want to work on that? She does such a good job, she’s amazing. I would love to do something that’s 30s or 40s and I would love to do a TV show where they dress like the movie The Artist everyday. I would also love to do something that’s kind of something out of the blaxploitation movies of the 70s where the guys would be wearing a red suit, red hat and red alligator shoes, the sort of thing you would see at a fight in Vegas, it’s very pimpy. I love bad clothes, like I’d love to do a pimpy thing – bright clothes and just bad clothes you could buy downtown but not the nice stores. Obviously Boardwalk Empire would also be amazing to work on but that’s another dream job for all of us, I love the costumes he puts Michael Kenneth Williams in.

Many thanks to Sabrina Rosen

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The many outfits of Carrie Bradshaw: part one

Lets step inside the wonderful closet of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw.

Envious.

Who could forget this moment when Carrie had to bare (nearly) all with these gold rhinestone pants, black satin bra and a blue satin evening coat by Dolce & Gabanna. “Oh my God she’s fashion road kill!”

So very 80s – the smart/casual clothing teamed with a pair of red heels shows Carrie in a much more natural look instead of her usual glamorous attire. It’s the sort of thing you could imagine her sitting in front of her Macbook in – writing her next story.

Ah this outfit = love. Who would have thought Carrie Bradshaw would team a vintage mickey mouse t-shirt with a blazor to wear out on a cocktail date?

The famous ‘Carrie’ nameplate necklace – so many replicas have been made since this moment in the second season.

A grey sequined netted top and a ruffled puffy skirt creates the memorable Versarce gown.

Part two coming soon…

What’s your favourite Carrie Bradshaw outfit? Drop me a comment below!

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