Jenny Eagan brings looks and depth to characters through costumes

Jenny Eagan is costume designer who started out her career by studying Fashion Merchandising in the University of Missouri. After moving to Los Angeles she became a freelance designer, hopping from job to job. Once Eagan realized that working as a costume designer on film sets was something worth pursuing, she became an assistant to Mary Zophres, a highly respected woman in the industry. She stayed on in that position for 13 years.

Eagan has been nominated for several noteworthy awards. She has won three Costume Designers Guild Awards, and been nominated for two others. Her most outstanding achievement has been for the miniseries Olive Kitteridge, where she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. Additionally, she has been nominated for one San Diego Film Critics Society Award and Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle Award.

Olive Kitteridge

In 2014, Lisa Cholodenko directed Olive Kitteridge—a four-episode miniseries about “Olive” (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged mother and wife, who works as a teacher. She lives in Crosby, Maine, where she is known by the townsfolk to be unapproachable and old-fashioned. The story runs for decades, portraying Olive at different stages in her life. 

Frances McDormand not only starred in the show, but also co-produced it. McDormand and Eagan were introduced prior to working together on Olive Kitteridge, so their collaboration was unsurprising. McDormand had a rather specific vision for her character, making it difficult for Eagan to piece together the costume and color palette that McDormand wanted. Eagan delved into the history of the region that Olive lived in, and considered herself lucky to be able to contribute to the characterization of such a complex character. Moreover, the fact that the viewer gets to see Olive’s evolution over 25 years means that Eagan had the opportunity to try different styles of costume design. 

A very telling moment in the costume design for me was in episode 2 Incoming Tide, when Olive makes her own dress for a special occasion. Although “Henry” (Richard Jenkins) complements it, others from out of town see it as something that shows just how small and secluded this town is. The fact that Olive made a dress with bright flowers on it adds many layers to her character. It is as though she is trying to show those around her that she cares about the event and wants to make nice without having to do so verbally. It also gives the actors interacting with McDormand the opportunity to show a feeling towards the dress, and in turn towards Olive, through a simple gaze at her dress. Amidst all the classier clothes, Eagan’s choice for Olive was a successful attempt at making her look and feel left out from the majority; once again she is the “odd one.” Read about director Lisa Cholodenko and her work on Olive Kitteridge here!

Widows

When four widows are tasked with settling a large debt that their late husbands left behind, they are thrown out of their comfort zones into a world of debt they never knew existed. “Veronica” (Viola Davis) took the lead in grouping together the widows, often encouraging the rest of them to go on dangerous endeavours and plot well-crafted schemes. As time goes on, Veronica starts to uncover some dark secrets, causing her character to change. Similarly, “Alice” (Elizabeth Debicki), “Linda” (Michelle Rodriguez) and “Belle” (Cynthia Erivo) also adapt to their new heisting lifestyle, despite how hesitant some of them were to join the group.

Here is a more detailed review of the film from FF2 Media!

Eagan tries to represent all the different characters in the movie through their clothes. Veronica, a powerful female, is often dressed in professional-looking, white pantsuits. Throughout her journey, her character’s color palette turns several shades darker. Likewise, Linda and Alice start out wearing dresses, but switch to more practical jeans. Furthermore, it was important for Eagan to play to the actress’ personality as well. Viola Davis has often portrayed strong leads, and Widows is no different. Eagan wanted to do Davis justice by giving her appropriate costumes. What people wear has an affect on how they carry themselves. With each of these characters, as their lives change, their costumes help signify the new world they find themselves in.

The High Note

The High Note follows a superstar pop singer “Grace Davis” (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her hardworking wannabe music producer assistant “Maggie Sherwoode” (Dakota Johnson). Grace’s career and confidence have both escalated to an all-time high, while Maggie is left going on coffee runs. 

As costume designer, Jenny Eagan was able to style some very interesting looks. From Grace’s showstopper performance outfits to Maggie’s thrifty T-shirts, Eagan had plenty to get her teeth into. Particularly with Grace, there was a lot of thought put into each costume Ross had to wear. Eagan dug into 40s and 70s fashion, ensuring that the confidence of Grace’s personality was reflected in her clothing. Perhaps the most striking and memorable outfit was the red dress the viewer sees Grace wearing at the very beginning of the movie. It was inspired by the bold colors that stars, including Ross’ mother Diana Ross, were often seen wearing.

The clothing here, of course, also played a large role in showing both inner needs and financial status. When a new character appears, it’s fairly easy to pinpoint their position in society based on Eagan’s design. At the same time, you feel Grace’s need for attention and acceptance through her expensive clothing. The colourful, glamorous clothing is extremely fun to observe—it’s worth giving this movie a shot just to look at all of Eagan’s fantastic clothing choices. Read our review here!

It takes a lot of people to make a movie, but how many of those names does an audience remember? Costume design is one of the categories that is often overlooked, but what a character wears has so much to say about who they are. It also helps an actor become their role. After working on so many successful productions, I am sure that more and more directors will turn their heads to Eagan and her costume designs.

© Katusha Jin (06/21/2020) FF2 Media

Feature Photo: Ice Cube, Ricky Martin, Dakota Johnson, and Tracee Ellis Ross in The High Note (2020)

Top Photo: Jenny Eagan

Middle Photo: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo in Widows (2018)

Bottom Photo: Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in The High Note (2020)

Photo Credits: Glen WIlson – © 2020 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.; © 2015 David Livingston; Merrick Morton

Tags: costume design, FF2 Media, jenny eagan, katusha jin

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Katusha Jin
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As Contributing Editor at FF2 Media, Katusha Jin interviews filmmakers, write features and reviews, and coaches interns. She grew up in the UK and studied briefly in Russia and China before moving to New York for college. Graduating magna cum laude from New York University, Katusha majored in Film and Television at Tisch School of the Arts with minors in Business and Philosophy. She has worked as a producer, director, writer, and composer for various award-winning projects including short films, branded content, independent features, and music videos.
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