CW’s hit television show Riverdale, a contemporary twist on the classic Archie comics, is one of the most popular displays in our Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibition – we had to know more about the costumes that seamlessly mix vintage and modern inspiration. Costume Designer Rebekka Sorensen took time out of her busy schedule shooting Season Two in Vancouver to speak to us about her background, design process, and those Cheryl Blossom brooches!
Riverdale Costume Designer Rebekka Sorensen
You originally began your career in stage design; we’d love to know more about your career path, and how you became a costume designer?
I have always loved clothing, fabric and jewelry, even as a little child. My mom has an artistic background, so I did a lot of sewing and painting. My dad, who is an actor, introduced me to the theatre world quite early. Thanks to my father, I was able to go see stage design and costumes, as well as get into the wardrobe departments as young child.
While at college, I didn’t think I was going to go into theatre design so I decided to take interior design. I realized the first year, however, that I wanted to go into theatre instead. So, I finished my interior design diploma and then went into set design, where I was introduced to costume history. My classes didn’t line up so I thought I’d take costume history as an interesting distraction. That’s where I first thought I wanted to do both. I wanted to do set and costume design, and oversee the whole finished project. The two worlds work together.
I went to the University of British Columbia and did a BFA program there. They have a great theatre school for acting, set, costume, etc. So, I went there and while I was in school, the professors introduced me to the real world. I started working in community theatre designing costumes and set. But I realized that my passion was more for the costumes. I opened up my own studio with a friend for four years, where we were building a lot of our own costumes for plays. From that studio, I felt a little bit trapped and wanted to explore the film world. I realized quickly there’s no way I could have a studio and work in film with the long hours required. So I took the leap into films, and I’ve been doing films since.
Josie and the Pussycats; photo courtesy of Rebekka Sorensen.
How did you make that first transition into film?
I literally just contacted a few shows that were looking for a Costume Designer. Because I had the background of theatre and design, it was a Production Manager that gave me an opportunity after an interview, and then I worked with him for many years. It’s kind of like getting your chance, right? Somebody gives you a chance and sees what you do with it.
But to get that chance, it’s great that you had the background already. Experience and chance, right?
Absolutely! That’s why I worked on community theatre. It doesn’t pay much, but it gives you an opportunity to put your portfolio on stage.
The costumes we have on display in the exhibition are from a 1950s dream sequence. How did you come up with the individual looks for this scene?
I first started doing research with the vintage Archie comics from the 40s and the 50s. I started looking at the color palette they used for the characters, which is all over the place. Here at Riverdale we have Betty in the pastel world, Veronica more in the jewel tone world. I therefore chose the color and the silhouette that looked best on the actors. I did my research into the cuts, styles, and garments of the period, and then designed around that within our Riverdale world – which is a mixture of modern with the period. But I really tried to stick with the 50s for this.
What is your method for doing historical research?
If I ever do a film or a play I always go to the book store and treat myself to a new book within the period. It really depends on the play or the movie, but I prefer books. Even catalogs – the Sears catalogs through the ages are fun to look at. Vogue magazines are so much fun to look at! Of course, lately I use the Internet a lot. You can’t get away from it, and it’s so easy.
How often do you refer back to the original Archie comics for inspiration?
If there’s a specific event for the kids, or a way they must dress; for example, I will look at how Archie dressed – he’s always known for the bowtie. We look at the comics quite often for ideas and inspiration.
Can you walk us through the design process for an individual episode?
We always get an outline for an episode, so I read the outline and start thinking about specific costumes. Then when I get the script, I do a breakdown. I have my meetings with the showrunner Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] and I ask all my questions: what direction we’re going, if there’s specific color palette, the season, and all of that. Then I do my own research and put together some spreadsheets of ideas and directions that we’re going for in our fittings. Then we go out shopping or I send my shoppers out and we do fittings. Sometimes we do builds. We do a lot of what I call half-builds; I will buy a garment for the fabric, and literally change the dress if I can’t find the fabric in the fabric store. A lot of it happens on the actor itself – the actor is kind of like a canvas where we just change the style of their dress, skirt, or top when it’s on them.
How many of the costumes are custom made versus purchased or rented?
It is definitely a mixture. When we have dream sequences, depending on what it is, it could be a mix of builds and a mix of rentals or purchases. It really depends!
You do a wonderful job of pulling inspiration from previous decades while keeping the show current – how do you maintain that balance with each character’s look?
Usually it is more with Veronica who I add the vintage pieces to, or the Blossoms. There are certain characters that have more of a mix of the modern and vintage. Sometimes you will see those pieces with Betty, but it might be a 1920s purse, or a 1950s collar on a modern sweater. Or, vintage for Cheryl, it’s her brooches and jewelry that I mix with a Ted Baker sweater. A lot of times it’s vintage accessories that we use.
Fans love looking out for Cheryl Blossom’s signature spider brooches; where did that idea come from?
I knew I wanted something that was a little bit different, that had an eerie feel to it. A true statement! We had already established at that time that the Blossoms wore red. I do a lot of research online, so when that spider came along on Etsy I thought this is definitely Cheryl! Then she ended up getting her black spider and a burgundy one too. These spiders are vintage – if you read up on them, some of them started in the 1920’s straight through to the 50’s. That’s what inspired me to look at other brooches and insects that show there is something a little different going on with the Blossom family. It’s such a unique family so it’s fun to play with those elements: spider, scorpion, beetle, moth, or ladybug for that matter. They all have that eerie feel. The Blossoms are my brooches family – even Nana Rose has vintage brooches!
Penelope, Cheryl, and Cliff Blossom; photo courtesy of Rebekka Sorensen.
Are there any other small design details you always incorporate into a specific character’s costume?
With Betty, this season I’ve used a hammer or a wrench necklace that shows the tomboy side of her. I’m trying to show a little bit of her psyche on the outside. We have fun with it! You will be introduced to Penny Peabody this season, and her jewelry is specific to her character. You will also get introduced to Toni, who is such an amazing and fun character to dress. She’s part of the Serpents, so we use snakes.
What changes we can expect from the Season Two costumes? It sounds like there are some new characters to look forward to.
Definitely new characters, like Toni and Penny. It’s a darker season! A lot darker…if people thought it was dark last year, it is much more so in Season Two!
What is your advice to students who come to view the TV costume exhibition? What do you hope they learn from their visit?
Honestly when I was there I was in such awe – it was so amazing to see all of those costumes displayed. I watched a lot of those shows myself, so it was just inspirational to see it in real life. What I noticed is that every display was so true to what that show was. What fascinates me is the period pieces. The colors, the textures, and the patterns. The way that the outfits are put together, and unified as well. You can learn a lot just from looking at the displays. Period, color, texture, and the detail – detail is so important.
Southside Serpents jacket details and location shooting; photos courtesy of Rebekka Sorensen.
What is your theory about what the Jughead ‘S’ stands for?
Well I have a few! The first thing that goes through my head, which is probably not correct, is ‘S’ for Serpents. His dad is a Serpent, so does it stem from there? But knowing the comics from a young age and doing the research when I got this job, he’s constantly eating! So ‘S’ for soup, sandwiches, steak, anything. He loves to eat so the theory makes a lot of sense
Do you have any other guidance you’d like to share with aspiring costume designers?
If you want something, go for it! I told my professors I wanted to do costume and set designs, but they said only the Master’s students could do it. I told them I knew I was ready, so they gave me a chance. Go for it, don’t be afraid of it, and trust in yourself – even if you don’t agree, because in the end it comes down to personal taste. My palette, my color theory, what’s pleasing to my eye, may not be pleasing to everyone you work with. So when I have a new Showrunner or Producer, we might not always agree on color palette. We sometimes see color differently. It’s learning to work around that and trusting yourself to stand up for your ideas when you feel it’s appropriate. What I’m here for is to bring the writers and the producers and the Showrunner’s vision to life with my background. Being open to learning from other Designers is huge, even with your assistants. Collaborate with the people you have around you.