We spoke to the Hulu series' costume designer — the real one, not Juliette Lewis.
Warning: Mild spoilers through episode four of "Welcome to Chippendales."
In addition to ripped-from-the headlines murder, scandal and lots of bulges and butts, "Welcome to Chippendales" includes a dramatization of a key player in the famous nightclub's story: the talent behind the male stripper troupe's iconic looks.
"I'm a vision facilitator, a costume designer — especially costume designer. I'm a receptionist by trade, but fashion is my passion," says Denise (Juliette Lewis), eagerly pitching her skills to Chippendales choreographer Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett). Of course, she's wearing the most fabulous animal-print jumpsuit as an endorsement.
While Denise is a fictionalized composite character, the real De Noia was close friends with Candace Mayeron, an associate producer for Chippendales who referred to herself as the dancers' "den mother."
"It's part fantasy, part reality — part based on truth, part based on fiction," says Peggy A. Schnitzer, the actual costume designer of "Welcome to Chippendales," currently airing on Hulu.
Schnitzer grew up in Los Angeles in the late '70s and '80s, and later worked in New York for a stylist connected with Richard Avedon, Patrick Demarchelier and Helmut Newton. So, the "Welcome to Chippendales" setting is a "period after my own heart," she says.
Schnitzer pulled from her own fashion experiences for the series, like taking inspiration from the work of famed Vogue photographer Guy Bourdin to outfit hedonistic party-goers in the Chippendales Los Angeles club scenes. "The use of his color was so perfect, like those reds and those greens — the teals," she says. "It was just so luxe and so rich."
Ahead, Schnitzer takes us through key costume highlights in the series — including those breakaway pants.
Steve Bannerjee's Suits
Somen "Steve" Bannerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) has extreme tunnel vision in chasing his American dream: He forgoes managing a family-run gas station chain in favor of capitalizing on a hole he sees in the entertainment market with Chippendales. He's ambitiously — and consistently — dressed the part in a full suit-and-tie.
"His idol was Hugh Hefner," says Schnitzer, also referring to the show's re-creation of Steve's late-'70s mood board, if you will, featuring the Playboy founder and aspirational scenes of Hollywood glamour. "For me, with the suits and his clothes, the arc was really important."
Schnitzer began Steve's early days with '70s vintage or costume house-rented suits, and transitioned him into bespoke as his bank account grew with Chippendales popularity.
"All these really beautiful, luxurious, double-breasted suits, single-breasted suits, textured fabric, non-texture... were all stuff I had made for him," explains Schnitzer, who also custom-designed his crisp shirting and most of his ties. "I have a huge collection of vintage tie pins and tie bars, so we matched all that up. It was super exciting to start from one thing and really dig to the max."
Denise's Amazing Jumpsuits
As a self-proclaimed "fucking magician with a sewing machine," Denise nails her pitch to join the Chippendales team after demonstrating her costume invention: the breakaway pant. (Tearaway pants actually originated in the athletic realm, through a 1967 collaboration between Adidas and German soccer player Franz Beckenbauer. But storytelling, right?)
The "medical receptionist and FIT dropout" (as Denise also describes herself) needs to dress to reflect her talents, like inventively tucking the hems of her aforementioned leopard-print jumpsuit into flashy gold ankle boots.
"Her clothes were glitzy from the beginning, because she was going out clubbing," Schnitzer says. "That's what her MO was in the first place."
The real costume designer enjoyed shopping exclusively vintage across the U.S. and Europe for Lewis-as-Denise, but actually found Denise's leopard jumpsuit and satin-y raspberry one-piece (pictured above) at "swap meets in L.A."
Irene's Party-Girl Evolution
A reluctant member of a bachelorette party, Irene (Annaleigh Ashford) piques Steve's interests at the Chippendales bar with her lightning-fast volume-to-dollars calculation skills and accounting acumen. The two get to know each other and trade business tips over Diet Coke à deux. Appropriately, Schnitzer begins the accountant's journey with '70s "secretarial" ensembles, like "little vests and stripes" and A-line skirts.
"There was nothing sexy about her stuff at all," says Schnitzer, pointing to her favorite ensemble (above) and the muted tones that dominate her wardrobe.
In a sweet moment, Steve takes Irene to an Indian sweets and spices restaurant for an impromptu date. She wears a "corduroy-velvet suit," says Schnitzer, explaining, "The rust [color] was much more vibrant than you can see in the episode, but all the colors were like spices in [the cafe]. "
Later, with Steve in India for his father's funeral, Denise and Nick take Irene clubbing to unwind after a long Chippendales work evening. Thanks to Denise, Irene closes out the long night on the dancefloor screaming, "I love cocaine!"
"She started going out and then she just went full 'Dallas,'" says Schnitzer, who transitioned Irene into more metallics and shimmer. "I found amazing [vintage] dresses that had lurex running through them and gold lamé. She was so fun to dress."
Nick De Noia's Stellar Shirt Collection
In a case of perfect casting, "The White Lotus" season-one breakout Murray Bartlett embodies choreographer (and Steve's ultimate rival) Nick De Noia. It's like he was born to wear those circa-'80s, elaborately-printed wide-collar shirts, tight trouser suits and slick leather jackets.
Flanked by two women in slinky disco dresses, Nick makes his initial entrance into a less polished, early-era Chippendales in a light-wash denim suit with wide lapels and a brown-and-white floral shirt.
"Talk about a flaming pile of trash," says the Emmy-winning choreographer, dismissing the strippers' crude freestyle routines and amateur costumes.
"His clothes are very tonal," says Schnitzer, who custom-made many of Nick's suits and shirts in vibrant '80s prints and gleaming fabrics. "It was just so fun finding enamel vintage belts for him."
As Nick breaks off on his own to set up shop in New York City, he savvily adopts the Big Apple's all-black uniform.
"There was a lot of leather, a lot of black pants," says Schnitzer, noting the fashion turn into the '90s with Calvin Klein minimalism. "[Bartlett] was just game to go completely full tilt — no matter what it was."
The Chippendales 'Game-Changer' Breakaway Pants
Prior to Denise's introduction of breakaway pants, the dancers needed to pause and awkwardly remove their trousers — or have an overzealous fan rip them off, as Otis (Quentin Plair) experiences. After studying the evolution of Chippendales costumes, Schnitzer noticed that the real dancers were gyrating sans shoes (also re-enacted in top photo), "because they realized when you're taking off pants, you're getting tripped up in shoes. It's not sexy at all."
But while the script called for Nick et al to be ecstatic about the dramatic tearaways, Schnitzer felt a tad trepidatious behind the scenes.
"I had never done them, and when you look at it, it looks completely effortless," she says. So, she called a friend for advice: "Magic Mike" franchise costume designer Christopher Peterson.
"He goes, 'Oh, my God, I'm going to save you a bucket of tears and years and hours of frustration,'" she says, with a laugh.
Peterson "guided" her through sourcing the optimal fabrics for the pant multiples needed to actually film a spicy bellhop or matador routine. The dance performances required a stretch material, while the g-string reveal — with a dramatic breakaway flourish — needed a more structured fabric with equal parts "tension."
"This is very technical, but there are stress points on the body that we have to measure when we're making the pants," she says. "Those are the ones that, if you move around, they're gonna pop open."
"Because people would get tripped up on their feet," says Schnitzer, who custom-made all the stripper costumes, pants and g-strings. "It was really interesting. It was completely nail biting. Every time they would do it, you're like, 'Oh my god, it's got to work.' And it did."