Meet the Costume Designer Inspired by Real New Yorkers
BY OLIVIA ARMSTRONG
Keri Langerman, an indie film veteran whose credits include Moonrise Kingdom, The Discovery, and People, Places, Things joined HBO’s High Maintenance for its second season — a stark “logistical” shift for the creative. Langerman explains how social media is a part of her research, what it’s like changing styles every episode and how she divvies up her budget by “level.”
HBO: What is it like designing costumes for a show like this?
Keri Langerman: It’s exciting to work on a show with showrunners and directors who are so in touch with current culture. Not only are they aware of New York City’s diversity, they’re committed to portraying it on camera. So many shows take place in New York and either consciously or subconsciously omit the diversity of the people who actually live here. It’s refreshing to work on a show that celebrates it.
HBO: What are the challenges of shifting gears every episode?
Keri Langerman: When I interviewed for the position, the producers and directors asked me what I thought would be challenging or different about working on an anthology series opposed to a film. Creatively, it’s exactly the same. The main shifts are logistical. You still have to communicate who somebody is. The challenge is you have less time.
You’re not bound by continuity between episodes, but you have to bring a character to life and represent them in the most authentic way possible, quickly. Part of that challenge is how long the audience has to understand, digest and relate to a character. It’s a balance of: this person has x-amount of screen time and I want people to know they work at a restaurant, don’t have a lot of money, are from this neighborhood.
“You’re not bound by continuity between episodes, but you have to bring a character to life and represent them in the most authentic way possible, quickly.”
on working on an anthology series
HBO: How do you visualize the characters you dress?
Keri Langerman: It always starts with a script. I think, What's the tone of the story? Who are these characters? My creative process for High Maintenance, however, is very specific. Social media has changed everything in terms of research. If I read a script and the character seems like they might frequent House of Yes, for example, I’ll hop on Instagram and scroll through feeds taken there. I’ll visit public accounts, and I’m able to see how they dress, how their friends dress, how their families dress. For this show, real people are the inspiration.
HBO: Can you talk about how you approach costuming and budgeting for scenes like the one at House of Yes?
Keri Langerman: There were about 25 background actors we decided to split into five levels. Level 5 was, of course, the best level ever. They got the most hair, makeup and costuming attention. They would come in in jeans and a T-shirt, and by the end, they left in high heels, a corset and full-body glitter. It sort of manifested itself in our on-set conversation. Like, “You’re acting like a Level 2, I need you to bring it up to a Level 5 for me.” As a wrap gift, we had shirts made that said “Level 5.”
HBO: Did you have a favorite costuming moment from Season 2?
Keri Langerman: Two instances jump out at me. One was from [the House of Yes episode] “Derech,” which features characters who have left the Hasidic Jewish community. One actor gave my team a tutorial about his clothing, its purpose and how those in the community wear it differently. You can read and research this, but to have someone who’s been directly involved be able to explain to you the meaning of his clothing and its history is wildly amazing.
The other is when we were dressing Danielle Brooks [from Episode 3, “Namaste”]. We were on the wardrobe truck trying on outfits and looking through the racks, and she saw this pastel blue linen jumpsuit and paused. She didn’t say a word. I started rambling, trying to pitch her on the concept of it. She was totally down and went behind the curtain. When she came out, she started posing and dancing. That’s the best feeling: When you bring someone something unexpected and they not only love it, but they physically react to it and in a way that helps them get excited for their scene.