NBC’s “This Is Us” Emmy-nominated costume designer Hala Bahmet was feeling the tug of the Midwest Saturday after being one of the “Ukrainians Working in Hollywood” speaking at a fundraiser gala for the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago.
Living in L.A., Bahmet misses the change of the season taking place in the Twin Cities, where she attended college at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.
Bahmet is a marvelous raconteur with a family history and career worthy of narration. Bahmet’s family moved to St. Paul when she was a toddler. Her father, Victor (now deceased), was in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and when he graduated he got a teaching job at Macalester College. “That’s when the family — I have two sisters, I’m in the middle — picked up and moved to St. Paul. He started in the fall of ’69 and worked there teaching Russian literature and language. Then he took a position with the St. Paul water utility; my father started school as an engineering student. He was always humanities/literature/history-oriented,” she said. “My mother [Wanda] found a job as a chemist [at one company before] she took a really wonderful position with 3M. She worked in Central Research and had a laboratory and couple of technicians; was very successful and then later started working with atomic spectroscopy, which is breaking down things into a specialized machine and discovering what an item is made of on an atomic level. Of course, she knows the man who invented the Post-It; he was one of her colleagues. She has a funny anecdote about him trying to devise a new type of adhesive. It failed. It didn’t stick well enough. Around the office and various labs they were using it to stick pieces of paper onto whatever, because they could remove them. They didn’t realize what kind of amazing thing that was going to be.”
More stories from Bahmet:
Q: “This is Us” star Chrissy Metz was on TV talking about how she doesn’t shy away from color.
A: She really enjoys fashion and does not let the fact that she doesn’t fit a fashion magazine’s model type get in the way of exploring fashion and being playful with it. I think that is a great example she is setting for women, who come in all different shapes and sizes.
Q: Sterling K. Brown, with whom you also worked on FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” must be quite a diva to dress? I’m teasing.
A: He is WONDERFUL. So easy. Everything goes through our tailor shop. Because he’s in such excellent shape, we do always have to nip in the waist of the pants. We have to do it for Justin Hartley also. Sterling, we custom make a lot of his shirts. I’d love to mention the cutter/fitter, Marcia Moore. She worked on Broadway and on huge movies. Name a star and she has built costumes from scratch. She is like an artist and architect rolled into one. She is why so many of our custom-made garments are so meticulously crafted.
Q: Which parent was the stylish one?
A: [Pause] Well, that’s an interesting question. I always joke that because they are both so super pragmatic and, of course, they were coming from spending their childhoods in slave labor and displaced persons camps after the war in Germany; they didn’t have a normal childhood so neither were particularly interested in or seemed in fashion. That said, my mother was very, very stylish when she came to Chicago as a teenager. She came on a military ship when the family was finally able to find a country to sponsor them. They were living as refugees from 1945 until 1951. When the war ended, they had no place to go back. Chicago has a vibrant Ukrainian community. [Mother’s] father was an architect and engineer. He was quite accomplished before the war. There’s a lot of talk of immigration right now. The United States has meant so much to my family. It gave us an opportunity to have a fresh start. Part of my speech was about my indebtedness to my parents and grandparents and ancestors and how that had infused my life with meaning. Hollywood is a really competitive business and some lose their way; it can be brutal. For me, I feel nothing can really break me. That’s sort of my superpower. When it gets really rough I just think about what [my] parents have been through, their existential struggles and death and starving. When you run your hand along my mother’s arm you can feel divots where she had sores that went down to her bones during the war. What they have been through is so much worse than what I experience at work or any situation. It is inspiring, meaningful to me.”
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.