If you’ve found yourself drooling over the Johnsons’ clothes on “Black-ish,” you have one person to thank for that: costume designer Michelle Cole. But the four-time Emmy nominee would credit someone else: creator Kenya Barris.
“Kenya had a lot of ideas. He’s an incredible person to work for,” Cole said during Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Costume Designers panel, moderated by this author (watch above). “He’s extremely smart, he’s socially aware. He is one of the smartest producers I’ve ever met. He’s very focused on what he wants and we talked through each and every character.”
Because the ABC sitcom starring Emmy nominees Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson is based on Barris’ own life and family, he wanted every aspect of the Johnsons’ life to reflect that — down to the clothes. “If you saw Kenya’s own family, they’re a very stylish family,” Cole says. The Johnsons are well-off and it was of utmost important for Barris to show a financially comfortable black family on TV.
“He wanted to express we’re kind of in this predominantly white neighborhood but at the same time, they’re stylish and they look great,” Cole says. “And I think it’s also a fantasy. Most people don’t dress like this, but it’s really nice to see the Gucci, the Prada, the Dolce, and a little bit of the Target and Forever 21. But I think that we accomplished that, that this is a good-looking family.”
Cole, who received four Emmy nominations for her work on “In Living Color,” primarily sources all the chic clothes on the show, including Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) sneakers. Barris himself is a sneakerhead, of course. “If he has a certain sneaker that he wants, he will send me pictures. He’ll email me. He’s very precise of what he wants. One time I had to go shopping for sneakers. It was like $6,000 worth of sneakers,” Cole says. “Sometimes we can’t use certain brands [for legal reasons], but most of the time, we get it in there and cheat in the camera shot.”
Cole also styles the “Black-ish” spin-off “Grown-ish,” which follows Zoey (Yara Shahidi) at college, and boasts one of the most enviable wardrobe closets. Zoey and her pals are constantly decked out in an eclectic mix of high-end and low-end outfits that would make you regret wearing sweatpants to all of your classes. It’s also a far cry from Zoey’s preppier look on “Black-ish,” which was Cole’s intention.
“That was where we got to play a lot because she was kind of finding herself [at college]. Her mother probably wasn’t shopping for her. She was kind of going out, she had new friends,” Cole says. “I think she just was really exploring who she was as well. We went from wearing robes and slippers to sometimes a $1,000 jacket or something. She had about 10 changes a show, so we tried to make them different.”
Video produced by David Janove and Andrew Merrill
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