Girls’ Costume Designer Jenn Rogien Takes Us Behind the Scenes

Jenn RogienGirls may only be in its second season, but the HBO juggernaut has become one of the most talked about shows in quite some time. The fashions on the popular show receive almost as much attention as the plotlines, so costume designer Jenn Rogien is constantly scouring thrift stores, flea markets and well-known retailers for the perfect pieces to support the script. It’s a good thing that this seasoned TV, film and theater pro has a real passion for shopping. In fact, the deal-hunting designer was on her way to pick up a pair of Prabal Gurung for Target’s cage sandals in a really bright print when we spoke to her about everything from buying vintage to the overuse of leggings and how even lingerie tells a story.

The Fashion Spot: Girls is your first job as head costume designer, so how did it come about?

Jenn Rogien: I did several theater projects back in the day in the city. But for TV, yes this is my first project as the head designer. I was very lucky that one of the producers on The Good Wife where I worked as one of the assistant designers for several years was friends with one of the producers of Girls and it somehow came up over a dinner meeting that Girls was looking for a designer, so the producer on The Good Wife recommended me.

tFS: Lena Dunham is a pretty prolific writer, so did you have a sense of how each girl would dress based on the original script?

JR: I did not know the characters. Part of my process was I watched the pilot as opposed to reading the script because they had an edited cut. I put together design boards based on my thoughts for each character and then when I began designing with Lena and Jennifer Konner, her collaborator, I had taken those thoughts with me. And some of them are what we worked off of for shopping and some of the boards we ended up changing significantly to better reflect what they were going for with the character.

tFS: How would you describe each girl's style?

JR: Well, Hannah’s sort of our lovingly disheveled girl. A misfit in life, which is an effort to reflect her inability to get it together. Marnie is certainly more polished and put together and she really tries hard, sometimes to great comedic effect. Shoshanna is our most feminine, even girly, and a sweet character, so we gave her a lot of color palettes and silhouettes to reflect that. Jessa is eclectic, sometimes odd, but we try to keep her elegant, sort of a traveled girl.

tFS: Is there any star on the show whose personal style resembles their character?

JR: Oh gosh, I only work with the girls at work. So I don’t know, but I’m hoping that we’re creating something so these individuals can really take off the wardrobe and leave everything at work when they go home.

tFS: Where do you get clothes from for the show?

JR: All over the place, that’s half the fun! We really mix and match. We do a ton of vintage shopping, thrift shopping. We do some retail as well. We try to shop in a way that reflects what the girls’ circumstances are. We try to shop very realistically, so we end up at H&M and also Lord & Taylor, but we know our way around a Forever 21 and those are stores where young girls shop.

tFS: We’re dying to hear your picks for the top vintage shopping destinations in New York City.

JR: I am so not the expert on that. I actually get asked this question all the time and doing core shopping for characters is a very different shopping experience. I do love the flea [market]. Thrift shopping and vintage shopping, which are different kinds of things, you can’t really go with a list. So we go with these characters in mind, which takes you in a very different direction then when you shop for your life.

tFS: Which girl is the hardest to dress?

JR: They all have their challenges since they all have such individual looks. Sometimes we’ll be out shopping for Hannah and we’ll fine Shoshanna pieces. And sometimes we’ll be out shopping for Marnie and we’ll find Hannah pieces. They each have such a unique look that they all are extremely fun and can be challenging at the same time.

Ray and Charlie Girls

Image: Jojo Whilden/HBO

tFS: How do you go about outfitting the guys? Although we know Adam must be easy since he's shirtless a lot of the time.

JR: Actually, guys that don’t wear clothes are just as difficult to dress as guys that do because you want to make sure the choices are right. We do the same process for the guys that we do for the girls. So, it’s all about helping characters tell stories and we shop in different ways. For Ray, we go straight for the thrift store because that reflects what his character would do. And Adam, it’s a lot of vintage, a lot of really worn-in stuff that’s been around for a long, long time. With Charlie, it’s a little bit of the softer fabrics, we go for softer plaids that aren’t necessarily always in your face and we use a sweater to try and bulk up the look a little bit. We do a little bit more shopping for him at department stores or retail.

tFS: So, what happens with the clothes after shooting?

JR: Our first project coming back into season two and going forward was to unpack the closet and pull out things we can use again. Bottoms, pants, skirts, accessories, shoes and handbags, even blouses and dresses, because we do have working closets for all of the characters, it’s a very important part of the process, using things that we’ve seen before. There’s a couple pieces that we’ve taken out of play because they are incredibly identifiable. For instance, the dress that Hannah wore in the episode that she met Elijah and then also wore again in the posters for season one. That we took out of play because we felt like there was so much associated with it that, in the moment, in the story we’re trying to tell, that dress may have too many other things attached that would get in the way of going forward.

tFS: And since the girls are obviously developing as the series goes on, Shoshanna lost her virginity and Hannah’s always going through a lot, is there any possibility of repurposing something from one character and using it for another?

JR: It happens in the shopping and it does happen in the script as well. The moment where Jessa is wearing a bathrobe out in the park, the joke got cut, but the joke was that she had borrowed Hannah’s bathrobe thinking it was a dress. So, we do a little bit of that and sometimes we’ll shop for one thing for someone and it will end up in another character’s closet. And there will be a moment this season where we take something you’ve seen last season and we put it on another character. It’s a very specific moment that I don’t want to give away.

Jessa and Hannah Girls

Image: Jojo Whilden/HBO

tFS: It's been reported that you purposely dishevel pieces to make them look more true to the characters. How do you know how much to alter them?

JR: We’ve really gotten to know these girls and we really do trust my instincts and also my team in the fitting room, like when it comes to Hannah’s hem length, should we go higher or lower. We’ll take away and add volume at places you’d never, ever want to add volume to be flattering. And then in prepping the clothes for shooting, we don’t iron the clothes for Hannah. Marnie gets fully pressed, fully ironed; Hannah doesn’t get any of that.

tFS: We know you check out the street style in Brooklyn, especially during the morning rush. Is there one style faux pas that makes you wince?

JR: I cannot stand leggings worn as pants. Specifically, those that are so stained that they almost should actually be tights and people are still wearing them.

tFS: There have been a few Sex and the City comparisons and fashion really became almost a character of its own on that show. Do you see that happening here?

JR: We’re really trying to reflect the characters and support the story. So, my goal is to put that first. And I think that’s true of any costume designer, they’re trying to use clothing to express character.

tFS: What can we expect style-wise for season two? How will the girls’ style evolve from season to season?

JR: I’m keeping up with the story, so as the story unfolds and as the characters have their journeys, I’m just trying to support that. There are some great moments coming up.

tFS: Which character best represents your personal style? How would you describe your personal style?

JR: Probably Ray, no I’m kidding. I don’t know that I could pick one. I’m a little older than the girls are, so I’ve gone through all their phases of time defined by visual identity. I have collected a piece here and there while out shopping, so I definitely built my jewelry cabinet up since working with the girls. I spend so much time working, I don’t actually have time to go shopping and usually it’s the last thing I want to do on the weekends. I’m a little bit more of a chameleon than anything. Lena put it best when she said, "I always think about a chic pant, a cool top and an unexpected shoe." And I think the unexpected shoe is sort of my M.O.

tFS: Who are your favorite designers?

JR: I have so many. Alexander McQueen has been a huge inspiration and I’m actually on my way to check out the Prabal Gurung collection for Target. Erdem is definitely on my list right now. And then there’s Michael van der Ham, out of the Netherlands, and his stuff is just fantastic, lots of prints, lots of color.

tFS: Which celebrity closet would you like to raid?

JR: I think I’d rather go to a sample closet than a celebrity closet.

Stoop Sale Girls

Image: Jessica Miglio/HBO

tFS: Favorite vintage find for either the show or your own wardrobe?

JR: That’s tough because we get a lot of vintage here and there. There’s a great Jessa piece that she wears in the stoop sale episode that’s this amazing sheer but patterned dress. That’s definitely up there.

tFS: Tell us about your role as the style and fit expert for aerie lingerie.

JR: I serve as the style and fit expert and we’ve been shooting videos that have been dropping online via Aerie.com and Facebook. Sort of my favorite picks for the season; there’s a fit and lingerie care video coming out that I'm really excited about. I’m hoping to get into the stores in the next couple months to go interact with some demos and we’re going to do some online chats trying to help girls tell their story through lingerie as well as pass along lingerie fit and care information. And so much of my job is getting the foundation right, also incorporating lingerie into the whole closet. You know it’s not just foundation for me, it tells a whole story and we’re seeing so much more lingerie on TV, it’s part of the character’s story. We’re doing that right now with the show I’m designing called Orange Is the New Black. We’re doing a lot of foundation wardrobe, but we’re also doing on-camera wardrobe as well. It’s really helping to tell the story.

tFS: You’ve worked on several movies, including P.S. I Love You and Enchanted. Any film jobs coming up in the near future? What’s next for you?

JR: Right now I have my hands full with Orange and aerie and Girls. I’m definitely looking to do a film in the next little bit, but we’ll just see what comes my way.

tFS: Do you plan on starting your own line at some point?

JR: I’m never going to say never, but I think being a costume designer is such a different environment and different function than being a fashion designer or being a stylist. I definitely feel like my skill set and the way that I think is much more suited to costume design.

tFS: Finish this sentence. You'll never find me without my…

JR: Burt’s Bees lip balm. The contents of my bag are completely streamlined at this point and it’s complete essentials, so tape measure, a pen, my moleskin notebook, Burt’s Bees lip balm and water. I always have to have water because we’re never in the same place for longer than about an hour, so I carry all those essentials with me.

tFS: What's your most cherished clothing or accessory item?

JR: I’m going to have to say my entire shoe collection. It’s getting bigger every day, which is making storage challenging, but the first pair of designer shoes I ever bought, I still have. I can’t give them away because it was such a moment in my life, finding them at this huge, huge, huge discount and also scraping together the money to actually buy them, so I can’t let those go.