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Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick was most recently responsible for transforming Michael Douglas into the ever-resplendent, sequin-encrusted Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra,” for which she won an Emmy (her relationship with Douglas spans back to the Eighties; she costumed several of his films, including “Wall Street,” “Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct”). Soderbergh was so taken with Mirojnick’s costumes on “Candelabra” that he invited her back to outfit the cast of his new miniseries, “The Knick,” a period drama that premieres tonight on Cinemax.
“I heard Steven was going to retire and I was like, ‘S--t. This is my guy,’” Mirojnick says. “And he retired from film, but not from long-form storytelling. So, nine months after ‘Candelabra,’ ‘The Knick’ showed up. Our design team came back together with Steven and I was happier than a pea in a pod. I fell back in love with costume design because Steven is such a great collaborator and a true believer in letting everybody do their job. He trusts you to create the world that he has in his mind’s eye.”
Set in downtown New York in 1900, the majority of “The Knick” takes place inside the Knickerbocker Hospital at the dawn of modern medicine and stars Clive Owen as Dr. John Thackery, the hospital’s head surgeon — and a hopeless drug addict. Soderbergh directed all 10 episodes of the show’s first season, which could be described as a decidedly unromantic period drama.
“We wanted to create a modern time and not an old-timey feeling,” Mirojnick says. “It was not a contemporized version either, but a clear-cut, new, electric version of 1900. It’s urban, it’s gritty, it’s modern in a deconstructed way. We could not make anything seem precious. That was key.”
Mirojnick and her assistants dove headfirst into research and then ran into their first challenge: most of the vintage clothing they sourced from 114 years ago had practically disintegrated. “We had to build a lot of new stock,” Mirojnick says. “We manufactured the uniforms — suits for men, suitings for women. We had to figure it out and have enough clothing to fit 2,500 extras.” Suits were made at Martin Greenfield, the Brooklyn-based tailor, with footwear by Stacy Adams. With production designer Howard Cummings, Mirojnick created a color and fabric palette of the different class sections amongst the cast: For the hospital staff, it was lots of whites and blacks (and for Owen’s character, a touch of green, which Mirojnick said juxtaposed nicely with the color of blood). For the high-class philanthropists and wealthy financiers, the fabrics were richer: brocades, laces, silks and velvets.
Mirojnick remembered when Owen tried on one of his character’s looks for the first time. “Clive looked at himself in the mirror and he fell in love. He said, ‘Can I really wear this?’ I would say, ‘John Thackery would wear anything.’ He would say, ‘But is it appropriate?’ And I would say, ‘John Thackery is the head of the hospital, he can wear whatever he wants.’ And then he said, ‘Can I be the David Bowie of the 1900s?’ We said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Mirojnick, who lives in Los Angeles, was so inspired by the men’s wear silhouettes in the show that she’s started to design her own men’s wear line, which she hopes to launch by fall 2015. “My life is really reborn. I drool over men’s wear. It’s just so odd that no one let me do this earlier,” she says with a laugh. “The authenticity comes from really getting the research in your head. And I’m just one of those people that always follows my gut.”