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Inside Vinyl’s Wardrobe With John Dunn

John Dunn

John Dunn is an award-winning costume designer known for his work on films and television including Casino, Pineapple Express and Boardwalk Empire, among others.

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  • What was your inspiration to be a costume designer

    • 2 votes
    John Dunn

    Oddly, I was not drawn to costume design from a fashion point of view. I get excited by the challenge of telling the story of a character, or time, or a place through the way people dressed. What did their clothing say about how they felt about themselves, how they wanted to appear to the outside world, and what they wanted to hide? And most importantly, what were their dreams and deepest desires? I love costume research because it gives me insights into the everyday experience of people beyond what I read in history books. And passing that insight to the audience each week is what gives me the greatest satisfaction.

  • You've done a great job of dipping into the polyester era without looking overly dated, silly, or nerdy. Was it hard to find this happy medium?

    • 1 vote
    John Dunn

    Thank you and good question! It is challenging to find that balance between accurate reproduction and an eye-pleasing edit of the polyester era. Of course we are looking back at this period with our contemporary sensibility and perhaps a hazy nostalgia. There was to our eyes plenty of "silly or nerdy" clothing, even on the cool and the hip characters. But the truth is our characters in general need to appear cool and hip to our 2016 eyes. So without wiping out the true flavor of the period, we edit out the stuff we should never have to look at again as it's too ghastly. It would distract from the story our writers are telling.

  • Which is harder or more tedious. Dressing the main cast as peroid acurate as possible or dressing the many extras in the background shots?

    • 1 vote
    John Dunn

    Dressing the main cast for period accuracy is never tedious. Our cast really digs the clothing, and my hope is it takes them deeper into their character's journey. There is perhaps a little more heartbreak in dressing the background actors—mostly because we take painstaking effort to make sure they are dressed as accurately and as evocatively as the main cast. We can never predict when a background artist will unexpectedly be featured in a shot, so we strive to make sure everyone looks as great as our main characters.

  • What is your favorite "period dress" to design?

    • 1 vote
    John Dunn

    Truth to tell, I'm happy in any period where an interesting, thought-provoking story is being told. I think a long-form period series should be entertaining, of course, but I think it can also provide real insight into the world we live in today. My main interest as a costume designer is striving to make sure the costumes are telling the story as much as the scripts, the settings and the music. Clothing is interesting to me because, like the words in a script, it represents what we as individuals want to reveal to the world, but additionally what we want to hide.

  • What was the biggest challenge, if any, that you faced on this project?

    • 0 votes
    John Dunn

    The speed at which we produce the very complex world of Vinyl is the main challenge. In general, the script for each episode is released to the design team about two weeks before we start filming it. The new script often involves interesting plot twists for our characters and often some large crowd scenes. So despite our efforts to anticipate possible scenarios, we are often caught scrambling for some obscure costume or creating a world we had not seen coming (a Long Island bat mitzvah or a Las Vegas hotel and casino). But having an amazing team determined to get it just right puts a lot of wind in my sails.

  • Which characters did you spend the most time designing the costumes for? Also, which outfits are your favorites?

    • 0 votes
    John Dunn

    The characters I devote the most "design" time to are the rock performers—real and fictional. It’s a huge responsibility to create the many iconic legends portrayed in Vinyl; everyone from David Bowie to Elvis, Robert Goulet to Alice Cooper, Karen Carpenter to Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison to Joey Ramone. I feel strongly that you don't want the actors portraying these great musicians to look like a wax museum replica. So we spend a lot of time searching for the essence of those icons and then exploring how to bring that alive with the actor. I think designing Bob Marley and the Wailers were among my favorites. But Hannibal and his stage show was another highlight.

  • Are you making the majority of the costumes from bolts of polyester and such or are you finding enough vintage clothes to capture the '70s?

    • 0 votes
    John Dunn

    There is plenty of 1973 vintage clothing still kicking around out there. In truth, there is way too much. I love to use real vintage pieces in almost all my work no matter what the period. It takes both the actor and the audience deeper into the period. That said, in the case of the 1970s, there is a lot of horrible vintage clothing out there. The real trick is editing out the banal, tacky and just plain ugly clothing without erasing the special flavor and exuberance of 1973. To keep the series looking real, I use as much good vintage as is available. Sometimes, though, the script asks for clothes that no longer exist or are very specific, and that's when the bolts of polyester roll in and my tailor shop gets busy.

  • What's been your favorite part of working on Vinyl?

    • 0 votes
    John Dunn

    My favorite part of working on Vinyl is having an incredible team of collaborators who show up every morning to make something amazing. Each cast and crew member is totally devoted to exploring this time in history. The writers, directors, musical directors, production designer and my entire team of costume personnel are all bringing their A-game. It inspires me to dig as deeply as possible into the nooks, crannies and subtle nuances of the period.