The groundbreaking Insecure has been lauded by critics who rave over the way its storylines, characters, and music authentically capture contemporary Black life. But the show’s fashion—especially in the series’s fifth and final season—also deserves its flowers. The HBO series was one of the first to regularly use buzzy Black designers, an intentional move on behalf of the show’s creator, Issa Rae, and costume designer, Shiona Turini. The goal: to remind viewers that the show has always been for us, by us.
Adds Melina Matsoukas, the director of Season 5’s premiere episode, “I want our legacy to be associated with cultural change. With progression. With the idea that we were a part of creating opportunity for people of color within our industry but also without. That we helped to represent the world in which we live both honestly and truly. That Black people understand more fully that our stories and our culture are beautiful and valuable, even in their normalcy. And that even in our struggles and our failures, we will always put on a good shoe and find a way to laugh.”
Below, costume designer Shiona Turini talks to BAZAAR.com about how she’s shaping Season 5’s fashion.
The first episode makes it clear that Issa, Molly, Tiffany, and Kelli are all in new places in their lives. How did you showcase their individual character growth through their clothes?
I know it’s a cliche, but it was a really collaborative process with Issa. We met at the start of prep to discuss where we left the women in Season 4, where we wanted to start with Season 5, and how we wanted their wardrobe choices to develop throughout the next 10 episodes. Personally—and I feel like this is true for most of us—even though I experiment a lot with how I present myself as an adult, what I wear now is not too different than how I dressed in high school. We all go through changes, we grow up, we become more refined, but we come from a foundation that’s unique to each of us and provides some identity and safety. That’s been determined for these characters, so I let the script guide me. These women will all be growing up in different ways and I wanted the costumes to help support their stories.
For Amanda Seales’s character, Tiffany, we saw her at a low point in Season 4, but this season, she’s back and stronger than ever. It was really fun to demonstrate this evolution visually. Molly is spending a lot of time looking inward and working on herself. Last season, she let her clothing do a lot of the talking and, in some ways, overcompensating for her insecurities. So it was interesting to tone it down and ask, Where do we go from here? I think the audience will love Kelli’s style evolution this season. I really wanted to make sure that her joyous, vibrant personality was reflected in her clothing. And, of course. Issa. For Issa, as the series says: Onward, okay. Issa Rae had a really clear vision on how she envisioned Issa Dee’s version of “leveling up,” and it was incredible to explore that with her.
Issa’s character seems to have the biggest wardrobe shift. Whereas the first season often showed her in funny graphic T-shirts and more casualwear, now she’s leaning toward more professional style. What was it like gradually evolving her character’s fashion sense?
I joined Insecure as costume designer at a pivotal point in Issa Dee’s world. She had decided to quit her job and really experiment with life: friendships, men, and, of course, fashion. It’s been a slow burn, and I certainly hope you can actually see the evolution of her style unfolding on camera. She’s experimenting with cuts and shapes and pieces, but still staying true to her color palette and love of prints and patterns. Last season, she may have worn a blazer with jeans when she wanted to feel professional, but this season, as she builds a brand and a business, she wants to be in a full suit—but still in a very “Issa” print and palette.
One thing I thought was important, and part of what makes the Issa character great, is that she doesn’t always get it right, and that’s completely okay. The shoe might still be a little off, the bag might not be the perfect match, because she is still exploring who she is and what she wants her clothes to say. She’s living a real life, and in real life, most of us don’t have the time and mental energy to be 100 percent on point 100 percent of the time. You will still see Issa in her beloved T-shirts, such as the Kool-Aid shirt “Mirror Issa” wears that I scored from one of my favorite vintage resources—BLK MKT Vintage. And you’ll still see plenty of casual moments, like the Wales Bonner track jacket she wears in the final scene of Episode 1. She’s never going to get rid of her Converses, and she’s always going to gravitate towards her denim. It’s just going to be that with a twist.
We need to talk about Kelli and Tiffany both sporting Gucci while the girls support Issa’s panel at Stanford. Fabulous. How did those looks come to be?
When it comes to wardrobe selection for specific scenes, there are a lot of factors at play. And if all four girls are in a scene together, it’s often like putting together a puzzle. They each have their own stories in terms of color, shape, and cut, but I also want to make sure costumes look good onscreen together.
This episode was a dream collaboration between myself and one of my friends, director Melina Matsoukas. Melina is heavily involved in wardrobe, because she genuinely loves fashion. She comes to the first wardrobe meeting with suggestions and a vision, and then we get to bounce ideas off of one another. Tiffany’s character has always been a die-hard AKA, so I pitched to Melina that a woman like Tiffany would be living to floss on everyone at a reunion. She would go above and beyond with her looks in a pink and green theme, and we decided to do that for the entire episode. Who knew Gucci thrived in this area?! We found Tiffany’s dress on The RealReal, and it felt so authentic. I could picture Tiffany searching The RealReal while online shopping for her looks, and how excited she would feel when she found that dress.
For Kelli, she has amazing legs, and I loved the idea of showing them off, almost inappropriately, while her character kicks her leg in the air. So I knew I wanted her in a dress: something that felt very fashion, but still casual and “Kelli.” And voila.
The dress was actually slated for another scene, but when I re-read the script, I was drawn to the conversation Kelli has with Molly about repairing her friendship and getting on the same page as Issa. I loved using coordinating costumes for Kelli and Tiffany to help show how in sync they were, which would be in contrast to how off Molly and Issa are in that moment.
Molly has always been the show’s main fashion girl. This time around, it seems as if she’s using her wardrobe to mask the fact that emotionally, she’s still putting herself together again after Andrew, and after her falling out with Issa. Tell me about how Molly’s wardrobe this season reflects what she’s dealing with internally.
Honestly, I could not have said it better myself. This season, you’ll see a shift in Molly’s wardrobe for a number of reasons. It’s still chic and elevated, but it’s quieter. She’s doing a lot of self-reflecting and internal work, and maybe clothes are not her number one priority in this moment. Now, she’s still Molly, but her love of style will be communicated in a different way. It was really exciting to play around with this idea, since last season, there was so much focus on Molly’s wardrobe. I thought a lot about where we could go from here, and we shifted gears slightly. She’s still going down the same road, but maybe now she’s enjoying the walk rather than speeding through.
When the trailer for the final season first dropped, everyone immediately noticed Tiffany’s character clad in a Christopher John Rogers creation—it feels like there was a clear intention to include some of the industry’s buzzy Black designers for special moments this season. It almost feels like spotting Easter eggs while watching. What does it mean for you personally to be able to utilize Black designers for Black talent on a show that means so much to the Black community?
In Season 4, every single episode featured a Black designer. We’re not new to this, we’re true to this! Of course, there is a clear intention to include Black designers, both emerging and established. I almost feel like it’s our social responsibility to support our community. To be able to use this show as a vessel to highlight often overlooked designers and brands is an honor, and not one that I take lightly. It makes me incredibly proud to be able to offer support in this way.
We were so excited to include designers this season that we hadn’t turned to before, like Brandon Blackwood NYC, Kendra Duplantier, Bephies Beauty Supply, and Samaria Leah, as well as return to brands like Mateo, Wales Bonner, and Brother Vellies. Are there brands I wished made it onto the show? Of course. Do I wish we had more moments to do so? Absolutely. But most importantly, we wanted to stay true to the characters. Would they be supporting Black designers in their lives? You bet they would. In Episode 1, one moment I was really proud of was Molly in the zebra vintage one-arm Patrick Kelly dress from the ’80s. Kelly was a gay black man from Mississippi with no formal training but still became the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter. I once read a quote by Kelly that said, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you can’t go too far,” and that has always stuck with me. His impact on fashion is often overlooked, but I’m glad I was able to honor his tremendous contributions to the industry on our show.
How involved has the cast been when it comes to crafting their looks throughout the seasons?
After receiving a script, the first person I would speak with was Issa. She has such a sharp mind and a clear vision that it was helpful to chat with her and make sure I was going in the right direction. After tha,t I would pull references and ideas and often fitting pictures to present at the costumes meeting with Issa, the director of the episode, showrunner Prentice Penny, producer Amy Anobi ,and a few other key players within the team. From their feedback, I would meet with my assistant costume designers — Molly Peters, Yashua Simmons and Erica Rice, as well as our shoppers — to prep for fittings and then present fitting pictures and options for each scene. Sometimes the right option was already in the actors’ closet, or we would have to schedule a new fitting. During those times I would talk to the actor about the scene and try and see what they were most comfortable with. It really depends on the actor. Some have a lot of feedback and some prefer to be less involved in the wardrobing process.
This season, in addition to shooting during a pandemic, we were block-shooting. Which essentially means we did not shoot in order. We had to be prepared to shoot any given scene from any given episode on any given week. Our schedule was constantly in flux — we often didn’t know what we were shooting the next week. It was an incredible challenge, but we got it done.
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