When Schitt’s Creek received four Emmy nominations last year, it reflected the late meteoric rise of the Canadian sitcom. Recognition in individual acting and comedy series categories was met with applause, but it was equally deserving of its nomination in the Outstanding Contemporary Costumes category, because it's one of the most innovative on television. After the Rose family lost all their money in the series pilot and had to move to Schitt’s Creek, the one major facet of their old lives that they were able to take with them was l was the clothes in their closets. Equal parts armor and a reminder of what they once had, the sartorial prowess of each Rose family member has been a vital part of the storytelling.
"It's like we're a family trying to make something work," assistant costume designer Darci Cheyne told Primetimer. The close-knit working dynamic mirrors the on-screen relationships. Having worked with costume designer Debra Hanson for over a decade on shows including Orphan Black and the forthcoming season of The Handmaid’s Tale, the pair are creatively in tune. Much like the underdog vibe depicted on screen, the show's small costume department has the challenge of bringing a high-end designer vision to life on limited funds. And despite the surge in popularity, Cheyne noted the budget for the final season was the same as for the first. Creatively, this has led to online treasure hunts in a bid to bring the rich tapestry of these characters to life.
To celebrate six seasons of distinct and groundbreaking style, here are ten Schitt’s Creek costume secrets Cheyne shared with us during our chat:
We already knew Levy was a triple threat, starring, writing and directing epiisodes of the show, but from the beginning he was very hands on in the costume department as well. "He would give us images, visions and links to things to buy. And then he would join us for the fittings and help us put all the looks together. He would approve things in the fitting right down to the earrings." Even as his role expanded on the show, he continued to make the time, including picking out the Reformation blush gown Alexis (Annie Murphy) wore in Episode 8 otf the final season, "There were maybe three options, but that was the winner as soon as she put it on."
Asked what he'll miss most about Schitt's Creek, in between free food and snacks Dan Levy listed "Catherine (O'Hara)'s wardrobe fittings." Cheyne agrees, "Dan is not wrong there, Catherine O'Hara is the most fun person to put clothes on that I have ever worked with. She's so willing to try on anything and make it work." This includes not giving up when it took three people almost 20 minutes to put on a pair of sample-size leather leggings, turning hats inside out as a playful alternative when an outfit wasn't working, and finding curious places to wear jewelry so Moira could make a hilarious exit. Inspiration-wise, the Moira Rose look is distinct, and Cheyne mentioned she "knows a great fan base of drag queens who are just dying to get into anything of hers." Fingers crossed someone on the forthcoming Canadian Drag Race depicts Moira for Snatch Game.
"The Dress" is the Season 5 episode that garnered the show an Emmy nomination and a Costume Designers Guild Award win, but its crowning red carpet moment didn’t occur until the final season, when Moira got to enjoy the fruits of her The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening labor. On the show, Moira simply ordered the dress from Harrods of London, but the real-life purchase had a reality TV-worthy number of obstacles. The Pamella Roland sequined frock was specifically chosen by Levy and unavailable in Canada at the time of shooting. "I tried to order it and the order kept declining," noted Cheyne. The reason? The dress had ostrich feathers, which meant it couldn’t ship across the border.
Costume buyer Frances Cabez Miller was sent to New York City to pick it up from the store, but after she arrived, the city was hit by a snowstorm, all flights were canceled, and she was stuck overnight. The expensive gown made a brief but impactful appearance in "The Dress," but thankfully, Moira got her red carpet moment in Season 6. "I'm really glad that it got that runway time. It looked amazing," said Cheyne of the departure from Moira’s signature black and white palette. Thankfully the headdress didn’t have the same amount of drama when acquiring it: "Dan sourced that one and it was literally zip ties," laughed Cheyne. "But it was the icing on the cake."
A defining image of the final season is of Alexis sharing a Cafe Tropical booth with Ted after they have decided to end things, her pink Reformation gown romantically draped across the seat. "I literally cried. I think the cinematography of the scene was so beautiful," said Cheyne of the break-up scene. "I had no idea in the vision of the directing in that space, how they would work it, how amazing it would be, and how it contributed to the episode."
In the following episode, "The Rebound," Alexis returned from a date in a barely-there bodycon gold sequin number. Cheyne revealed this dress was bought in Season 1, but they never found the right moment to use it. "We need the hottest, shiniest, sexiest dress for this scene" to reflect Alexis reverting back to some pre-Schitt’s Creek heart-protecting behaviors. "We pulled it out of the Alexis Season 1 closet, made Annie put it on, it was like, "Yes, this is the moment for that dress," Cheyne added.
The costumes she gets asked about the most? "It's always David's sweatshirts." ‘Where do they come from?’ ‘How can I get one?’ ‘Did you guys make that?’ ‘Is it expensive?’ are frequent questions put to the assistant costume designer. "There are several $2,000 sweatshirts," she explained. "But they are mixed in with the odd piece from Zara and the odd thing we would print ourselves." To get designer style on a budget try the Schitt’s Creek way, "we were big stalkers of eBay, the RealReal, and some local consignment shops."
Not every character wears high end attire, the Rose family are not meant to look like anyone else who lives in this town. Joceyln Schitt (Jennifer Robertson) has taken style advice from David in the past, but her penchant for animal sweatshirts is definitely not part of his brand. Where can viewers buy garments such as these? "In the beginning they were some vintage sweatshirts, but then you run into the problem of clearance," said Cheyne. "It's somebody else's artwork you have to get permission to use." For vintage this means tracking down a company to see if they still exist. The solution? "It was easier for us to have them made." The in-house art department put them together and a local T-shirt company — who took great pleasure whenever they brought in a new design — produced them.
The final season featured some firsts, including finally seeing Moira in her former daytime soap glory as Sunrise Bay’s Dr. Vivian Blake. This depiction was a fun departure for the costume team, "That was the one chance we went to the costume rental house and got to rent some '80s clothing," explained Cheyne. "We got to inject a little bit of colour, you could tell Moira would have made those choices out of her costume closet for the character as well."
"One of the things Dan said was the fans notice Patrick only wears blue, we have to do something about this," Cheyne explained when discussing the injection of green into Patrick’s (Noah Reid) Season 6 closet. "Noah looks great in blue, we couldn't help it," she said. Why did they land on green? There were a couple of reasons, including what was available in stores for men at the time, as well as avoiding black and white. The other slight deviation came courtesy of Jake’s (Steve Lund) offer of casual drinks in "The Wingman." Patrick’s party shirt is a little bit more adventurous, which the team custom fit to Reid, "In the end we bought something we liked, hacking off the sleeves and taking it in a little just to fit Noah's physique a little better, to make it look slightly more off character."
"The wedding is the biggest costume design challenge we've had since the Cabaret episode," Cheyne told us. It also features what might be her favorite costume of the entire series, and it is one that involved all hands on deck. "Dan had a crazy idea for Moira's costume and we got to employ a lot of builders locally to get in on that look." The short prep time meant they didn’t get to collaborate in the fitting room with O’Hara’s hair (Ana Sorys) and makeup (Lucky Bromhead) team, as they are on set. Rather, they sent them photos of the costumes and Cheyne noted the impressive speed with which Sorys and Bromhead pulled killer Moira looks together. For the wedding they had a little more time, "I did have the honor of Ana joining us during the fitting for Moira for the wedding scene because she had to create a specific hair look for that."
In true Schitt’s Creek tradition, emotion will be balanced by laughs. One tease the costume design assistant gave us is "Alexis turns up wearing something entirely inappropriate." Cheyne added that Annie Murphy "had more fittings than either of the grooms put together." Unveiling the wedding looks for the first time on set was emotionally charged, "None of the crew had seen any of the costumes. The room is pretty quiet, each cast member is making their way to their mark on set. We're hearing a lot of gasps, oohs, ahhs, and clapping," she said about the first impressions. "As they go to block the scene everybody's really silent. And I can tell you there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Literally, everybody was crying." Cheyne hasn’t seen the final episode yet, but she told us "It'll be bittersweet. I don't know how many comedies I've ever cried to, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to have the tissues handy." Tissues and your wedding best are a dress code must, it is what David Rose would want.
Schitt's Creek airs its series finale on Pop Tuesday April 6th at 8:00 PM ET.
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Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.