The Fox show "Gotham" provides a new take on the origins of Batman and his supporting cast, and their looks are a huge part of defining these characters. Lisa Padovani is the show's costume designer and took the Frame through how she draws her inspirations.
Executive producer Danny Cannon told Padovani that he wanted the show to feel timeless, but she says they ended up drawing more on the late '80s and early '90s, while also including a touch of modernism.
"And I throw in other periods, because a big factor for us was to give it a kind of a 'Blade Runner' feel, where's it's a lot of different decades of culture inspiration rolled into one," Padovani says.
The character of Fish Mooney gave Padovani a unique opportunity, because Fish being an original meant there wasn't any comic book source material it had to be compared to.
"I am a big believer in go big or go home. Especially if you're doing something like this, that's based on a comic book. Let's have fun with it."
Before Jada Pinkett Smith was cast in the role, the character was more old Hollywood, with the idea of an old showgirl opening a club while being in cahoots with the mob, Padovani says.
"We went a little more badass, a little bit more fashion forward and street. And I used a lot of skins and textured leathers and ominous looking brocades. And we went short. Instead of it being more of a gown look, we went short on her."
While costumes are important on the show, there's a balance between showing off and letting the characters take the lead.
"Really, costume designers are supposed to be telling the story of the writer and the director. It's supposed to enhance the story, it's not supposed to overshadow the acting or overshadow what's going on in the story. But, for this show, because it's not a strict period piece, it's a fantasy piece, just like a movie like 'Cinderella' — everybody's waiting for that blue dress. It's kind of the same thing. I set it up, especially for Jada Pinkett, where people were really looking forward to seeing what she was going to wear each week."
Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin
The character was given different elements intended to tease the characters bird-villain future (though it's still significantly more subtle than the 1992 "Batman Returns" version).
"I based his jacket on a tux jacket from about 1918. I really liked that high, wide, wing-like lapel that's got the high peaks."
That extended head to toe.
"The shoes, I went with a very pointy, elongated, kind of an exaggerated foot, 'cause he starts walking early in the season with a splayed foot, like a penguin. So it just exaggerates that posturing by putting that kind of shoe on him."
Ivy Pepper/Poison Ivy
One of the younger generation in the cast, alongside the kid versions of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Ivy Pepper's look was inspired by punk rock god Johnny Rotten.
"I'm personally very inspired by early punk and new wave and rock and roll, and it's very much a part of my life, and how I think, and how I dress, and how I live every day. So I saw the actress that they hired, and iI was happy to see that she was a real redhead. And Johnny Rotten just immediately came to mind."
She saw the spirit of Johnny Rotten in the character.
"I just thought, this is a street urchin that runs wild, does whatever she wants, and has got this edge to her. And I thought, let's put the holey sweaters on her that Johnny used to wear, and let's mess her hair up, and just make her look like an anarchist. So, she loved it. Everybody else seems to have loved it, so I think yeah, he was a great role model for her."
TV versus film budgets
Padovani has to costume her characters on a TV budget and a TV schedule, while continuing to try to top herself (and keeping her cast away from the buffet to keep them fitting in tight outfits). She says that shows like "Rome" raised the bar for costumes on the smaller screen, bringing costume drams to television.
"It wasn't just, 'hey, let's see what we have on hand and what we can quickly pull together from a store.'"
Network TV also means more episodes per season and less time to shoot them than on cable. Padovani says that, when she worked on "Boardwalk Empire," she had 12 to 15 for an episode, while "Gotham" gives her 7 to 9.
"Me personally, in my work ethic, in my life, I never settle. If I have the very last second before it goes on camera, I will tweak it 'til the very end. I've been called a control freak — I don't see that as a negative thing, because it's my product, and I just want to make sure I'm doing the very best I can for anything I work on, no matter what the budget."
Padovani pulls from costume shops in New York, where "Gotham" is shot, as well as renting from California shops and having plenty of costumes made for the show's characters, particularly Fish Mooney.
Quality and HDTV
High definition has made it easier to spot small flaws on TV, but Padovani says it hasn't changed anything for her.
"I feel like my brain has always been HD," Padovani says. "If buttons on a jacket are not sewn in the same direction, I will make sure that they change it. If there's a stitch that's out of step with the rest of the stitches on a collar, I will change it. I'm a maniac about ties. I make most of the ties for my principles on the show. I went through a couple of different tie vendors before I found one that I felt was consistently good quality."
Padovani says that quality is everything.
"I have some very good vendors that sew and know my sensibility. It's like bespoke — it has to be perfect, because that camera is right there, and everybody's got a movie-style screen in their home now, so yeah, everybody sees everything. And just like a pimple, if there's a stitch out of whack or if the pearls are crooked around the neck, just, that's all I can see. I can't see the acting, I can't see the story, I just concentrate on the flaw that is not helping tell the story — which is a curse!"
Keep an eye out this Halloween for partygoers rocking their versions of "Gotham's" memorable costumes — and don't tell Padovani if you see a few stitches out of place.
"Gotham" airs Monday nights; the "Gotham" season finale airs Monday, May 4.