When Ryan Murphy began work on the new season of “American Crime Story: Impeachment,” which focuses on the Monica Lewinksy-Bill Clinton story, he could not have anticipated that ’90s style would be back with such a vengeance today.
But that was helpful to costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack. Though many of the main characters’ clothes were custom-made to withstand hours of wear and ensure the best fit, the resurgence of ’90s style meant Markworth-Pollack could pull off using a current version of a classic sneaker, and for minor characters, even rely on trips to Urban Outfitters. Still, if you’re watching the show and feeling inspired to up your ’90s suiting game, Markworth-Pollack offered a tip: “The RealReal was our savior.” Also helpful: Lewinsky’s role in reclaiming her story. She serves as a show producer.
Given that the show is based on real events that only took place some 20 years ago, costume design presented a new and different type of challenge for Markworth-Pollack. “I did a show about Mary, Queen of Scots, but there are no photos, you’re going off a painting and taking a lot of creative license. This was a new endeavor for me, in that manner. The work is done for you, in a way — it’s there. It’s your job to replicate it.” The show, which stars Beanie Feldstein as Lewinsky and Murphy-favorite Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp, premiered its first of 10 episodes on FX on September 7. Below, more from our conversation with Markworth-Pollack.
What fashion pieces from the “Impeachment” era are still relevant today?
“A couple of friends have said to me, ‘Oh my gosh, Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp — I love her jewelry. I love her suiting.’ And I’m like, ‘Really!?’ It’s so trendy right now, like khaki suits and chunky gold jewelry.”
How did you balance achieving historical accuracy with wanting to orchestrate fashion moments?
“For the most part, we were as historically accurate as possible. It was really important to the producers that we matched everything to a T. We took that very seriously. The timeline [of the story] jumps around a bit, and it was a full-time job tracking what event happened when. Who was there? When does it work in the story? What were they doing before? What were they wearing after? My office just became…straight out of a ‘Law & Order’ episode.
There are a good three episodes or more that happen before the story breaks; we knew much less about what they were wearing then. Monica and Linda were photographed after the story broke. I was lucky enough to have access to some of Monica’s personal photos that she had loaned to us. Also, she has this incredible photographic memory, and she was able to jot down [credits] on the major photos that are in the public eye, like, ‘Oh, that was a J.Crew suit.’ Or, ‘That was Banana Republic.’ She remembered that her blue fleece was DKNY.
The only time we kind of strayed a bit was the red gown that Monica wore for the inauguration. We tweaked it slightly to make sure it was a really beautiful and flattering fit on Beanie, whereas the actual dress that Monica wore was a little bit different and it was great for Monica’s body.
Monica’s bags were fun. She carried a lot of Kate Spade bags, and we found exact replicas of them. Her Prada backpack was a fun one — just showing that Monica is from Beverly Hills and has some money. Setting up the two fashion storylines between Monica and Linda was so interesting because you have Monica who, for the most part, is wearing new looks a lot of the time. She had a huge closet. She had tons of clothes. She had resources and she enjoyed it. That was compared to Linda, who didn’t have a lot. Sarah was very adamant that she would repeat a lot of her looks, because that’s what women would do. And if you have to wear a suit to work every day, chances are that you’re wearing the same suit twice a week.”
On the flip side, what were some of the moments where the fashion was kept precise?
“There was a tie Clinton wore that was a Save the Children tie, and we found the exact one. Clive [Owen as Bill Clinton] wore suits pretty much the entire show. There’s a couple of moments where he’s in something casual. Let’s be real: With suits, after a while, there’s nothing that exciting, So we got our kicks out of the ties. When I showed him that we had found the exact tie, he was so thrilled. That was probably the most exciting costume moment we had!”
How did Beanie or Sarah react to their costumes?
“They loved it when they would see it was the exact replica of the photo — like, for example, Monica in her sage green suit. We literally matched the exact color, the number of buttons. It just adds a layer of authenticity that I believe helps the performance.
I personally really liked [Monica’s] looks from episode five, which was the Christmas episode, when she went shopping at Crate and Barrel with Linda; it’s the only other time in the show when we use a beret on her, besides the infamous scene where she’s giving Bill the hug. We gave her a beret and a plaid coat and a little cream sweater. It was really cute because Beanie is a huge ‘Gossip Girl’ fan and I worked on ‘Gossip Girl.’ We kept calling it our Blair Waldorf look, and she would just die. Obviously, ‘Gossip Girl’ came way later.”
What was it like working with Monica herself?
“I had the chance to meet her when she came to set, more toward the end of the production. We chatted a bit about ’90s fashion, we talked about her bag line — a lot of people don’t know that Monica had a bag line that she sold at Henri Bendel. There was a moment where we had an opportunity to use one on the show; her bags are now collectors’ items, so I had to make them instead of finding them. I showed them to her to see if she approved, and she was like, ‘They’re pretty good.’ But in the end, Beanie just showed up one day with one of the bags, so we ended up using a real one.”