Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Designers Clamoring to Dress ‘Empire’ Characters, Except Saint Laurent

Empire Cookie
EMPIRE: Cookie (Taraji P. Henson, R) and Porsha (guest star Ta’Rhonda Jones, L) try to save Empire Ent. in the “Unto the Breach” episode

*Women’s Wear Daily’s Sept. 15 issue has an extensive piece detailing the effect of “Empire” on the fashion industry – and the huge impact of Cookie Lyon’s wardrobe and accessories:

Judith Leiber gave her a crystal-encrusted mirror compact that looks like a chocolate chip cookie. Moschino let her stand out among orange-suited prisoners in a gold-trimmed denim patchwork jacket. Baja East sent a $5,995 full-length ikat-printed shearling coat that cofounder Scott Studenberg described as “her f–k you look.”

The woman basking in all this attention is none other than Cookie Lyon, who, as portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in “Empire,” has layered sassy one-liners on top of flamboyant style to become the TV character of the moment. When the second season of Fox’s hit series premieres on Sept. 23, Cookie can be seen reveling in a wardrobe stocked with the latest looks from Fendi, Kimberly McDonald, Stuart Weitzman, The Blonds, Versace, Balmain and other luxury labels that are clamoring to be featured on the show.

The article goes on to quote “Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels as saying the show’s fashion “is a statement in itself. It is as important as the acting.”

Jana Matheson, creative director of Judith Leiber, predicted that the series will have an effect “that’s the same as, if not greater than, ‘Sex and the City.’”

But not all fashion houses are so eager to jump on the bandwagon.

While many designers opened their doors to “Empire,” Saint Laurent declined to lend handbags and shoes to the show. “It’s not like everybody says yes all the time,” the show’s costume designer Paolo Nieddu told WWD. Saint Laurent didn’t respond to the magazine’s request for comment.

The WWD piece also points out how the characters have boosted awareness and sales of the clothing and accessories that they sport.

Ever since Glassing started posting images on its Instagram page of [Bryshere Y.] Gray sporting its sunglasses, the Italian company has been attracting 1,000 new followers daily. Prior to that, “we’re not popular in the U.S. at all,” said Ilaria Campanale, Glassing’s marketing manager.

In a testament to the coveted wardrobe from the debut season, Paolo Nieddu garnered an Emmy nomination for his costume designs on the first episode and Rita McGhee earned one for the eighth, which highlighted the Diddy-inspired White Party. While McGhee handled the rest of the first run after Nieddu finished the pilot, Nieddu returned to oversee costumes for the sophomore season.

McGhee didn’t have it easy. With a budget capped at $20,000, she dressed more than 10 characters, each of whom had more than five clothing changes. Because filming for the first season wrapped just when the series started airing, designers weren’t familiar with the show. “They didn’t want to give out any clothes,” McGhee recounted. The exception was guest star Naomi Campbell, who “brought in her own clothes because she’s Naomi Campbell,” she said.

The article also points out how “Empire’s” hair and makeup gurus have benefited from their contributions to the show’s success.

Working as the lead hair and makeup artist on “Empire” helped Karen Lynn Accattato score a gig with Dove Men+Care. Fans have bombarded her with queries about the cosmetics she uses on Grace Gealey’s character Anika Calhoun, particularly MAC’s Ruby Woo lipstick and Kryolan’s Catwalk lip gloss. “When we walk into stores like MAC or any of our vendors, people freak out,” Accattato said.

Red animal-print silk chiffon dress from Single, worn by Taraji P. Henson (L) as Cookie Lyon on "Empire"
Red animal-print silk chiffon dress from Single, worn by Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyon on “Empire” (L)

Out of all the characters on “Empire,” obviously Cookie Lyon’s fashion has the biggest ripple effect outside the show.

About 50 women contacted Galina Sobolev the day after they saw Henson slink around in a red animal-print silk chiffon dress from Single’s archives on the show (see pic above). First sold seven years ago for $387, the dress stirred so much interest that Sobolev revived it this fall in a limited run of 80. Although she should hike the price to $500 to cover inflating costs, the Los Angeles-based designer kept the original price tag so that customers could aspire to own a piece of Cookie’s life.

More Cookie clones are on the way. After creating the chocolate chip cookie compact and a personalized purse and lipstick mirror for the character, Judith Leiber is introducing a holiday collection that allows customers to write their names in cursive on crystal-covered clutches — just like Cookie’s — at Neiman Marcus for a starting price of $3,495.

“It’s very much part of the brand DNA, which dates back to Ms. Leiber, who made a lot of bespoke pieces,” Matheson said. “Society girls were an important part of her business.”

Cookie, the drug-dealing, felon-turned-hip-hop muse, as a society girl? As Single’s Sobolev put it, “Her background might not be impeccable but overall it’s a Cinderella story.”

Read the entire WWD article here.



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