Style Insider: Don’s Draper

Costume designer Janie Bryant perfects elegant period wear

An equestrian design on Mad Men

Janie Bryant’s grandmother was the sort of hostess who modeled a different apron for every occasion.

Studying those figure-flattering bows helped Bryant cinch the feminine mystique of Betty Draper on Mad Men, she says, explaining how her upbringing in the South, with its proud apron-ties to yesteryear, has influenced her work as the costume designer for the hit AMC television drama about advertising in the 1960s.

“I was raised to be a Southern lady, with my family emphasizing manners and always ‘dressing’ for the dinner table,” says Bryant, who is hailed as the fashion industry’s most polite trendsetter. “So I draw most of my inspiration from the clothes my parents and grandparents wore, their custom of dressing.”

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A debutante from a family in textiles, Bryant coyly declines to give her age. Although she grew up in Tennessee and now resides in L.A., she spent formative years in Atlanta, first at Georgia State University and then at the American College for the Applied Arts, where she earned a degree in fashion design. Early on, the storyboard foreshadowed her future as Hollywood’s next Edith Head: homemade Barbie clothes, school theater, “best dressed” in the yearbook.

“A piece in her final senior collection was this silk and satin gown from the 1800s,” recalls Karen Garbow, who taught Bryant’s costume history class. “A period piece is unusual for that. It’s not that Janie necessarily pines for the past, but it’s in her nature to be a romantic.”

So Bryant is a natural fit for Mad Men, that lush, authenticity-obsessed anachronism of fedoras, gray flannel, and bullet bras. Earning an Emmy nod this year, the vestments have stirred a ring-a-ding-ding nostalgia on the runways and on today’s Madison Avenue. Designer Michael Kors cited Mad Men as the inspiration for his fall 2008 line, and Bloomingdale’s and Banana Republic have both launched campaigns around the show.

Bryant hopes for more historical projects, particularly something antebellum, but she also wants her name on a label. “I love so many over-the-top, baroque looks, but my own style is far from that,” she says. “I might wear pearls or a tweed Chanel jacket, mixed with moderns.”

Photograph copyright 2008 Carin Baer/AMC