When tasked with creating the costumes for Showtime’s new thriller series, “American Gigolo,” costume designer Stephani Lewis started her research process by looking at the original 1980 movie to create a wardrobe that in equal parts referenced the classic film, while also bringing the character of Julian Kaye to the present day.
“I 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 series that…still had a little bit of a nod or an homage to some of the designs of the original film,” she said. “We didn’t necessarily try to copy anything from that [film], but there are sometimes when we wanted to give hints of scenes that happened in the original.”
The original “American Gigolo” film from 1980 starred Richard Gere as Kaye, whose character was dressed throughout the movie famously by Giorgio Armani. The film helped give Armani a major boost in his career and make him an international name, as he had a relatively low profile outside of Italy at that time. Armani’s “American Gigolo” suits were a shift away from traditional men’s suits at the time, forgoing padding and traditional blue and black colors for linen fabrics, softer colors and more casual silhouettes.
Interest in Armani’s suits grew quickly after the release of the film, helping him land his designs in Barneys New York and establish himself in Hollywood. After “American Gigolo,” Armani went on to design costumes for films like “Shaft” and “The Untouchables.”
While Armani was not involved in the Showtime “American Gigolo” series — which debuts new episodes on Fridays — Lewis wanted to reference the designer’s work in her own subtle ways.
The references to Armani’s suits are seen during the show’s flashback scenes. “American Gigolo” is told through two storylines: one in 2006 when Kaye is working as a male escort, and one in the present day after he was released from prison after 15 years after being wrongfully convicted of a murder.
Lewis dressed Bernthal in an array of suits during the flashback sequences, which mirrored the character’s opulent lifestyle and carefree spirit, and then shifted to more casual, uniform looks when he is released from prison and looking to get his life back together.
“Pre-prison, we had a lot of more showy things,” she said. “We used velvets and satin, more colors in his blazers and he was very well tailored. And then post-prison, it was much more of a casual style. I think post-prison we only had one look that was dressed up and it was a much more subdued blazer, shirt and slacks. It was not flaunting any sort of money or attention or trying to get any attention. He’s flying much more under the radar post-prison.”
Lewis also explained that because the series takes place over a short period of time in the present day, Bernthal didn’t have many costume changes. She wanted to keep his present-day uniform to reflect his journey post-prison, as he’s trying to fix his strained relationships with his mother and former girlfriend and also figure out who framed him.
“Post-prison, he’s a little bit more gritty and down to earth,” she explained. “But, he’s in rebuilding mode and he’s on this journey to figure 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 the flashbacks in 2006 to what he wears in the present will help tell that story of the difference in who he was pre-prison and post-prison.”
Aside from Bernthal’s character, Lewis said she also enjoyed creating a tech billionaire-inspired wardrobe for Mol’s character Michelle Stratton and helping create the character for Lizzie Brocheré’s Isabelle, who is a new addition in the Showtime series.
“It was such a fun show to costume,” 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 movie. We were able to create what we wanted her to be and be fun, playful and powerful. We were able to play with a lot of shapes and silhouettes that were sexy, but also made her feel strong.”