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Mad about fashion
Brenau Academy alum Janie Bryant stops by to talk about clothes and her career on TVs Mad Men
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Brenau Academy graduate Janie Bryant talks about her experience as a costume designer for the AMC television show "Mad Men" during a Q&A session Thursday mediated by Fred Lloyd, Brenau University associate professor of costume design, inside the Hosch Theatre at the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The next time you're flipping through the channels on a Sunday night, stop on AMC's "Mad Men."

It's set in a 1960s New York ad agency, and the colors, stereotypes and especially fashion are recreated with precision. And the creator of the mustard-yellow dresses and pillbox hats can claim some of her roots right here in Gainesville, as a graduate of Brenau Academy.

Janie Bryant, originally from Cleveland, Tenn., also spent her freshman year at Brenau University before continuing her fashion design studies at the College of Charleston and Georgia State University and graduating from the American College for the Applied Arts in Atlanta.

She returned to Brenau last week to speak with students about her career and answer questions. She also offered some insight into her own wardrobe.

"I love Forever 21, I love H&M," she said when one student asked about her personal style and where she shops. "I love to mix and match pieces. I think that's how one creates their own style."

After graduation, Bryant did what any dedicated fashion student would do: Move to Paris, then New York City.

"When I moved to Paris I was planning on learning French fluently and being a famous fashion designer, all in six months," she said. "That's what happens when you're 21. I think it's good to keep that, because anything's possible."

After moving to New York, Bryant worked on 7th Avenue, in the heart of the fashion industry, and then found herself meeting lots of people who worked in film. In less than a year, she realized she wanted to do costume design and spent the next eight years doing just that in New York before moving to Los Angeles.

Her New York friendships led her to her first big break - as costume designer for the HBO award-winning series "Deadwood." She got three Emmy nominations for her work on that show, which involved intricate period pieces in the style of the Old West.

With both "Deadwood" and "Mad Men," Bryant said she needed to, first, be historically accurate. Both projects required knowledge of period clothing and accessories. But beyond that, Bryant said, is where color palettes and silhouettes come in and help define her specific style for the production.

In "Deadwood," for example, she said she took cues from the script, which was itself dark, and translated that into rich textures and darker colors on the actors.

"For ‘Deadwood,' that was a huge part of costume design, because when I read the script it was so dark, and that was a part of the process for me," she said. In "Mad Men," the colors of the early 1960s translate into a palette that includes burnt orange, mustard yellow and teal.

As far as projects go in Hollywood, Bryant's have definitely worked out in her favor. She said she's a fan of designing clothes for any historical period, although if she could pick a favorite, it would be the Baroque period, "for all the fanciness and wigs and all the details. And also the Romantic period; the men were so beautiful," she said. Although "Mad Men" isn't too far from her ideal period, either.

"I love the period of the '60s because it's all in the women looking styled and the men looked structured."

Not every garment on "Mad Men" is designed by Bryant - unfortunately, there just isn't the time to create original pieces for the entire cast. So, the wardrobe is supplemented with rentals and pieces from vintage shops. But Bryant said her signature look can be found among the dresses worn by the series' female stars, including Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olson, and Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan Holloway.

"Whatever is really tight," Bryant said, noting that the actors sometimes comment on the dresses they have to slither into. "I do really love garments to be nicely fitted. I also love feminine pieces, too. Lots of ruffles or lace, or pinstripes."

Aside from "Deadwood" and "Mad Men," Bryant also created costumes for 2007's "The Hills Have Eyes II" and recently returned from costuming another horror movie, the yet-to-be-released "The Last House on the Left."

The trick with costumes for horror films, she said, is continuity and working with fake blood.

"The distressing is always the most challenging thing, so you have to make sure all the pieces are the same and the blood is in the right place," she said.

Bryant is also making an appearance on Saturday in Seattle, Wash., to promote fashion designer Joseph Abboud's Nuvo line, inspired by looks from Mad Men. And she'll be at the Emmy Awards this year (although not as a nominee) wearing a dress designed by Bravo TV's "Project Runway" star Rami Kashou, a finalist on the third season of the show.

So, how does a girl from Tennessee keep her head straight when surrounded by Hollywood stars and living her dream as a costume designer?

"It's about being joyful and grateful for everything you have in life," she told the Brenau students. "I do love my job, but ultimately it's about inner happiness."

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