An Interview With Costume Designer Amy Andrews Harrell
“These costumes had to be very special,” said Costume Designer Amy Andrews Harrell. “I am a PBS viewer, and I know what I expect when I turn on my PBS costume dramas. And that is what I wanted to deliver.”
What she and her team delivered was a brilliant array of looks, textures and colors that are as varied as the characters who inhabit them, from the high society hoop skirts of the Green family women to the formal suits and uniforms worn by surgeons, to the more practical dresses worn by nurse Mary Phinney and more.
Harrell was first contacted about the project by one of its executive producers, Lisa Wolfinger, three years ago. “I spent the last few years excited about this and learning about the period and people, and also collecting little things I might use for the production.”
She and her team found countless treasures in a variety of ways. An eBay search yielded a 10-yard bolt that dated back to the 1870s. Harrell was able to use a photo from the period showing a similar pattern to turn her find into an overskirt. When it came time to dress Mary Phinney for her pivotal arrival at Mansion House, Harrell dug into her own closet. “I had this antique jacket that my dearest Aunt Sarah had given to me 20 years ago. It was cream, and we dyed it gray. It was one of many examples where something I had had for a long time was able to be utilized at just the right moment."
The biggest “moment” of the 10-week shoot for Harrell and her team was the Union fundraiser ball held in the Green home. “That was an exciting challenge because it takes our characters out of their day-to-day existences, especially the nurses, and puts them in their finery.”
She turned to her “home team” of friends and colleagues in Richmond, Va. to help her bring the ball to life. “On a real grass roots level, we grew these ball dresses for each of the characters in a way that reflects who they were.” On an early New York shopping trip for the show, Harrell saw a fabric that jumped out at her as the perfect choice for Jane Green’s ball gown — before she even knew a ball was in the offing. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s gorgeous, refined blue gown ended up capturing the character and actress alike. “I would say to Mary, ‘I would much rather wear your dress, because it is not the princess dress, it is the castle.’ I was really tickled at how it reflected her personality.”
“Everybody went full blast on that ball, everyone was working their hearts out to get every piece, everything finished, every hook sewn on, every hem sewn up, every boot polished. It all came together, and I couldn’t be happier.”