[WARNING: The following article and interview contain spoilers about the series finale of “Grace and Frankie.”]
Costume designer Allyson Fanger has worked on all seven seasons of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” and her looks for the title characters played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are immediately recognizable. But in the seventh and final season, the characters change as they walk off into the sunset – figuratively and literally – and so did Fanger’s designs. Her past work on the series has earned five consecutive Emmy nominations for contemporary costumes. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
For the past few years, Fonda has been sporting her natural gray hair, so now her character Grace does as well in the final batch of episodes. “We really had to change her whole palate,” says Fanger of how to accommodate the actress’ hair color into her wardrobe choices. The buttoned-up character had once started out “very, very neutral,” but as the designer explains, “Over the seasons we definitely brought more color into her world and life… as she was influenced by Frankie.” To complement the two-time Oscar winner’s new look, she worked in more pinks, which “always worked nice” for Jane as well as a particular blue, an “aqua with a little hint of green in it.”
While Fanger admits that Frankie’s eccentric look “did not change too much” over the course of the years, the character goes through an emotional upheaval in the final season that influenced her costumes. Tomlin’s character receives a prediction from her trusted psychic that she will die in three months, news that sends Frankie into a volatile state. The costume designer describes Frankie’s condition as “mania,” which she “reflected in a chaotic way.” She says, “We made it so that her jewelry was slightly thoughtless” because “you would not make the effort to add” those kinds of details if you’re too preoccupied. She adds that those details, especially the “unique, one of a kind” jewelry and crystals were a “huge part of her character.”
Although Fonda and Tomlin’s characters always attract attention for their wardrobes, Fanger also shines a light on the fashion of the men on the series, including Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston, Ethan Embry and Baron Vaughn. She discusses her hunt for the jeans with a crease that her father used to wear, which she used for a flashback scene of Sheen’s character Robert in the late 90s. She also describes the shirts that Waterston’s character Sol wears as “pretty epic.” “I really made relationships between the parents and the children, stylistically,” the designer shares about drawing out the similarities between Sol and his sons Coyote and Bud, for example.
Fanger had the tremendously fun task of designing a costume for guest star Dolly Parton for the “Grace and Frankie” series finale. In the episode, the two main characters are in an electrical accident involving a martini and a microphone and go to heaven, where their case manager Agnes (Parton) goes to admit Frankie to the afterlife before ultimately allowing both to return to their lives together. For Parton’s angelic character, the designer “had a very specific concept in mind” and collaborated closely with series creator Marta Kauffman and Parton’s team to come up with the suit that “sparkled like the rainbow.” “I wanted to make sure to stay a little bit separate from” Dolly’s signature look, the costumer says, and she also had to steer clear of Parton’s heavenly attire from Dolly’s Netflix movie “Christmas on the Square,” in which she just recently played an angel.
A season of “Grace and Frankie” usually ends with the title characters walking along the beach together. The series finale was no exception. Fanger admits that getting the looks right for the final scene was “a big challenge,” revealing, “Originally in the ending there were two little girls that were a younger Grace and a younger Frankie.” Even though that element of the shot was removed, she still had to ensure that those last costumes were “iconic” and paid homage to the styles that fans of the series have come to expect from Fonda and Tomlin’s beloved characters. She concludes, “I think in the end it just looks like a vision.”
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