If you think being the costume designer for a television show doesn't require much in the way of research, think again. When Ileane Meltzer was faced with creating the signature look for germophobic supersleuth Adrian Monk "Monk," research became her middle name.
"He's a very uptight human being," Meltzer says of the character played by Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub, "one with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I remember going over this with Tony, and we looked at pictures of Inspector Clouseau, Sherlock Holmes and Columbo - because Monk is written sort of as a Columbo-type character. But we had to find something that made him different."
Mission accomplished. Close your eyes, and if you have even a passing knowledge of "Monk," you can visualize his trademark style - tight-fitted, uptight and buttoned up.
"We wanted our own distinction," says Meltzer, who previously worked with Shalhoub on "Stark Raving Mad." "A lot of costume designers will ask, 'How did you come up with no tie?' We did some research: Ties carry a million germs. People don't clean their ties. Food goes on their ties as they're hanging around their necks. People cough, sneeze; everything goes on the tie. They're cleaned maybe once a year - if that. So that was a big no-no for a germophobe."
Meltzer also came up with Monk's pattern on top of pattern on top of pattern - so that nothing matches.
"And that, I love," she says. "And brown! Brown tones were not being used at the time. So I wanted something that would be hard to find but look great on him with his skin tones (Shalhoub is Lebanese-American). People think it's a suit but it is not a suit. It's tweed brown pants, a tweed brown jacket and a plaid shirt. And if you notice, his jackets are never fashionable. We wanted him to be an ordinary man."
Shopping for Monk starts out at places such as JCPenney and Sears because he is just that - an ordinary man (sort of). But because of the formula she created, namely the brown tweeds, Meltzer must occasionally stray into Giorgio Armani to get the proper look. She might even have to make jackets herself if brown isn't in that season.
And Monk's neurosis is never far from Meltzer's mind.
"We got him a brown button-up sweater that he can pull up around his nose for when he is around kids - so their germs don't get to him," Meltzer says. "And he doesn't own just one shirt. The way we set it up was if he bought a jacket, he bought three of the same. If he buys a shirt, he buys six of the same. A pair of pants? Three. It's so he doesn't have to think; that's his uniform."
But our favorite Monk trait?
"All of his socks," Meltzer says with a laugh. "Each pair goes into an individual Baggie."