Dressing Keri Russell in The Americans

Jenny Gering, the costume designer on hit TV show ‘The Americans’, explains why the Eighties were a much softer decade than we are led to believe.

From: telegraph.co.uk 8/21/2013
by: Olivia Bergin

telegraph_01If you’ve been relishing ITV’s new drama The Americans (those seeking to fill the void left by Homeland undoubtedly will) you won’t have failed to be mesmerised by the immaculate wonder that is Keri Russell.

The 37-year-old actress plays Elizabeth Jennings, who is one part a working ‘mom’ of two, another part KGB spy who kicks some serious ass – and with a gorgeous, side-parted mane of glossy brown hair to boot.

The show is set in Virginia in 1981, which means no shoulder pads, crazy hair or offensive style statements. Instead, Russell’s character is decked out in elegant, high-waisted jeans, cute mohair jumpers and chic trench coats, all of which highlight the actress’s impossibly slim figure.

telegraph_02As soon as the show’s costume designer, Jenny Gering, discovered the year the series was set in, she knew she had to get on board. “I was 13, I was the same age as the daughter on the show in 1981 so for some reason it’s a time period that really, really resonates with me,” Gering told The Telegraph.

“In 1981 it was still much more of a late 70s vibe” explains Gering. “When most people think of the 80s they think of the obvious, big hair, neon and shoulder pads but for me there were such beautiful things being made at that time.”

In the show, the Jennings masquerade as a husband-and-wife team of travel agents, so Gering’s brief was not to make anyone stand out or look clichéd – especially as the couple happen to befriend an FBI agent who moves in across their street.

telegraph_03Gering sourced Russell’s character’s plethora of knee-high boots, silk blouses and gold chains from “so many” vintage stores around New York state, with the occasional item replicated by hand in better fabrics.

“I wanted that late 70s, early 80s strong woman, classic cut, beautiful textiles, you know Faye Dunaway in that look, Charlotte Rampling – that sort of sexy without trying too hard woman,” explains Gering of her vision for Elizabeth Jennings.

“It’s not very bright, there’s not a lot of black, it’s very autumnal, it’s very earthy, it’s very rich… so that was sort of, those were my, where I was heading,” adds Gering, who was the costume designer for the 2011 film Limitless.

Wholesome tones aside, Russell’s character just also happens to be a master of disguise, with a selection of highly coiffed wigs, glasses, augmented eyebrows and all manner of provocative clothing gracing screens when she is in scheming mode.

telegraph_04“[We] really have fun with her alter-ego” laughs Gering. “And she’s [Russell] so game for anything, she’s just such a joy to work with because she gets into it and she has a real, true appreciation for beautiful things and an understanding of fashion.”

Viewers do get a stronger whiff of the Eighties in the show via Martha Hanson, who plays an FBI secretary and informant (and subsequent lover) to Matthew Rhys’s Philip Jennings. “Martha is definitely more a part of the corporate structure where you really start to see women with the silk blouse with the little tie and the blazer, that classic 80s business gal look,” reasons Gering.

And what of Paige Jennings, Elizabeth’s 13-year-old daughter played by Holly Taylor?

“Well for me that was just so close to my heart because I was poring over all my old yearbooks from school and photos and, you know, I just so relate to that character” explains Gering. “It’s adorable seeing a little thing in maybe a heel that’s a teeny bit too high for her to walk in and wearing her sweater just a little bit too tight to show off her new figure and it’s those little things that I love.”

Needless to say, Gering is on board for the second series of the Fox-produced drama. Of her preparation she concludes: “I’m poring over 1982 fashions at the moment.”