The Chippendales dancers are well-known for their black-and-white attire. But costume designer Peggy Schnitzer’s work on Hulu’s “Welcome to Chippendales” reveals that there’s far more to the iconic striptease troupe. Set in Los Angeles beginning in 1979, Robert Siegel’s Hulu miniseries follows entrepreneur Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) as his runaway greed leads him into corruption and, eventually, murder.
The show netted five Emmy nods, including one for Schnitzer. Here, the designer talks about her experience in the industry, the importance of teamwork, and the trial-and-error techniques she used to bring the story to life.
Steve Banerjee has this image of exactly the kind of man he wants to dress like. How did ‘80s excess play into the development of the four main characters’ distinct looks?
I always start with research. It was very important to me to do it exactly how I remembered it. Looking at the research, I’d go, Oh, I remember that; I remember this. A lot of times, people go for the obvious because they didn’t live it; it’s based on what they’ve been told or certain things they’ve seen. I remember the way people used to dress walking Beverly Hills, walking West Hollywood. I’ve always gone back and forth to New York—my family’s from New York—and there was always a big difference between L.A. and New York. I wanted to make it very much an L.A. story when it was in L.A.
What was your initial reaction to the “Chippendales” script?
The script was amazing. [Siegel] is such a good writer and is very descriptive. I grew up in [L.A.], so I was well-acquainted with what was going on [back then]. I was on the young side of it, but when you’re a preteen and teenager, you’re always sneaking out and trying to go to places that are the place. Visually [on the show], it’s still the ’70s. It’s very streamlined at first, then [the styles get] bigger and boxier.
You see an array of period looks and silhouette changes as the series moves into the ‘80s.
[The actors are] all dreams to dress, but we meet [Steve] when he’s working in the gas station [and follow him] to being this well-dressed megalomaniac. It was a huge arc, and so gratifying to do as a costume designer. It’s not always that way; you don’t always get that [kind of] opportunity.
The dancers’ costumes are spectacular. How did you find the right fabric for the tearaway pants?
I had never done that before…and I didn’t know much about it. Your inclination is to go immediately to stretch, but I called [fellow costume designer] Chris Peterson, who did “Magic Mike.” He was so instrumental, helpful, and generous, saying, “OK—you can’t do stretch because it will pull back and forth. You need structured fabrics so that it’s equal.” That one tip cut through a lot of what I would have been in tears over.
There are a few ways you can do it; but…we did snap tape on the outside. What I found is that you don’t snap all of them. There are stress points: There’s the stomach, the hips, the butt, and, [with] some guys, the thighs. In the beginning, you’re standing, watching, biting your nails, and everyone is [saying], “I hope it works.” We were very lucky they gave us a lot of time to rehearse and try it [out].
What’s your best advice for aspiring costume designers?
You have to really love what you do, because it’s very difficult. Some jobs are easier than others, but it’s a lot of work and commitment. The other part is that you have to have good people around you…who are enthusiastic. Sometimes you have to push yourself in many different [directions] to find what you’re looking for; it doesn’t just appear. And you have to have good people skills—or at least, people around you who have good people skills.
This story originally appeared in the Aug. 17 issue of Backstage Magazine.