Michelle Cole Interview: ‘Black-ish’ costume designer
Purple reigned in the 100th episode of “Black-ish” last season. The milestone episode, which aired in November, paid tribute to Prince and saw each of the Johnsons reenact some of the late legend’s music videos. It was a massive undertaking, not the least for costume designer Michelle Cole.
“As soon as we got back in July 2018, we knew right away because they told us we were going to have a Prince episode,” the five-time Emmy nominee revealed at Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Costume Design panel, moderated by this author (watch above). “Devon Patterson is my [costume] supervisor, so we started right away doing the drawings, looking for fabrics, seeing what we had to print. We started going through the music, so it took us about two months.”
Adding another wrinkle to the proceedings was the fact that the show was in the midst of clearing Prince’s songs for the episode. That meant Cole and her team would conceptualize designs only for them to go nowhere when the ABC sitcom couldn’t get the songs. “We’d start one costume and then the music, something happened, blah, blah blah,” she says. “It cost a lot of money.”
Some of the tunes that did clear include “Kiss,” “Erotic City,” “Sign O’ the Times” and “Sexy M.F.” For each of them, Cole attempted to recreate Prince’s outfits from the respective music videos as closely as she could, from the crop top worn by Anthony Anderson in “Kiss” to the famous cloud suit from “Raspberry Beret” that Deon Cole dons. All of them were custom-made, and it was the latter that proved to be the most difficult.
“She wouldn’t tell me, but Devon was looking for the fabric; we couldn’t find it. It was polyester, but we had it printed and we wanted the clouds to match each and every cloud that Prince had, so we tried to match his costume as much as we could,” Cole recalls. “So she finally found someone, but I didn’t know behind the scenes that she wasn’t finding the vendor for me, so finally she found the vendor. It took a little bit of work.”
Ultimately, it was worth it: The recreations got the stamp of approval from Prince’s sister. “We did have a showing for the 100th show and his sister was there. She was extremely proud of it, so I was really happy to see that she was so proud of our costumes,” Cole shares. “We had a really great time doing that. I’m a huge fan of Prince — I thought I was going to marry him once — we all fantasized about marrying Prince. It was great to honor him on our 100th show.”