In Salem, It’s Always the Witching Hour

You'll never see a pointy witches’ hat on the WGN series Salem, says costume designer Joseph Porro, adding: “I actually don’t like black.” Because the show–shot on location in Louisiana, standing in for colonial Massachusetts–uses so much candlelight, Porro looks for fabrics that are light and reflective. And he’s always trying to create clothes that defy expectations while staying true to the show’s seventeenth-century setting.

Salem1Salem costumes on display at the FIDM Museum

Salem is "the only period show where everything is made," Porro says. He’d love to be able to rent costumes, but gowns evoking the 1680s and 90s are "very difficult to find to rent, even in Europe." Instead, Porro, who has worked in fashion design, "treated the show like a line of clothing. I wanted to do hand embroidery, but it was going to cost about $10,000 to do one dress in Hollywood, so we went to India." The stunning result is on display as part of the FIDM Museum’s Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibition. 

235140--F071815A-1142Porro with Salem star Janet Montgomery at the FIDM Museum exhibition opening  

Porro, who trained at Parsons and UCLA and once sold vintage clothing, uses his costume history background to ground his more experimental flights of fancy. "When you're doing fantasy, you have to know what is correct,” he says. “Then you make compromises based on your budget. Because this is about witches and fantasy, I'm going to bend the rules, using fabrics that weren't available in the seventeenth century. And when a witch is having a dream sequence, I can do whatever I want!" That means dresses made out of human hair, crocodile capes, and silver stomachers. Another way Porro bends the rules: “The hair is not correct. It's not a really pretty period, hair-wise." 

Salem2Salem costumes on display at the FIDM Museum

Besides own his creations for WGN, Porro loves the costumes from The Knick, Gotham, and Once Upon a Time, whose Emmy-nominated costume designer, Eduardo Castro, he regards as a mentor. All three shows are included in the exhibition.

Salem3Salem costumes on display at the FIDM Museum

The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design is open until September 26. Like all FIDM Museum exhibitions, admission is free.

One response to “In Salem, It’s Always the Witching Hour

  1. Manon says:

    These costumes are totally awesome, will they be available for sale one day? Would love to have one of Countess Marburg’s dresses!

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