When tasked with creating the costumes for Showtime’s new thriller series, “American Gigolo,” costume designer Stephani Lewis began her research process by examining the original 1980 film to create a wardrobe that felt like equal parts reference to the classic film, while bringing the character of Julian Kaye to the present day.
“I have just started collaborating with [series stars] Jon [Bernthal] and Gretchen [Mol] and the rest of the cast to create new and authentic characters for the show that … still had a little nod or homage to some of the designs from the original movie,” she said. “We didn’t necessarily try to copy anything from that [film]but there are times when we wanted to hint at scenes that happened in the original.
The original 1980 film “American Gigolo” starred Richard Gere as Kaye, whose character was dressed throughout the film by Giorgio Armani. The film helped give Armani a major boost in his career and made him an international name, as he had a relatively low profile outside of Italy at that time. Armani’s “American Gigolo” suits moved away from traditional men’s suits of the time, forgoing padding and traditional blue and black colors for linen fabrics, softer colors and more relaxed silhouettes.
Interest in Armani’s suits grew rapidly after the film’s release, helping him land his designs at Barneys New York and establish himself in Hollywood. After “American Gigolo”, Armani then designed costumes for films like “Shaft” and “The Untouchables”.
While Armani wasn’t involved with the Showtime series “American Gigolo” — which launches new episodes on Fridays — Lewis wanted to reference the designer’s work in her own subtle way.
References to Armani suits are seen during the show’s flashback scenes. “American Gigolo” is told through two storylines: one in 2006 when Kaye works as a male escort, and one in the present day after he is released from prison 15 years after being wrongfully convicted of murder.
Lewis dressed Bernthal in a range of costumes during flashback sequences, which reflected the character’s opulent lifestyle and carefree spirit, then transitioned to more casual and uniformed looks when released from prison and looking to take back control of your life.
“Before prison, we had a lot more flashy things,” she said. “We used velvets and satin, more colors in his blazers and he was very well tailored. And then after prison, it was much more relaxed. I think after prison we only had one dressy look and that was a much more subdued blazer, shirt and pants. He wasn’t flaunting any kind of money or attention or trying to get attention. He flies much more under the radar after prison.
Lewis also explained that because the series takes place over a short period of time at present, Bernthal hasn’t had many costume changes. She wanted to keep her current uniform to reflect her journey after prison as he tries to mend his strained relationship with his mother and former girlfriend and also figure out who set him up.
“After prison, he’s a bit more serious and down-to-earth,” she explained. “But, he’s in rebuilding mode and he’s figuring out where he’s going and what he’s going to do, what’s real from the past and what’s real in the present. The distinction between what you’ll see him wearing in flashbacks to 2006 and what he’s wearing in the present will help tell this story of the difference between who he was before and after prison.
Besides Bernthal’s character, Lewis said she also enjoyed creating a tech billionaire-inspired wardrobe for Mol’s character, Michelle Stratton, and helping to create Lizzie Brocheré’s character Isabelle, who is a new addition in the Showtime series.
“It was such a fun show to dress up,” Lewis said. “Lizzie who plays Isabelle, she has so many great costumes and she was just kind of a blank slate since the character didn’t exist in the film. We were able to create whatever we wanted her to be and be fun, playful, and powerful. We got to play around with a lot of shapes and silhouettes that were sexy, but also made her feel strong.