By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
Designing costumes for the hit ABC show "Lost" is unlike any other job in television.
The characters die — but may return in flashbacks.
Many live on a mysterious, disappearing island — in tank tops and jeans that have to be aged convincingly.
Time travel is de rigueur, so the episode may require an '80s monk's robe on Monday, '50s hoopskirted shirtwaist on Tuesday, formal '90s Mainland business attire on Wednesday, Bedouin robes on Thursday. ... Well, you get the picture. Island locations may be called upon to stand in for any place in the world: Australia, England, Los Angeles, Tunisia, Korea.
And costumes are critical to the success of the show.
Costume designer Roland Sanchez describes the outfitting as a collaborative effort between the costume department and the actors.
"I am the first person (the actors) see when they get off the plane," Sanchez said.
He oversees a full-time staff of eight. Three or four are usually on the set, with four or five in the costume department at any given time. When there are big crowd scenes, the production adds part-time help. When there is a second unit filming simultaneously, the crew adds two more costumers.
This core of highly qualified costume people creates, buys and manages thousands (no one dares to estimate how many) of costumes every day of shooting.
Sanchez does a tremendous amount of research for "Lost." When he began work on what "The Others" would wear on the island during Season 2, he went first to Dorothea Lange's photographs of the people of Appalachia during the Great Depression. He created design boards with a collection of the photos; they provided inspiration and continuity for outfits that had to age realistically.
Sanchez and his team create costumes for each character, then present them as storyboards to the directors.
Although one would think costumes worn on the island — tank tops, jeans, cargo pants and T-shirts — would be simple to work on, Sanchez said he actually finds them extremely challenging.
"The most difficult thing for me to wrap my head around is putting them in clothes on the island. The actors are in them for so long," he said." ... "And there has to be tension in all the island situations.
"You can't just make them pretty on the island, so I have to keep the tension in what they're wearing. That's my cross to bear. Give me Iraq or Korea or Australia or Bedouins in Tunisia any day."
A perfectionist by nature, Sanchez thrives on the tiniest details. He loved, for example, learning how Bedouins wrap their turbans and how a burqa is worn by an Iraqi woman.
Sanchez refers to what he does for "Lost" as "creating worlds of people."
For the costume department, he said, "There's a different fricking world every week. When Desmond was a monk I thought, 'You have got to be kidding.' We had to make all those monk's robes. There's not some rack of monk's robes you can go to" and buy them over the counter.
On the day of our interview, tailor Mike Tereschuk was just completing 25 graduation gowns for Faraday's doctoral graduation from Oxford University in England. Sanchez's research had shown that the gowns for a Ph.D. graduating from Oxford are entirely different from those in U.S. universities. They also differ from the robes for Oxford graduates in the B.A. and M.A. programs.
There are legal considerations as well. The show couldn't copy the Oxford robes exactly, so "Lost" used the colors — red and blue — but changed the color blocking.
While Tereschuk tailors and sews with lightning speed, he said he could not possibly do his job without the assistance of seamstress Cynthia Renaud-Kim, who lives in Hilo and flies to Honolulu when needed.
To give a sense of how fast Tereschuk has to work, he completed a tailored silk blouse for the character of Mrs. Eloise Hawking in half an hour. It had to be delivered to the set within 15 minutes of its completion.
NO CLOSET CLEANING!
Unlike any other show or movie Sanchez has ever worked on, everything worn on "Lost" has to be saved. He never knows when a character will be brought back on the show. "We learned in Season 1 that they have flashbacks and flash forwards all the time," he said.
"Today, we went back to a character I never thought we'd see again. They cast another actress in the role, but luckily she fits the costumes."
Clean clothes are anathema when actors are in scenes on the island. Sanchez explained that to get the most authentic and organic-looking dirt on the costumes, they use Old English furniture polish and rub it in, along with layers of movie dirt, using sanding pads. Those realistic-looking pukas in John Locke's T-shirts are really pukas; they rub until they make pukas. It's incredibly time-consuming. "We try to emulate the aging process in these costumes to get it real," he said.
A word that comes up frequently in talking about the costumes on "Lost" is "organic." Although dressing the actors is often a collaborative effort between the actors and Sanchez, if the actor requests a certain garment, it has to look completely natural within the context of the scene.
"We have to protect the organic feeling of this show, so if something sticks out I won't do it," he said. "We have to protect the integrity of that scene."
'WEIRD WORLDS OF PEOPLE'
Sanchez said nearly all of the clothes shopping for "Lost" is done locally. He often finds costumes at the Waikele outlet stores: Barneys New York, Saks Off Fifth and Calvin Klein. Their classic, contemporary clothes suit the styles of many of the characters.
He also finds things at Armani Exchange because he likes the "strange seams and zippers." "Strange" works in the costumes, as well as the plot lines.
"For five seasons we have bought most of the clothes or have made them with things we bought here. It's a compliment to Honolulu," Sanchez said, that they can find so much on O'ahu.
The exception is the '70s-vintage clothes worn during island flashbacks to that time period. Sanchez orders them from Play Clothes, a boutique in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Sanchez said he tries to "get into the groove of where I would shop if I was the character." He is always thinking ahead, storing things that might just work in the future and shopping with "an eye out for the unusual."
He said he wishes he could shop more at Ross, but they don't have the time: "We have to go places where we know where to find things" quickly. For the character of Hurley's mother, however, "I go straight to Ross. Those floral-print, gaudy dresses are always there, and she's just so happy when she sees them.
"I love creating these weird worlds of people," Sanchez explained. He's definitely working in the right place.
Reach Paula Rath at email@example.com.