When it comes to creating iconic looks, Lou Eyrich knows a thing or two. The award-winning costume designer got her start dressing rock stars like fellow Minneapolis homeboy Prince and then went on to create Lea Michele’s good-girl short-skirt-and-animal-sweater uniform for Glee. She eventually made her way to American Horror Story where she worked with such divas as Stevie Nicks and Jessica Lange. But, this season she's upped the ante.
For its fifth season, American Horror Story: Hotel (which premieres October 7 at 10 p.m. on FX), Eyrich is transforming Lady Gaga into the part of a couture-addicted, blood-sucking countess who runs a haunted hotel in which all sorts of murder and depravity go down. And given AHS's history of cult-making, show-stealing fashion — think Lange’s satin blue “Life on Mars” pantsuit in season 4’s Freak Show or the glamorous gang of witches in season 3’s Coven — we expect things to be epic.
I talked with Eyrich, who has collaborated with AHS and Glee creator Ryan Murphy continuously since 1999, about what we can expect from the new season and what it was like working with Gaga. You can read my story on Refinery29, but there's a more complete version below, for you costume history nerds.
First of all, what’s it like working on a show that has a totally different story and different characters every season?
“It’s challenging, but that’s what makes it so fun. It takes weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks to start a new season. ... I meet with Ryan in the beginning, we go over the whole tone of the season, and then I start doing my research, working closely with the set designer and the actors, and I’ll make concept boards for every character. I’ll meet with Ryan again, and he’ll offer feedback — I want her softer, I want him in less black — and then I start shopping and talking with the actors and doing fittings and I’ll take photos and create boards of all those fittings, and he’ll offer more feedback.”
How is Hotel different from previous seasons?
“Coven was very modern and stylized. And Freak Show, even though it was faded and worn, it was very colorful. This season, the setting is a hotel, and it’s all burgundies and golds. It’s more high-fashion, but there’s a kind of timelessness — you can’t quite tell if it is modern or period. We mix a lot of old — ‘30s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s — with different characters wearing clothes from different era, so it feels like you’re stuck in time inside this hotel.”
The owner of the hotel is this couture-loving blood-sucking countess played by Lady Gaga — who is a sort of larger than life character herself. Was it tricky separating the character from the icon?
“It wasn’t hard at all: Lady Gaga was so into her character — she’d really done her homework — and so it was really fun to collaborate with her. And this was a big opportunity for her to get to show herself as somebody other than Lady Gaga. So I think it was exciting for both of us to discover who the countess was.”
What did you guys come up with?
“We wanted her to be very elegant, sexy, seductive, mysterious, and unexpected as well. Since she’s so fashion-forward, the first thing I did was look at the most recent runway shows to see what’s currently happening in fashion. Then, to give her that aura of timelessness, I went through archives of my favorite designers — a lot of Thierry Mugler and Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood — and Old Hollywood costumes, like Adrian from the ‘40s. A lot of web surfing, a lot of vintage couture shopping. I didn't do a lot of researching of other vampire movies, because I didn't want to be influenced by them.”
I think high fashion works for vampires, since they’re often supposed to be seductive and sort of cosmopolitan. I definitely get that vibe from Gaga’s costumes, especially this one shocking-pink 1940s-style dress …
“Oh yes, Ryan wanted this dramatic gown with either a big, long train or a lot of extra fabric that would billow in the wind, because in that scene she was going to be moving through this series of lampposts outside the [Los Angeles County Museum of Art], and he wanted a fan so this fabric would be flowing behind her as she walked. The designer Michael Costello made the dress in a day, maybe two. Ryan wanted it in a brilliant color, like red, but we had just shot a scene in a red dress, so I had Michael came up with some sketches, and Ryan loved the fuschia, so that’s what we ended up with.”
What about the silver glove she wears?
“That’s her weapon — her character doesn’t have fangs, so the glove have these little knives that pop from the fingers, and that’s how she gets the blood. It’s a leather glove covered with 1,000 Swarovski crystals designed by Michael Schmidt, who is a jeweler in Los Angeles. Ryan wanted it to be like armor, but it also had to be fashionable enough to wear with her outfits.”
You got to work with another fashion icon this season, Naomi Campbell ...
“Oh, Naomi was such a pro. She was able to connect us with a lot of designers that we never could have afforded to loan clothes to us. She plays a Vogue editor, so she got some Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, a gorgeous Saint Laurent, Celine, Dolce & Gabbana, these beautiful fur vests — everything every girl would want to wear. It was definitely a highlight in my career.”
Do you have any other favorite characters?
“Sarah Paulson’s character, Sally, who is this grungy, punky, heroine addict, has been so much fun to create. We scoured the Internet and the town and all the vintage stores and found these old Betsy Johnsons from the ‘90s — everything she wears is from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘90s — and it’s all overdyed and torn and ripped fishnets but then we pair it with shoes from the ‘40s, or that look old. Totally different from last season.
“The other one is Evan Peters — he’s also unrecognizable this season, he plays a 1930s tycoon who owns the Hotel Cortez. Very Clark Gable.”
What is your ultimate goal when creating a costume?
“If you look at it and it defines who the character is, that is a good costume. Like Indiana Jones — that’s the best example of a costume that defines the character. So, if an actor says this is great, it helps them find the character, they’re comfortable in it, but then people want to dress like that character too — that's the ultimate compliment.”
You've done so many different genres of stuff, is there any genre or period you haven't done that you want to try?
"I've never done futuristic, but I have no desire to. I've never done any theater — I've only done film and television — so that would be fun. I love the '20s, '30s, '40s, but anything before the '20s I'm really not interested. It's really beautiful, but it's just a lot of work — all those underpinnings, and none of the actors want to wear it because it's so uncomfortable: all the corsets and the petticoats and the wool. But, I think fantasy, you know, I've never done a fantasy."
Can you give us any other secrets about the new season?
“Well, Gaga was so generous and offered to bring pieces in from her own personal archive. So, let’s just say that her fans are going to get a big treat when they see something that I'm not going to give away!”