The success of a period drama series depends not only on the story and characters, but on successfully recreating the fashion of the era. In I Am The Night, a noir drama based on the memoir One Day She'll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel (written by Fauna Hodel), costume designer Rhona Meyers and her marvellous team had to bring 3 decades to life, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. The series, which was produced by Wonder Woman’s (2017) Patty Jenkins (who also directed 2 episodes) is a throwback to the detective mystery films of Hollywood’s golden days with a dark true-crime twist.
I Am The Night broadcasts Tuesdays from 22 September on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:30 and tells the real-life story of Fauna (played by India Eisley), who was given up for adoption by her teenage mother when she was a little girl. Looking for her roots, Fauna discovers that gynaecologist George Hodel (played to eerie effect by Jefferson Mays), who was the prime suspect in the gruesome Black Dahlia Murder (actress Elizabeth Short was murdered and her body mutilated and chopped in half in 1947), was not only her grandfather, but might have been her father, too. In Fauna’s search for the truth, she teams up with disgraced journalist Jay Singletary (Chris Pine), who also suffers from PTSD after his experience as a US Marine.
Rhona had a meeting with Patty to discuss the look and feel of the series before filming started. “Patty Jenkins is such a visionary and a great director. We collaborated a lot in the beginning to get the looks right. She had specific ideas of how she wanted the specific periods to play and where; for instance, keeping Sparks, Nevada, looking 1950s, so when Fauna gets to Los Angeles we see a visible difference. Also, keeping the inner circle of the Hodel crowd in the 1940s was important.”
Rhona explains that with Fauna, “She starts off almost like this little doll with the Peter Pan collar, blouses, cardigans, circle skirts with crinolines, and little T-strapped shoes. She’s just precious. When Fauna goes to LA, there’s a definite change and her eyes are wide open. She sees a whole different world, a whole different fashion. She ends up with her cousins from the other side of their family, and they take her to a party. It’s Black Power stuff happening. There are girls with natural afro hairstyles and turtleneck tops and very Angela Davis looking. Fauna just loves these powerful women. She starts to take on the look. She leaves her little girlness behind and starts adopting this kind of look.”
Rhona set up extensive vision boards to show Patty. “We discussed what she liked and what she wanted to see. During the fittings, the actors would also have ideas that we would collaborate on and incorporate into their costumes. Sam Sheridan [the series’ creator] and his wife, Patty, worked with all of the departments to bring in the elements they wanted to see to bring the story to life.”
Capturing such a broad time period took extensive research, and Rhona paid special attention to the movies of the time. “It took a while, but I wanted to be certain of the costumes. When creating my costume designs for my characters, I looked at old noir films for Corinna Hodel (Connie Nielsen) and George. I married Dorothy Huston Hodel (Fauna’s real-life stepmother) with well-known legends of the era like Grace Kelly, Anna May Wong, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy Onassis,” says Rhona. For Fauna, Rhona looked at the French New Wave (actresses like Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimée). And for Chris Pine’s character, Rhona tapped into outsiders such as James Dean, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Bob Dylan. “There were some photos of Paul Newman with super short pants and tennis shoes, and he [Chris] wanted to keep that as his look the whole way through, so we did that,” says Rhona. “The detectives and Sepp's (Dylan Smith) character were straight out of noir but with a '50s and '60s vibe. George Hodel was 1940s noir with some very specific quirks,” Rhona explains. “Patty wanted to keep the Hodel clan, the artists, in the glamorous ’40s because that was the highlight of their life,” she adds.
Getting the costumes to set on time for the actors was a mammoth amount of work, with a very quick turnaround time. “We did back-to-back different scenes and different eras, so that by the time we were supposed to be prepping for the next set of episodes, we were still fitting and putting together the episode we were on,” Rhona reveals.
A huge amount of clothes had to be made to order at speed for this show because multiples of so many outfits were needed, leaving the wardrobe team with barely enough time to think. Rhona explains, “We were making the ties; we were making the shirts. It was period, so you’re not going to find five of the same shirts or five of the same ties.“
She adds, “We literally had 3-4 days to create most of our lead characters' clothes for the following episodes. We needed to gather fabric and trims for sometimes up to 5 people, making sets of 5 multiples of suits, shirts, ties, gowns, with beading and ombre dying, dresses and coats,” says Rhona. “And we had to get it to our makers, our tailors to make all of this stuff. There was a lot of hoping and praying that everything was going to be done on time.”
The best piece
Of all the characters that Rhona and her team had to dress, her favourite was Corrina. “She is so stunning that anything you put on her looks amazing. But her character was very interesting, artistic and eccentric, and very, very fabulous. We got away with a lot for Corrina, and the actress (Connie) wore it all so well.” Rhona elaborates, “We got to do so much with her, from the Asian lounging outfit, to her performance dress. She’s a performance artist, so she had to sort of be modern in that way, but she was such a mix because she was also an art collector. We had some ’20s pieces for her. She was super fun.” Rhona adds, “All of my cast was amazing, and I loved all the characters we created and collaborated on. As well as the periods, as we blended ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s – prim and proper, to avant garde, urban rawness, to Hollywood Elite glamour. It was all so exciting.”
Watch I Am The Night S1 from Tuesday, 22 September on M-Net (DStv 101) at 22:30