With a plot driven by a race against time in the hunt of a baby murderer, TNT’s The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is set during America’s Gilded Age. Even if you’re too scared to tune into Angel of Darkness, you should muster up the courage just for the bonkers costume design from Rudy Mance. Since Mance worked on the first season with Emmy-nominated designer Michael Kaplan, Mance had a head start when it was time to dive back into a dark and seedy time period.
The biggest change from season one is that Dakota Fanning’s Sarah Howard is the main protagonist as she proves that she can stand among the men who do the same kind of job. We can see a maturity in the design of her clothes. The shoulders are less puffy but the patterns are bold and chic. The men’s suits are tailored so perfectly that they will make you want to rush to get yours altered. Luke Evans in a perfectly designed suit is magnificent.
With a mystery so disturbing, the costumes are a respite from the horror that Sarah, Dr. Kreizler, and John Moore face. But even though they provide some relief in their impeccable design, they are beautifully accurate to the time period with a little modern flair. Everything is fashionable without being distracting. If only we could still look this good while we hunt down the bad guys.
Awards Daily: You were an assistant costume designer with Michael Kaplan for the first season.
Rudy Mance: Yes.
AD: What was it like to take the reins with Angel of Darkness?
RM: I got my feet wet towards the end of the first season. When I originally signed on, it was always known that Michael was going to leave a bit early to do a little film called Star Wars.
AD: A small independent film.
RM: (laughs) Yes, very low budget. He and I met once years prior that he did in New York. Ellen Mirojnick, a mentor and mutual friend of ours introduced us. She and I did The Knick together. Michael and I really got along, so he set it up that we could do the first season together. He left right at the end of the seventh episode or somewhere around there. The last three episodes I got to pretend to be him. He’s such a maestro. I had an advantage coming back this season to be able to flesh out the work from season one.
AD: How so?
RM: Well, I was already familiar with the actors. To be able to learn from him was icing on the cake. This season I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel because I think what he and I did was really spot-on. The only thing that I tried to do was try to push it more modern. I wanted a more modern flair. Michael was very meticulous in making it period accurate, but I wanted to retain the authenticity and give it more of a stylistic edge. Without looking wrong or too stylized. I really pushed that with Dakota [Fanning]’s wardrobe with these long culottes which were around back then but they weren’t as mainstream as I made them with Sarah Howard. I thought that was one way to make it more editorial.
AD: Dakota’s arc, especially going back to season one, is my favorite thing about the show, I think. That dress that she wears when Sarah and John Moore go to Hudson Street for the first time is so gorgeous.
RM: Oh, yeah, the one with the chevron plaid.
RM: Everyone’s loving that dress. Dakota just sent me on Instagram a picture of a croqueted Sarah wearing that dress. We were dying. It’s so crazy, Joey, because we filmed in Budapest in Hungary and there were two fabric shops that you could go to that had some decent things. Really once you went there once or twice, you saw everything, We would go to Vienna a lot since it’s only 2 hours away and they had some of the most incredible fabric shops that I’ve ever been to. I kind of don’t want to give away where it is (laughs)
AD: (laughs) Your secret is safe.
RM: It was a place that Michael and I found that I went back to. It’s mostly textiles and tapestries for furniture, but I found that fabric and a handful of others in the basement, underneath a table, and in a random box. I was just digging through and digging through it and I almost gave up. It was a whole bolt of it. I was 2 Euros per meter and I knew that I wanted to do something interesting with it. I wanted to make that a staple and make that interesting. Those dresses normally take between anywhere from 8 to 10 meters, but if you introduce matching patterns and things like that, it can take 15 to 20. I think that entire dress cost maybe 20 Euros to make.
AD: That’s insane.
RM: Yeah, it’s incredible.
AD: That looks is so sophisticated and it represents how her character is progressing. Is she maybe more conscious of what she looks like now that she is running her own agency.
RM: Dakota and I spoke to this very early on. She didn’t think that her character necessarily paid attention to trends but she is much more practical than, say, the character of Violet. We learn in the first season that Sarah does come from means and her family does have some wealth. Dakota said herself that Sarah would employ someone would employ someone to pay attention to it. I started research in Los Angeles at Wester Costume. They had this incredible library and they have the actual issues of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue from 1897.
AD: Oh wow. That’s awesome.
RM: Yeah. I spent two or three days going through each page for the entire year to put together looks based on that. Some of them very over-the-top for Sarah, but I’d take little ideas I found. I don’t know if you saw that velvet waistcoat but it almost looks like a singlet. It has a V in the front and the back. I found her suit fabric—this beautiful maroon pinstripe on pinstripe, two-toned herringbone—and I found this cranberry waistcoat in town. Then I tried to be more practical and thought of who would be her tailor back then, because they would probably do the same cut in different fabrics. I made a second one and, again since I found the fabric, I did it in a cranberry maroon and a black and white. I wanted her to look very fashion and current of the times. I mean, she’s running around town and looking for a missing baby.
AD: Of course.
RM: She couldn’t be frilly. We made a decision early on not to give her too many bells and whistles. The shoulders, I thought, were beautiful for the first season. It was very much a fad of the time and women would get beaten up for it in the press back then even though it was of the time. Since she was more serious this season, I wanted to show her a little more on her own and independent so I scaled back all of her shoulders and sleeves. I wanted to give that feel but I wanted the silhouette to be more serious.
AD: People were definitely talking about Dakota’s puffy shoulders last year.
AD: It made me think that even though this is only one year late, fashion is already changing. Or maybe that Sarah’s style is moving forward.
RM: I thought that was a subtle way to show that it hasn’t been a huge amount of time. Menswear didn’t really change but for the womenswear, I thought it was a way to show the evolution.
AD: You mentioned Violet and I love that she wears a lot of color.
AD: The one she wears during the engagement party is really nice, but I have to say that that whole episode is a feast for the eyes.
RM: And there were so many more incredible people in the background. You didn’t get to see it, unfortunately, but we had Madame Pompidous with ships in their hair with these incredible wigs. Every last background character, we made a lot of those. All of the men with the white wigs and the pink suits…we made all of that. Hungary is home to some of the most incredible tailors ever. Most of them chain-smoke and none of them speak English, but they cut a suit within an inch of its life.
AD: You can see that.
RM: Gabor, who made a lot of the men’s clothes, was out of the workshops in town. He works in this tiny basement. I’m 6’3 and you walk down this almost subway grate, and you can’t get in there with fabric. He speaks no English and I speak no Hungarian, but by the end, we were having full conversations with sign language and eyes.
AD: Oh wow.
RM: I’d bring measurements and a picture of the actor and start talking through the art of the design. My assistant, Dee, is brilliant was with us on season one. She Hungarian and speaks perfect English, and she’d be talking when they we’d be talking—I don’t know how she kept it all straight. One time, she was laughing and I asked what was going on and she told me that Gabor said that whoever measured this person measured his shoulders two centimeters wrong. He could tell just by looking at a photo of Luke [Evans], and he asked me if I wanted to go by the measurements or by the photo. And I him to go by the photo, and he was right.
AD: He could tell just by the photo?
RM: Yeah. It was literally down two centimeters. I told him to go by his eye, and Luke just walked into that suit.
AD: There’s a grey suit that’s gorgeous.
RM: That’s my favorite. Thank you. Michael and I walked into the first season never having worked in Hungary and we are building a world from scratch. We spent a month and a half globe trotting. We went to LA, New York, London, Madrid, Vienna, Rome, Paris—we literally went everywhere and we compiled everything we thought could be good. We got swatches of fabrics and laid it all out on a table and started piecing it together. We ran into problems because a month and a half later when a lot of the fabrics weren’t available anymore. It was such a blessing this season from day one that if I found fabric, I could say this is for Sarah, this is for John Moore, this is for Kreizler. I found Lucius’ suit fabric at a Jewish fabric shop in Brooklyn.
AD: I love that you can tell just from looking at the fabric who it could belong to.
RM: As soon as I saw it, I knew that it was right and I bought it. Going to Hungary, I already had an arsenal. We made maybe three times as many costumes for this season.
AD: And you guys made a lot for the original season.
RM: I know. It was great.
AD: I wanted to mention some small details that I loved. Goo Goo’s vest is this dark blue with a pattern on it.
RM: It was a midnight blue black and it had I think it had dragonflies or butterflies on it. I hope we get to see more of the Dusters close up. Goo Goo was a real person.
RM: The Dusters were a real gang and his whole crew was ragtag, but there is a picture of them together sitting underneath the piers. He looked totally sharp in that group picture of them. What I liked about him was that he wore silk, brocade waistcoats and I gave him morning striped suit pants. That would’ve been for a wealthy, sophisticate gentleman at that time. I had a brilliant ageing and dying department, and they literally distressed them. I did all of the morning stripe trousers for them but then I cut them all off so they were slimmer. During my research, I would put together realistic illustrations and photographs but then to sort of give it that modern edge, I would mix in a lot from Vogue’s site. My background is in fashion. I started out as a fashion editor, so I still look at the collections. I try and put a bit of that current fashion in no matter what period it is. It helps bridge the gap between the period but gives it something more interesting to watch visually.
AD: You can feel the modern influences in the clothes. The clothes feel like they are almost having an arc as well. And it helps that this show is so stylized.
RM: I found an old Vogue article from 2014 where all the runways were doing what they were calling, ‘goth Victorian.’ McQueen did a beautiful collection and so did Prada. It was interesting because I’d be looking at McQueen and seeing how both he and Sarah Burton could take something it incredibly beautiful and current. To see where they got their inspiration from was so cool to see.
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is airing 2 new episodes a week on TNT.