Most of you have probably seen the buzz-worthy Netflix series ‘The Politician’. Not only is it bingeable and completely socially relevant, but the costumes are incredible! Just in time to celebrate their well deserved Emmy nomination, sisters Claire & Lily Parkinson share their story of working together and the inspiration behind creating these iconic costumes.
Claire I know you studied journalism and Lily, your major in college was fashion. Can you tell us a bit about your lives before becoming costume designers?
We are sisters who were both born in NYC, two years apart. We lived right outside the city until we were 8 & 10, when our father’s job took us to Laguna Beach, CA. After that, we moved to Michigan and lived in the metropolitan area of Detroit. Since we moved around quite a bit, we both quickly realized how clothing and personal style have such a strong impact on first impressions. Our parents are both creatives and very visual people so we were lucky to be exposed to art, fashion and culture in many ways throughout our childhood.
C.P - I went to Emerson College in Boston where I focused on Magazine writing & Publishing which led me to interning at Harper’s Bazaar and Diane Von Furstenberg. After college, I was living and freelancing in NY when I heard about the film industry coming to Detroit. I went there and assisted on a few feature films before transitioning to LA. From there, I worked my way up through the Costume Department, eventually getting here!
L.P- I became really interested in fashion & art in High school and took summer classes at FIT which taught me the basics of sewing, pattern making and textile design. This solidified my passion to study art and fashion further. After studying fashion at Moore College of Art and Design I interned for a few brands in NYC. I then started working for some small high end contemporary womenswear labels in NY. After about 7 years of this I found my way to the film industry.
LP: Well, in life… I can’t even remember because we have always been working on projects together! We used to put plays on every summer with our cousins and every year they became more and more of a production. We all took it pretty seriously from the writing to the costumes and of course the acting. Over the years, we have done some fun creative shoots, but as far as our first serious project together, it was the television comedy series, The Mick on FOX. I was working in fashion in NYC and feeling a bit drained and potentially over it and Claire called and said she had been hired to design the second season of the show. She asked if I would be interested in coming out and assisting her and that is how I joined her in the TV/Film Costume world! We were excited to finally get to work on a long collaborative project together.
I know you both do tons of research before starting a new project. Can you walk us through your initial stages of that?
C.P- It usually starts with the scripts. We separately read and take notes and then have a conversation together about it. We discuss it as a whole and then we delve deep into each character and our initial perceptions of who they are and also what is happening to them in their lives/storylines. About 98% of the time we are on the same page as each other on how we aesthetically see the characters and then we really expand upon those first thoughts. With The Politician we got a vast amount of amazing visual references and color palette ideas from Ryan Murphy, the shows creator. From those conversations, we create tone boards and character inspiration boards for each main cast member. Depending on the scripts, we will make more boards per episode if a characters storyline shifts and we want the costumes to pivot as well. This part of the job is really stimulating because its when the ideas get flowing and you have that rush of energy with endless possibilities.
C.P- This changes all the time, but we always have some shared collaborative moments. There are days where we are working more independently or with other team members since we are both leaders. I have to deal with budget, and lots of meetings throughout the season so that can take up a lot of time, but we both love to get out there to source by shopping, pulling vintage, and really finding the special pieces that make each character unique. We are in constant communication and Lily is always sending me photos while she is out shopping/pulling and we both are sending ideas back and forth as well. We are communicating with so many people throughout the days, like our producers, set costumers, shoppers, PA’s and actors. We almost always do our main cast fittings together and that is really where the magic happens.
Each character in your latest project ‘The Politician’ is so unique. Is there one character for each of you that you identify with? Why was your favorite character to create?
L.P- In terms of identity, I relate to Mcafee & James in the sense that they have a uniform and kind of sticks to a look that works for them. But I also really loved working on Infinity in season 2 because we made such an effort in putting her in either second hand & vintage clothing or sustainable brands. But I love them all and getting to work on so many different characters is a dream.
Is there anything you would want people to know about the costuming industry?
C.P & L.P : There are so many moving parts! It takes a team of 15-20 to make The Politician wardrobe world what it is on camera. We work incredibly hard and long days too. Because of this, we now create more time and space for rest, recovery and inspiration between projects. We really see the importance of that so we can show up as our best selves to each job we do.
From where do you draw inspiration in your downtime?
C.P. - I really prioritize that time off between projects and solitude is important to me as well. I try to create white space to clear my mind and focus on meditation, writing and reflecting. This helps create room for inspiration and ideas to flow more freely. Lily and I both love visiting galleries together or solo and when I am working, I am usually watching films or series and love to really take note of the wardrobe choices for inspiration.
L.P.- I am also super inspired by the people around me, like family and friends. We both really enjoy traveling and that is constant inspiration. Seeing how people dress and live their lives is very inspiring too!
It’s clear you both influence each other, but how do you respectively define your personal styles?
L.P. - I feel my style is pretty classic, simple, practical and def inspired by icons from the past. Also, I try to not take it too seriously and I like a bit of fun and ease.
C.P.- Like Lily, I am also very classic and simple with my style choices. I have lived in California for 10 years now so that relaxed sense of dressing has really influenced me. I tend to wear a lot of vintage denim and jumpsuits, but love to wear brands I feel are more aligned with my values like Rachel Comey and Caron Callahan. Lily and I love to share new brands we love with each other too or find recycled designer pieces. I also am a real shoe lover and have quite the collection, although I am sadly not wearing many of them these days in quarantine. Your shoes are really perfect for this time though!
L.P.- Classic vintage Levis are something I return to over and over again. Other then that I have a few pieces that were my mothers that I really cherish. I have a vintage jean jacket that she wore when were were little that is the perfect 80s boxy shape and then I have a few Harari silk skirts from her that I loveee. I'm constantly trying to find more on Etsy.
C.P.- I also wear my vintage Levis to death and have a pair in every fit. I have the looser boyfriend cut, the classic “mom” jeans in light and medium wash, and the tighter fit…and many more. I tend to wear those or the sailor - wide leg Jesse Kamm pants with any blouse or tee. I’ll wear them with sandals, my vans, or heels. They really work for every occasion, depending on how you style them.
What makes you feel most beautiful in your own skin?
C.P & L.P.- We grew up spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard and after a week there you really glow. It must be that salty air and sun kissed skin. There is nothing better than taking a nice outdoor shower there, putting on a robe and watching the sun set. It’s the best.