Interview: Capturing the essence of 1946 with Agent Carter’s costume designer

A lot of the fun of Marvel”s “Agent Carter” is in how different it feels from any other show on television right now. It”s a feminist superhero noir period piece, which is a VERY specific genre.

But having Peggy Carter solve mysteries and shoot bad guys while looking effortlessly fabulous takes a lot of time and talent. Ahead of the Season One finale of “Agent Carter,” I spoke with costume designer Gigi Ottobre-Melton about the specific challenges of creating clothes for a female action star in an era before tactical suits.

Image Credit: Marvel Entertainment

HITFIX: From a historical perspective, what were the things influencing fashion in 1946, the year “Agent Carter” begins in?
Gigi Ottobre-Melton: 1946 was a transitional year between the end of the war, and civilian manufacturing getting back up to speed.  Although rationing  was no longer in place for garments, food, and gas, the stores were still short on many items. The style of the clothes still reflected some of the war time looks, as most people didn't run out a buy a new wardrobe that year.  Just like today, if you look in your closet you will find clothes that are four, five, and six years old. The same was true then. In 1947 Dior presented The New Look which was a huge shift in fashion for women. Even so that took a few years for that to trickle into the mainstream.

What was your inspiration for the feel of the show? 
Gigi: My inspiration came from several sources starting with street photos and video clips  of 1940's New York; source books; many noir films from the era; as well as some comic book reference. 

Were you able to pull those vintage patterns that Carter wears from the depths of the wardrobe department or did you make everything from scratch?  

Gigi: We made all of our own patterns for the actors in the tailoring shop.  We also used period pieces from the costume houses and purchased vintage pieces as well. 

Did you make any concessions for modern aesthetics?  

Gigi: Not much.  Because the action scenes, I adjusted what is worn underneath to accommodate stunts necessities, like the harnesses. 

What your favorite costume piece from season one?
Gigi: The red hat because it is iconic with the show. 

Is there anything from the 1940s that should make a fashion comeback? 
Gigi: All of it, except for the over extreme shoulder pads. Absolutely everyone looks sexy in forties clothes!

After the jump, take an up close look at some of the sketches Gigi designed for the show. Then tune in for the season finale of “Agent Carter” this Tuesday at 9/8c on ABC.