The Romanoffs Designer Jane Bryant on Recreating Russian Royalty


The last Russian royal family, the Romanovs, perished nearly a century ago at the height of the Russian Civil War and the reign of the Bolsheviks, but to this day, tens of thousands of people still claim to be members of the imperial family. The Romanoffs, the Amazon-led anthology series premiering today, seeks to capture the lives of these would-be heirs. Each of the shows’ hour-and-a-half long episodes introduces a new cast (including Christina Hendricks, Diane Lane, Aaron Eckhart, Amanda Peet, and Kathryn Hahn) and plot-lines, spanning across three different continents and eight countries in the process.

The anthology series also required a new wardrobe for every episode, giving costume designer Jane Bryant, the mastermind behind Mad Men‘s enthralling outfits, six to eight weeks of prep time for four episodes of The Romanoffs, due to the constantly shifting details and the rotating casts. The show’s first installment, entitled “The Violet Hour” is centered on themes of immigration and inheritance and is set in the backdrop of a fading Parisian apartment. Anushka (Marthe Keller) is a prickly, albeit elegant aristocrat whose dourness and racism are slowly worn down by her new caretaker Hajar (IInès Melab), a Muslim woman. “The Royal We,” the second episode, is more of a modern noir, focusing on a bored American couple Shelly (Kerry Bishé) and Michael (Corey Stoll). The pair find themselves on a Romanov-themed cruise, which only serves as more ammunition for Shelly’s resentment in her marriage (Michael is a descendent, but she is not).

Here, CR caught up with Bryant about the costumes for the show and how the history of the Romanovs impacted the clothing design.

What went into the research of the costumes and the family as a whole?
“I did a lot of research on the Russian family just to wrap my head around the whole project and understand the descendants of that family. That was something that was really tragic, that the royal family was massacred, communism took over, and Stalin killed over 15 million people, more than Hitler. I think that the descendants are still attached to what happened to their family.”

Tell me about the first episode “The Violet Hour.” How did you come up with Anushka’s look?

“Her clothes are very French, very classic, and very Old World. She’s probably been wearing the same things for 50 years. Even if they’re new, they still have the same kind of aesthetic from 50 years ago. She’s kind of like our French Betty Draper, in a way.”

How did Anushka’s relationship with Hajar inform the clothes?
I loved the idea of Anushka being very classic. She’s a character stuck in time, but you truly learn in the end that it’s a story of character development. [Anushka] hates Hajar, and learns to love her and her daughter by getting to understand them and accepting differences. I loved learning about Muslim culture and learning how to tie and do all of the different wraps of the hijab. And also just learning about the Muslim identity and what’s happening in Paris now. Anushka and Hajar are very different in the way they dress and it was very important to show those contrasting worlds through their costume design.”

What were your favorite episodes to design for?
“I loved the ‘Violet Hour.’ We were in Paris and it was like such a dream to be there in every way. The city was magical, the story was magical, and the crew was amazing. I would say one of my favorite episodes for costume design was definitely ‘The Royal We’ because we had to recreate the royal family costumes for a Romanov performance that was happening. We built all of them and it was amazing.”

What didn’t you know about the Romanovs before the show?
Well, something that we didn’t know was that the revolution was really brought on by Rasputin. The Tsar had gone off to war and left the Tsarina there with the children and there were rumors that that Rasputin and the Tsarina were having an affair because Rasputin, he really preached healing through sex. But he was a mad, mad alcoholic and also a Russian orthodox priest. So that was one of the things that really sparred on the revolution and why the Bolsheviks wanted to kill the Russian family.”

Do you miss designing for Mad Men at all?
“Yes! One of my favorite [costumes] is when Betty has lost all the weight, and she’s wearing that yellow gown standing in that very dark brown, wood room. And she’s just like the queen. It’s in a later season, but I love that gown so much. I love that whole scene. She’s so amazing. I love January, but you know I love all of the early stuff too. I always told [January] she was my little cupcake. [laughs]”


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