JCK caught up with Karo Vartanian, costume supervisor for the ABC mega-hit Desperate Housewives, during the Centurion Jewelry Show in January. JCK asked him to reveal the secrets to choosing a wardrobe—and picking jewelry—for the women of Wisteria Lane.
JCK: How do you choose what the stars will wear?
Karo Vartanian: The look of each outfit is script driven—a collaboration between the producers, the actors, and the action of what’s going on. When you’re working on a show like Desperate Housewives, where the characters are very well developed and people identify with them, it’s much easier. What would this person really wear?
JCK: How do you choose outfits?
KV: Bree [Marcia Cross] is classic, beautiful, always put together to a T. She’s perfect in every way. All her skirts have the same hem, all her sweaters the same weave, the same weight of cashmere. All her jewelry is very classic, like her perfect strand of pearls—we use Mikimoto. Eva [Longoria], who plays Gabrielle, is a very flashy character, always overdressed. She’d have lots of diamonds and platinum. Susan [Teri Hatcher] is more organic. She’s a designer, she’s more fun and less flashy. She’d wear smaller-scale chains, lariats, maybe small gold charms with diamonds or some crystals, and last week I found her some marvelous cognac diamonds.
JCK: How do you find the jewelry?
KV: I see a whole vast variety of jewelry [in stores and at shows]. I go home and put an outfit together—the outfit, the shoes, the jewelry. Just like when you get dressed in the morning. Then, hopefully, I can put in a call to [the jewelry designer] and get the pieces.
JCK: Do you prefer to source pieces from any particular place?
KV: Obviously, L.A. is more convenient just because it’s right there, and we’ve had instances where a designer packed a box of jewelry and FedEx didn’t get it to us in time, but we’ll use anything from anywhere if it fits the character. There are as many as 100 to 120 outfits per episode for the speaking parts.
JCK: Where do you shop for clothes?
KV: We’re not snobs. We’ll shop anywhere, as long as the outfit fits the character. Even if we have an outfit and I find another that really works, I’ll bring it in. If it’s perfect, we’ll use it sometime.
JCK: It must be so much fun to shop for a living!
KV: Yeah, like when you’re doing it in December and you’ve got an incredibly tight time crunch and everyone else is in the mall, too. I often shop 12 hours a day, and I’ve been kicked out of a lot of malls because they’re closing and I’m the last person in there. But I wouldn’t give it up. The only problem I have with fine jewelry is that sometimes if an outfit is written out of a scene, I don’t want to hang on to the jewelry [to try elsewhere] but the jewelers often tell me to keep it as long as I need it. It takes nine days to shoot an episode.