How ‘The Morning Show’ Empowers Its Women Through Its Costume Design

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Photo Source: Erin Simkin

Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” (back for a second season Sept. 17) is, in some ways, a 2021 counterpart to “Legally Blonde”—and not only because Reese Witherspoon stars and executive produces. Both follow business-minded women pushing forward in a world that couldn’t be less concerned with clearing a path for them. It makes sense, then, that designer Sophie De Rakoff created the costumes for both projects! Suiting up powerful women has become her industry calling card. 

Starting with “The Morning Show,” early on, how did you figure out these powerful looks for the principal characters? 
A designer called Debra McGuire is responsible for Jen [Aniston]’s wardrobe. But in general, with Bradley [played by Witherspoon] and with all characters, it’s up to you. With TV, sometimes you have one episode, sometimes you have 10. But you always start with the first episode. And I think my job is to interpret what that character is, who she is in space and time, and who she is economically, who she is logically. I always call it an interpretation, and then that becomes my interpretation of how I think that person would dress and why they would make the choices that they make.

Do you feel like, with the second season, you were able to go deeper with these looks and evolve them alongside the characters?
Yeah, this was the first show I’ve ever done. It was very interesting to come back for a second season, because I think by the end of the first season, we knew who Bradley was, but it was a journey to get there. It was a journey in the script, and it was a journey for the costumes. But what we have in Season 2 is that we meet her nine months later, and she is now a very different person. I think what’s interesting about the two women is, when you start Season 1, with Alex and Bradley, Alex knows who she is; she knows who she is in the world. She knows who she is professionally. Bradley is still finding herself. So, I think with Bradley, we were finding her over the course of the season as she also found herself. But when we meet her in Season 2, she’s in a very different place. There was an opportunity to almost recreate her character and give her this kind of emotional, aesthetic upgrade. Instead of meeting her in a place where she’s all over the place, we find her in a very subtle place where she is now a well-known anchor. And that opened the doors to basically reinvent Bradley aesthetically.

Prior to “The Morning Show,” you had a history of working on projects anchored by strong women, starting with “Legally Blonde.” What do you like about creating looks for these types of characters? 
I like to design for women, and I think it’s because I relate to them and I think that I can find a common history or a common ground—or, at least, I try to. I think power comes in all different forms. Power can be confidence; you can discover your power. And I think, honestly, there was an appetite for powerful female characters that has been growing over the last decade. As we’ve moved away from the romantic comedy genre, we’ve moved into a world of more dramatic content. There’s also been a trajectory with the kind of character representation we’re seeing onscreen. As a designer who is known for working with women, and as a designer who likes to work with women, it’s an inevitable, symbiotic traction.

Tell me more about your relationship with actors. How much of what you do is a collaboration with them? 
One hundred percent [of it]. I love it—the collaboration is my favorite part of the job. On a really, really good day, film is collaborative art. And I think that that stretches all the way through the medium. There’s nothing more interesting to me than coming into a room with my idea of what I think something is, and then working with an actor and collaborating together to either nuance it or take it in a different direction, and really get to know the person that they are creating and that you are creating.

Should good costume design tell the audience—and maybe even the actor, during the developmental phase—something about that character? 
Costume design is in support of the character and in support of the actor and in support of the story and the script. All artists are different. Some actors come in with very strong ideas, some are open to collaborating, and some are not so much. Other actors come in and they find their character in the room, and every time it is a different experience, whether they’re male or female, whether they’re a lead or a day player. And that’s one of the things that keeps the job really interesting. 

How would you describe the role of the costume designer? 
I feel that my job is to visually translate the character from the page to the screen, always working very closely with—depending on whether it’s a movie or a show, the responsibility kind of shifts between the showrunner and the director. On our show, it’s back and forth with [series director and executive producer] Mimi Leder, as well. It’s like a triangle with you; the creative, whoever that may be; and the script. And then you move out of the triangle and you move toward the actor. Then that becomes a circle. 

How did you start costuming for film and television? 
I kind of fell into it by accident. When I moved to L.A. from New York, I needed a job and I ended up working for a stylist because, up until then, I’d been a writer, but there were no magazines here, really, in the early ’90s. And then I became a music video stylist, but it never occurred to me to do a movie. My brother’s girlfriend was acting in a little tiny movie, and she said, “Would you be interested in designing it?” And that was that. And then as far as main costume design, it was love at first sight. 

So how did you actually “learn” to be a costume designer? Was it all on the job?
It was all on the job. I mean, I don’t have any training. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t work in the theater. I have no training for costume design. But I came from that generation of stylists, particularly in Los Angeles. We worked on music videos, and that was a giant learning curve. When I did my first movie, I was a department of one and I basically made it up. And then I did a couple of smaller movies, but I was never an assistant. I was never an assistant costume designer. I basically made everything, and I just made it all up and asked questions. And was terrified, white-knuckling it every time, trying to figure out the logistics of it. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue costume design? 
The advice I would give them is to find a way to get in on the ground floor, whether it’s being a PA, an intern, an assistant. I learned on the job, and a lot of designers learn on the job; it is a tactile, experiential job. It’s esoteric and as abstract as it can be. It’s also about execution, so it’s about being realistic and knowing that it is a career. I think with younger people, there’s expectations that everything comes really easily or you should be at the top of your career within two years, which is completely unrealistic. One of the great things about costume design is that it is a job that you can age into. The older you get and the more experience you have, the more you can bring to the table. Look at it as longevity. And know that it is not glamorous work, either. It’s very much a craft. To learn the craft from the ground up, that’s when you bring the most to the table.

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the senior staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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