Mr. Selfridge: 5 questions with the costume designer behind the opulent new period miniseries starring Jeremy Piven

Mr Selfridge Costumes

Mr Selfridge Costumes
Photography courtesy of ITV for MASTERPIECE

See photos of the Mr Selfridge costumes »

If you’ve failed to get your guy hooked on Downton Abbey, sell him on Masterpiece’s latest costume drama by uttering just two words: Ari Gold. Yes, Entourage’s agent-with-a-heart-of-coal has gone costume. As the titular Mr. Selfridge, Jeremy Piven is the main attraction in this eight-part miniseries premiering on PBS on Sunday, March 31. If the name Selfridge doesn’t conjure up London’s Oxford-street shopping Shangri-La, then consider this your department store master class. The series charts American Harry Gordon Selfridge, a gregarious entrepreneur, as he struggles to get his namesake store off the ground in 1909. While Piven fills the dapper shoes of the retail magnate, there’s plenty of women to distract: Harry’s wife Rose, chorus girl Ellen Love who catches his eye (and maybe his heart), Lady Mae who helps him find funds, and the many shopgirls that populate Harry’s days. Dressing the man who revolutionized retail with his in-store stunts and these pretty birds is BAFTA fave James Keast, who talks to us about the intricacies of dressing such a large cast, his favourite accessory, and more.

As a showman how did Mr. Selfridge himself use his wardrobe as a means to stand out?
“Mr. Selfridge wears very much the ‘uniform’ of the time, he was dressed in a very formal way. I used his waistcoats and neckties to suggest his ‘showman’ style. Although Jeremy Piven is an American, his performance stands out from all the British actors, I felt his costumes didn’t need to, he and his family tried to fit into London Society, he dressed for his work and his position.”

How did you convey the class differences in the costumes of the female characters?
“I concentrated on the details to show the differences between the classes—the wealthier the character the finer the detail. The use of lace flowers and beading—obviously the fabric I selected for each character also suggested the class of the person—using silks and satins on the wealthy, and wools, cottons and linen on others. Most of the principle characters costumes were made.”

How did you go about costuming such a large cast?
“I broke each script into characters and worked out how many costumes each needed, the script tells you if a character needs an evening dress, or stage outfit or whatever. I go through each character in order and work out how long I need the costume and how often it would be used, I then decide if I need to make it or look for it in a costume house to hire, I also look in vintage shops and on-line, if it is cheaper to buy an original garment rather than hire or make one, I will.”

How did you go about choosing which costumes should be made as opposed to sourcing from a costume house?
“I did find most of the costumes the supporting extras wear from a costume hire company. I wanted Ellen Love to look a bit theatrical and down at heel when we first see her, everything she wears is a bit ‘ second hand,’ and then, when she is being bought clothes by Mr Selfridge, to look a bit wealthier but still slightly theatrical. Last year I worked on Titanic and used the same costumier’s, I know the stock they have for this period very well which is why I decided to go there.”

Do you have a favourite look from the series we should watch for? 
“I loved designing for Ellen Love, I could have a bit of fun, but, I love hats—see Titanic, The House of Eliot—and really enjoyed making and designing the hats for Mrs. Selfridge and Lady Mae, Ellen Love, in fact, all of the hats.”

Mr. Selfridge premieres this Sunday March 31, 2013 at 9PM EST on PBS. For more information, visit pbs.org.