Netflix's new music-driven drama "The Get Down" transports viewers to late-1970s New York, chronicling the death of disco, the birth of hip-hop and highlighting every leisure suit and Kangol hat that marked the transition. The first six episodes of the Baz Luhrmann-helmed series become available today, and the styling is every bit as crucial as the performances and plot.
Luhrmann and Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin — his wife and one of the show's executive producers — are known for creating sumptuous sartorial scenes in "The Great Gatsby" and "Moulin Rouge." Though "The Get Down" inhabits a grittier backdrop, it maintains the team's signature sparkle.
"Baz has historically done very visually spectacular projects," says Jeriana San Juan, the show’s costume designer, during a phone interview. She worked closely with the couple to achieve one key goal: to capture the nature of street fashion.
As stars Shameik Moore, Justice Smith, Herizen Guardiola and Jaden Smith make their way through the poverty-stricken South Bronx, their characters come of age in fashions that defined a seminal era. "Essentially, it's a timeless story of young kids without many resources who create something out of nothing," San Juan says.
Throughout the series, starry-eyed girls scheme and dream in hot pants and halter dresses. Boys celebrate the last day of school in tight denim cut-offs and form-fitting knit shirts. Street gangs claim their turf flaunting sideburns and vests studded with patches and pins. Sequins, satin and platform shoes make a splash in disco scenes, while bucket hats and track suits dominate at underground hip-hop clubs.
You'll see plenty of wide collars and gold medallions, but there's little of the cheesy kitsch often associated with the decade. The costume team aimed for authenticity, pulling inspiration from everyday sources including vintage catalogs from Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney and Sears. San Juan and Martin also had access to the photo archives of pioneering hip-hop photographers Joe Conzo and Jamel Shabazz.
"It really started with the sneakers," San Juan says. "You could say the late 1970s was the birth of what we now know as sneaker culture."
She picked the brain of associate producer and resident hip-hop guru Grandmaster Flash, who offered details on which kicks reigned supreme.
"There was a hierarchy, just as there is today, of sneakers that were a little bit more expensive and specific colors that were harder to find," San Juan says.
Puma, Converse and Pro-Keds re-created several thousand pairs of period-specific styles just for the show.
The cast also wears denim from curators in Japan, vintage pieces from rental houses in upstate New York and California, as well as dead-stock vintage items found in Manhattan's Rue St. Denis, lauded as "the holy grail of vintage, unworn, unused clothing." The principle actors wore mostly custom looks, to ensure a "fresh, saturated appearance" that couldn't always be found in 40-year-old clothing.
"After our first fitting together, it was a shock to them, how tight things were and how short the shorts were," San Juan says of the cast, many of whom were born in the mid to late '90s. "The amazing thing is, after the second fitting, they all loved it and wanted to dress like that.
"I think Jimmy [Smits] had the best reaction looking in the mirror in his fitting, 'Well, there he is! There's my father!'"
The polyester suits his shady politician character sports will likely remain relics. But San Juan thinks other wardrobe picks — including wide-legged denim trousers, cropped western shirts and high, striped tube socks — are ripe for revival.
"I 100% see this show inspiring major trends," she says.