Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New York Fashion Cool-Aid ® by Laurel Marcus

An Evening with Staci Greenbaum: Costume Designer for "Broad City"

Staci Greenbaum
Photo Laurel Marcus

Much like those she costumes, lead characters/writers/creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of the hit TV show "Broad City," Staci Greenbaum is not one to mince words. After all,  any woman who can make two separate "ass" references (one to kissing, one to wiping) in the course of a 45-minute inspirational and career-guidance talk to an audience of mostly Millennials, is someone who knows the industry. Last night I attended a program sponsored by Fashionista.com and Macy's clothing line Bar III, which featured a little window into Ms. Greenbaum's life and times as costume designer on Comedy Central's "Broad City", Bravo's "Odd Mom Out" and Hulu's "Difficult People". Executive Editor of Fashionista Alyssa Vingan Klein posed questions for Ms. Greenbaum at Space 530, ranging from information on her interests, her background and her fascinating but exhausting job.

Executive Editor of Fashionista Alyssa Vingan Klein
questions Ms. Greenbaum

Photo: Laurel Marcus

"When I was 11 or 12 I decided that I really wanted to be the next Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta or Betsey Johnson," Greenbaum recounted. "Mom said I should learn to sew so I took Home EC courses in Middle School." After snagging an internship while still in high school, with a friend's mother -- a local theatrical costume designer in her native North Potomac, Maryland -- "A magician who produced everything out of her basement," Greenbaum came to love costume design. In college at the University of Wisconsin, Greenbaum had her first internship with the film "American Gangster" which she was able to parlay into her first paying job. "I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and willing to do anything," she recalls. "As a PA (Production Assistant) I would drive the designers around Manhattan for hours listening to them complain about the traffic as if I could will it away for them. I tried never to complain. It was like what kind of toilet paper do you want me to wipe your ass with?" she quips.

Greenbaum's next stint was as an Assistant to the Costumer on "The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman II" where she was a small fish in a big pond. When that wrapped she put out feelers to be an assistant on a smaller scale production -- that of "Broad City." She was on her way to Fire Island for a bachelorette party over a long summer weekend, when she got a last-minute call to "put a proposal together" for the job of Costume Designer -- the show's original costumer had backed out. Greenbaum had four days to organize her pitch, consulting Pinterest boards underneath her towel at the beach while saying things like "Oh, you're getting married!"

Cast of Broad City

When she met the women of "Broad City,"(the gross out comedy of two best friends living in NYC playing younger, highly exaggerated versions of themselves), they hit it off. In fact, according to Greenbaum, Abbi said she felt like it was a therapy session. Ilana was a bit harder to nail down. "I didn't quite get her at first. I thought she would have sayings on her shirts and wear leopard print but no," said Greenbaum. Interestingly, Ilana is now her favorite character to dress due to a melange of crop tops, printed leggings, "floor clothing", not to mention the hilarious episode where she wears a dog hoodie to work, her hair in ponytails where the canine ears should be. Greenbaum also enjoys dressing the character of Jill on "Odd Mom Out" because she has a "rock 'n roll hard edge" which includes "lots of leather but it's scalloped, beautiful and laser cut."

Ilana and Abbi in HotMiamiStyles

Where does Greenbaum source Abbi and Ilana's BC wardrobe? "I try to be true to their socio-economic status, which is low," she chuckles. Many items come from fast fashion retailers such as H&M, Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, Madewell, Free People, Uniqlo, Zara, Century 21 or Old Navy, so if you think you recognize a top or two, you may have encountered it at the mall. "We try to support local New York stores whenever possible," adding that some things are ordered online such as Ilana's MessQueen tie-dye leggings. Two other popular websites are HotMiamiStyles.com (Abbi's oft-repeated, season spanning blue bandage dress, as well as Ilana's two-piece cropped top and skirt that she wore in the closing episode of Season 1), and CountryClubPrep.com ("A treasure trove of ridiculousness"). They also rent from various costumers such as Anne Roth ("Costume Depot" is what Greenbaum calls it), shop for vintage finds (there's a great episode with the girls at Beacon's Closet - see video) and pull items from various local designers. One thing you won't catch them in is Spanx however Ilana is all about the colorful, visible sport bra and requires a gazillion pairs of wacky socks.

In the frequent "nude" scenes, (Abbi joyously dancing naked in her apartment after Beavers, her unseen roommate's boyfriend who is essentially her real roommate, leaves town for a few days; as well as a communal scene in the unisex gym locker room), Greenbaum lets us in on a little secret. "I have trunks of 'nude' stuff from a brand called Nubian Skin. They make items in all shades of nude, because not everyone is off-white. There are pasties, petals, tube tops and shibuis (paste-on thong underwear) that are used," she said.

Broad City tackles the dress

When asked to pick a favorite scene from any of the three seasons so far, Greenbaum chose the first episode of Season 3 entitled "Sample Sale" (I thought it had an element of the Larry David "Curb Your Enthusiasm" only grosser, to it) and the 90-second montage that opened Season 3 which was meant to give a time elapsed video of the girls complete with costumes they wore over the year since Season 2 ended including the "Blue and Black dress vs. White and Gold dress." Incidentally, they had to make the white and gold dress since it didn't exist. The costumer liked the way the cold open showcased the season calling it the "We're Back episode."

Ilana Glazer, Hillary Clinton, Amy Poehler, Abbi Jacobson

Greenbaum didn't mention it in her talk but she has certainly had some interesting and high profile guest stars to clothe, particularly for this past third season including Vanessa Williams, Melissa Leo, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Alda, Tony Danza and the biggest get: Hillary Clinton (she wore her own green pantsuit). The fact that Amy Poehler is the show's executive producer may have initially been the draw for attracting talent, but Jacobson and Glazer are quickly becoming their own forces to be reckoned with. The show, currently on hiatus, has even been picked up for two more seasons.

When asked to share an important piece of advice for getting ahead in the industry Greenbaum recommends being a self-starter, making yourself indispensable on set and above all, her "mom-ism" of "catching more bees with honey than you do with vinegar" aka being nice to people. "The toes you step on today may be attached to the ass you'll be kissing tomorrow," is the unattributed quote she used in her second butt reference.

What is next for Staci? Well, she's got Season 4 of Broad City in which, for the first time ever, we will see winter time on the show (they have always filmed in the summer before this). Following the talk, I asked her if she had any idea how she's going to deal with that, she said she thinks it will provide all kinds of comic fodder and can imagine the girls getting all bundled up and then sweating to death on the subway. Aside from BC, Greenbaum mentions that she'd love to do a movie period piece since that's where her roots are, preferably set in the Victorian Era between 1870-1890. Otherwise, she's taking the next five months off for another type of production: a baby boy due in July. Here's where her bottom wiping experience will really come in handy!




- Laurel Marcus

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