Chic bohemian style and serious, solid colors come together in Netflix's 'Grace and Frankie'

Everything you need to know about the lead characters of “Grace and Frankie” can be learned from a glance inside the wardrobe trailer for the Netflix show.

For series stars Jane Fonda as Grace Hanson and Lily Tomlin as Frankie Bergstein, costume designer Allyson B. Fanger created clothes that, without a line of dialogue, tell the story of two very different women. On one side of the wardrobe trailer hang tailored coordinates of camel, white, gray and navy in a block of serious, solid colors. On the opposite rack, a swirl of  colorful prints, embroideries and wearable art weave a complex, happy patchwork. 

The appeal of these characters’ looks have earned Fanger her first costume design Emmy Award nomination, recognizing “The Party” episode in which Grace and Frankie’s beloved friend Babe stages a lavish farewell. Tomlin also nabbed a second lead actress Emmy nomination for her role, the latest of her career’s 59 award nominations. 

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Now shooting its third season at Paramount Pictures, “Grace and Frankie” has grown beyond the laughs of its “Odd Couple” pairing of uptight businesswoman Grace and former rival Frankie, a free-spirited, pot-smoking artist. As the relationship between the two women has grown during the last two seasons, Frankie adds verve to Grace’s reserved personality — and her wardrobe, which now includes the occasional perky print.

Fonda, wearing a navy-and-pink tulip print blouse and jeans, entered the studio fitting room on a recent summer day and inquired about her blouse’s origin. It’s a rare bit of pattern and color for her character. The top was custom made from vintage fabric and based on a Carolina Herrera blouse. 

Frankie’s eclectic wardrobe of bib overalls, concert T-shirts, ethnic-print caftans and flowing tunics is influencing more than her roommate. Her chic bohemian style has made Tomlin, who turned 77 this month, into a fashion favorite with multi-generational appeal.

Fanger can look at social media posts to know that teenagers are adopting Frankie’s signature overalls, women in their 40s are eyeing the character’s chunky jewelry and, when it comes to a specific fashion piece on the show, fans of all stripes regularly ask Fanger, “Who made it?” 

“I don’t want anyone ever to look at [Frankie’s] clothes and say, ‘Oh, I know where that’s from.’ Or, ‘I have that,’” said Fanger in her colorful Paramount lot office. “I shop as far and wide as I can.” That may mean visiting tiny boutiques in the San Fernando Valley, scouring a downtown vintage clothing fair or asking small labels such as Art of Cloth or Marcy Tilton for special orders.

Frankie’s style has a precedent in the lagenlook, a European fashion for wearing asymmetrical layers. Fanger often sources the Studio City boutique, Layered, South Pasadena’s Koi or Harari in Beverly Hills. The designer also borrows from distinctive fashion icons such as filmmaker Agnès Varda, stylist Linda Rodin and Fanger’s stylish mother-in-law and her grandmother-in-law, photographer Dorothea Lange.

“I think people can relate to it. I feel like with [Frankie], and Grace also, everyone either feels like that’s their mom or their sister or them in some way,” said Fanger, adding she loves that she has created two role models who embody an emerging respect for fashionable older women seen on social media and in culture at large.

“It is in the zeitgeist to have people feel they can still be expressive when they get older. You only have to look at [95-year-old fashion icon] Iris Apfel or the ‘Advanced Style’ books,” she said. “The expression Frankie has through her clothes is unique for her, and I think it’s unique for television.”

The costumes reveal a backstory of a woman artist who uses dressing as part art, part political statement. Her T-shirts, including ones showing Pink Floyd, the Ramones or Willie Nelson’s mug shot, speak of a rebellious past. Dangly earrings, chunky bracelets and bold pendant necklaces have become popular storytelling elements for Frankie as well.

“I want it to look like she made it, found it on her travels or is friends with the artists,” Fanger said.

Some of Fanger’s favorite jewelry for the character is from artist Adina Mills. “She lives in a trailer in Joshua Tree,” said Fanger, by way of explaining necklaces made of half-foot geodes anchored to thick silk cords and quartz crystals as big as corncobs enrobed in metallic swirls and symbols that recall ancient rituals.

Fanger prefers one-of-a-kind items for Frankie. She has put Tomlin in tunics dyed in rusted water, asked an artist to paint a maxi-dress in vivid swirls and had designers access their archives for vintage fabrics.

“I like the really far-reaching corners,” said Fanger. “I’d rather go to the funky warehouse downtown and dig through the dust and the moths to find the weird piece. I love that.” And you can imagine that Frankie would, too.

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