Last month when I was in LA for the Disney/LucasFilm/ABC TV press event I got to have a little fun and get my con girl geek on. We had a chance to visit the the set of Marvel’s hit show AGENT CARTER, which began its second season January 19th and you can watch it Tuesdays on ABC at 9 PM EST/PST. Agent Peggy Carter is a female secret agent for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, dedicated to fighting new atomic threats that have emerged since the end of World War II. If you don’t watch the show, you can go to Amazon and catch up on Marvel’s Agent Carter right now, you’re not far behind. We had a special sneak peek preview of the Season Two premiere episode and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the 1947 Los Angeles branch of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) Office as well as an interview with Costume Designer Gigi Melton. We may have also had a little exclusive fun with Peggy Carter’s iconic Red Hat.
I couldn’t wait for this. When I did the Marvel Agents of SHIELD set visit last year, a few of the sets we visited were also sets for Agent Carter. I wondered what might overlap this time. Because as we know in the Marvel Universe: It’s all connected.
One of the things I was most excited to learn from Costume Designer Gigi Melton was the history behind the iconic Red Hat that we all know and associate with Agent Peggy Carter.
On the History of the Iconic The Red Hat
“The script said, ‘She was walking in a sea of gray hats,’ so ultimately I knew she had to be equal power, and I wanted her to be in a fedora right of the bat because she needed to be equal,” Gigi said. “So I had researched what was going on the 30s and 40s.” Gigi showed us the hats and the evolution of styles from the 30s to the 40s that Stetson had.
“So I contacted the company, and it was quite by luck that they were doing their 150 year anniversary hat, and they were very interested in creating something from their past line. So they sent me a bunch of blanks and said have fun. This is what the original ribbon liked like, so I folded it in half, and played with it, and this is all hand molded and this is the original, and it doesn’t have a Stetson stamp in it because it came as a blank to me, so the irony is that I tried to send it back to them to get one made by the company to get on camera, but they couldn’t do it in time, so she is wearing my prototype,” Gigi said.
“These are the actual ones that Stetson started making,” Gigi said as she showed us a stack of red hats, “and in the 40s this was called the Straddle Liner, it was a direct copy of the men’s. Now it’s called the Aviatrix, the one that they are producing, but I wanted it to be hand molded, nit machine molded, because in those days they hand molded all their hats.”
“So that’s the history of the Red Hat.”
We each got to have an exclusive photo opp with the iconic Red Hat. The photographer asked who wanted to go first, and I jumped at the opportunity, I volunteered as tribute (maybe a bit too excitedly). Did you know you can go online to the Stetson website and order your own Aviatrix hat? I wasn’t even back in Oregon before I ordered my own. Now, to figure out how to steam out the pinch pleat so the one I ordered from Stetson looks just like the one Gigi made.
On her creative process
Gigi research on what’s in the script and tries to find events that happened in the era to see how people dressed. There are fashion catalogs and magazines and such, but that doesn’t tell her how the real people looked at that moment in those types of scenes, so she couples that information with additional research. She then has to decide what the fabrics are going to be, what the designs are gong to be, how many multiples of each costume there need to be, and then they have to put a budget together.
“We work about a 12-14 hours a day, but that’s pretty normal,” Gigi said. “I love doing this show, it’s been so much fun. Every one is a real joy to work with, and that is not always the case on shows.”
Gigi showed us clothing rack for Hayley Atwell who plays Agent Peggy Carter to show us how multiples of an outfit they might need, in some cases is several.
“For stunts, every time you see her kick or do anything that isn’t walking across a room, it requires more than one outfit,” Gigi said. “Because you’ll have a stunt outfit, I have to be prepared that it could tear, it could get food down the front. We also need driving doubles—although Hayley is pretty good at driving these vintage cars—sometimes we have a driving double, so you need a lot of multiples for that.”
On a typical show they would get about an 8-day leeway, but because they are filming double episodes, they get 15 days of prep. Still, not a lot of time when you consider that everything is vintage fabrics and hand-created. They only source fabrics that were available in the time period. They use vintage buttons or hand dye their own. Occasionally they will buy reproductions, but that is the exception to the rule. For shoes, they do have to buy reproductions though because they need more than one pair and vintage shoes are often falling apart when they are able to find them. Plus, our feet are bigger now. Women’s 5.5 just don’t cut it for most people any more.
All the outfits get catalogued and saved. Each network has its own costume storage place where the costumes get archived. The same is true with props. Every item is considered an asset. You don’t know how it could get used or re-used.
On the colors and patterns and the new Los Angeles look and feel
Some of the outfits give away what was happening, so we got to see them but no photos were allowed.
“Coming to Hollywood means a richer, brighter tone. It’s a lot more fun in terms of the beach, the sunshine, the water,” Gigi said. “In general the beach feel. We’re not at the beach, but it’s the West Coast feel.”
Movies such as Affair in Trinidad and Johnny O’Clock provided color inspiration.
Jarvis’ wife, Anna, wears a lot of the florals and has a lot more of a Bohemian style. The new character Whitney, Madame Mask, wears a lot of the purples.
On her favorite costumes
“A lot of heart and soul goes into them. From Season One, it’s the Blue Suit is a favorite because it brought so much power and it’s great to see so much cosplay wearing it,” Gigi said. “Each time I get a script I’m so excited because I get to do what I love, so I have a lot of favorites.”
“Sometimes I’ve designed things in the hopes that a scene will come up where I can use it, but as far as the advanced designing, it’s hard because each script is so wildly different you just don’t know. Once week she could be hanging off of a ledge or on top of a car and so you have to know that.”
A Behind-the-Scenes tour of the Los Angeles SSR
While we were on set, we got to walk around and see the SSR office first hand, sit at Agent Sousa’s desk, go to jail, and see the insides of the Auerbach Theatrical Agency. Here’s a photo tour.
I’ve been invited to LA courtesy of Disney for a media event. All opinions are my own.
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