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'Saturday Night Live' Costume Designers Talk Harry Styles' Hat, Drake's Short Shorts, And More

Emmy-winning costume designers Tom Broecker and Eric Justian have been working in the wardrobe department of "Saturday Night Live" in some capacity for the past 20 years. That’s right, once upon a time (in the ’90s), they had to go to the library to see what politicians and persons of interest were wearing so they could replicate ensembles for the show. They helped dress "SNL" elder statesman Will Ferrell before he ever impersonated George W. Bush, before Dubya ever even took office. These days, they are sartorial geniuses: When a sketch calls for Justin Timberlake to be dressed like a giant piece of tofu, damn if they don’t find a giant piece of tofu to fit J.T., and fast. Every week they get at most 76 hours to ensure that neither the cast nor the weekly guest will be nekkid in any of the approximately 15 sketches per episode (unless the lovely Lena Dunham is hosting). We can all agree that they deserve an award for their talent, creativity, speed, and sangfroid.

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And as it happens, they’ve won some, and are nominated for more. On February 17, the Costume Designers Guild will host its 17th annual award ceremony in Beverly Hills, and Broecker and Justian will square off against designers for "House of Cards," "Ray Donovan," "Scandal" and "True Detective" (incidentally, Broecker won for "House of Cards" last year—it’s all about Claire’s collarbone). We chatted with them recently about this most recent season of "SNL," Harry Styles’ hats, Drake’s short shorts, and working under pressure.

MTV: What’s one of your favorite costumes from this last season?

Eric Justian: It’s hard to pinpoint a specific costume because the process here is so fast, and you’re thinking of the other 75 costumes that you’re pulling together at the same time. So, it’s more in the aftermath that something hits and becomes your favorite. That student sketch we did with Cameron Diaz where they were all theater kids was great, because they all had their own little personalities. Then we did things like the Office Hobbit. That was pretty amazing and came together pretty quickly.

Tom Broecker: There’s one or two sketches per show where you go, “Oh my god, that was amazing.” Last week, it was the Casablanca sketch.

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MTV: Our understanding is that the guest host arrives on a Monday, so can you walk us through your timeline? When are the sketches done and ready for wardrobe?

Broecker: We don’t see scripts until Wednesday night, and then we hit the ground running on Thursday. Every sketch has a different trajectory. Sometimes they’ll change the casting so you’re working on a sketch on Friday afternoon and Friday night you get a call that they’ve rewritten it, and now it’s seven lions and a pirate, but it used to be six giraffes and a pig. Or the cast changes and Kenan [Thompson]’s out and Pete [Davidson]’s in. Or it comes together Saturday morning and we have 12 hours for costume.

Justian: We don’t have any advance notice when they may need a mascot costume, or the Octopus lady from the Disney cartoon. We get these with only three days to make it happen.

Broecker: Not that what we do is like medicine, but it is like working in an ER.

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MTV: And do you go shopping, or get things custom made, or what?

Justian: A little of everything. We do a lot of rentals from California, where we can get very complete ideas. We have craftspeople that will make things for us. We have a full tailoring shop here that will construct things from scratch. We have suit makers that turn things around overnight. Tom does the bulk of the glamour shopping.

Broecker: Yes, I take the pretty stores and the Salvation Army. There’s the high and the low, and anything in between I don’t really understand. So, I handle the monologue outfit and the photo shoot for the host. A lot of the women’s clothes come from Saks, Lord & Taylor, Barneys, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci.

MTV: So, the host doesn’t choose their own outfit for the opening monologue?

Broecker: Sometimes they have a stylist, but I would say 85% of people come and rely on us to provide them with clothes. Our job is to make the host look great and to make it reflect their personality, and therefore look like it would be their outfit. And you don’t want to repeat something. You have to know what they’ve worn that week so you’re not duplicating anything.

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Justian: It’s difficult. Gwyneth Paltrow has worn every Lanvin dress that’s out there. But when she comes to us, we have to figure out the piece that she has not worn.

MTV: What about the musical guest?

Justian: The music comes as an isolated package. Often times they’re on a junket because they’re releasing an album, and they have a look established for that particular release. We don’t get involved with them unless they want us to. We helped Sam Smith out quite a bit because it was his American television debut.

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Who was particularly fun to work with in the past year?

Justian: Our season opener Chris Pratt was really into it. Cameron Diaz is always a lot of fun. And James Franco is into SNL, he’s a really big fan. It makes the show easier.

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MTV: This is dipping a little into last season, but Drake was definitely one of our favorites. Please tell us about the short shorts—were they meant to be that short?

Justian: That was heavily driven by Nasim [Pedrad] and the writer Mikey Day, and they were very specific about wanting his shorts short. I don’t remember him having an issue with it. I think he was like: Are these short enough?

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MTV: To turn Nicki into Beyonce, did you work off a specific Beyonce outfit?

Broecker: We were looking at a couple of different things. She was playing Beyonce playing the Virgin Mary, so it was like, “Well, what would Beyonce wear for that?” And in the fitting room Nicki was like: This is the one. That was one of those cases where it was late in the week when we found out she was doing the sketch, she hadn’t committed by Saturday morning, so it was a rush job.

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Justian: Sometimes [the artists] come on and they think they’re just doing music. And then they get offered a role in a sketch. You don’t always get an immediate yes. Sometimes their manager has to think about whether it’s a good idea for them to appear that way on the show. But usually people say yes because we make people comfortable.

MTV: We have a lot of 1D fans over here, so we notice Harry Styles kept his beloved hat on for the recent “Girlfriends” sketch. Was that his choice?

Justian: First of all, you have some One Direction fans on the phone now. They agreed to do the sketch, and they wanted to have fun with it and keep a little edge of themselves in the mix. So, yes, it was his choice, but it was definitely condoned by everyone involved.

MTV: What has changed the most in the 20 years you’ve worked there?

Broecker: The internet changed everything. Dan [Aykroyd] and Chevy [Chase] and all those guys used to wear black pants and only ever wanted to change their top hats.

Justian: And it didn’t matter. But now we have to respond to what comes back to us from the blogs. They know when something has been used more once. We try to be careful of that. And everything is so much more immediate. We have performers who look at stuff online and say, “Oh, I’d like it to be this.” They’ve gotten attached to a look very quickly so now we have to figure that out. The collaboration has changed.

Broecker: Back when we started we would have to go to the library on Thursday morning just to do general research. What tie did President Clinton wear that week? Now there’s so much information, but it’s also more exacting than it used to be. We do exact replicas of things because people remember exactly what Obama wore for the State of the Union address. When Madonna played during halftime at the Super Bowl, the following week we had to replicate what it took someone six months to do.

MTV: Is it easier to do a recurring character like Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber or Vanessa Bayer’s Miss Meadows, or is there pressure to get it right the first time?

Justian: What’s interesting is we don’t know when that’s going to happen. We don’t know if this is going to be a repeat until the audience responds to it. With Justin, we collaborated with Kate to see what makes her look most like him, and what she’s most comfortable with moving around in as she’s performing. I don’t think we had any idea that it would be a big hit and that it would come back multiple times.

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Broecker: And I would say 90% of performers are superstitious. They will say, “No, no, no, I want to wear the same thing, because it worked so well before.” It’s almost a security blanket.

MTV: Was there anyone you were particularly nervous or excited to work with because you were a huge fan?

Justian: Mick Jagger was definitely a little nerve-wracking. He’s an icon, and he is about clothes and fashion. The same with Elton John. We have the three days to make it all right for them, and they’re very used to a lot of personal attention. But it always works out. Saturday comes.

Broecker: All the people I would feel that way about are dead.


VMAs 2018