Minnetonka’s Allyson Brown Fanger has done pretty well in the costume design world despite not taking her mom’s advice to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City.
Fanger is costume designer of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
After being an assistant costumer on Christian Slater’s 1993 locally filmed “Untamed Heart,” Fanger wanted to be immersed in the creativity of storytelling. Commercials and the third “Mighty Ducks” are on her résumé. Get a taste of Fanger’s “Grace and Frankie” work from @allysonfanger Instagram posts. This interview was via e-mail.
Q: How are the characters Fonda and Tomlin play different from how they are around the set?
A: They are similar in manner and general personality to their characters that they play, as they, as actors and as people, breathe life into the characters and round out the full personality as it is written. The way that Jane and Lily dress personally, however, is quite different from the way that their characters dress in “Grace & Frankie.” Jane in her real life dresses a lot more “spunky” than Grace, who is quite conservative and mostly in monochromatic, solid colors such as camel, navy, gray and cream. Always utterly tasteful. And then we have her lovely print shirts, which we make for her, that illustrate the more “colorful” element that Frankie has introduced into her life. Lily Tomlin definitely does not dress like Frankie at all, either. Lily personally has taste that runs toward the more conservative side, such as button-down solid color shirts, blazers, etc. The Frankie look is a complete costume and, wow, does she ever breathe the life into those looks. We just love when Frankie has a new look!
Q: Are you more of a Frankie or a Grace?
A: This depends on the day/or the event. I think I am more of a Frankie, as I am more boho [bohemian] and an artist also. That being said, there are days I want to put on some Grace-feeling looks. They work for me just as well. Personally, I think people respond to the look of the show so much in part because they identify either a significant part of themselves with our two main characters — or someone they love very much, be it a mother or a sister or a cousin or an aunt.
Q: When Grace pops her collar on her shirts, is that Fonda’s normal personality?
A: Fonda definitely loves a popped collar! It has absolutely evolved to become a significant part of her character look for the show — the writers will write to it, which I love.
Q: You and your staff sew clothing for all the characters on “Frankie and Grace”?
A: We definitely make pieces! We also shop for them, and I use a lot of vintage and one-of-a-kind pieces on Frankie.
Q: Does your staff make Grace’s shirts?
A: I source all of the fabrics for the Grace shirts, and we have them made by a custom shirt maker here in Los Angeles, Anto. We started with archival print fabrics from the vaults of Carolina Herrara, and when we ran out of those, I began to look for other vintage prints and have recently begun to source fabrics from artists. Many of whom I find on Instagram, which I love for finding the unique vintage finds, jewelry, fabrics, everything. It’s like the world’s biggest flea market and craft fair and vintage expo all in one.
Q: How foggy does it get on that set when Tomlin and Fonda are shooting the pot smoking scenes?
A: Ha-ha, not very. You have heard the term “smoke and mirrors,” no?
Q: You’re not allowed to have a bad day when working these Hollywood jobs?
A: Very few. I feel very lucky and happy to be here, so most days I feel great.
Q: What was the first indication that you would have a career in the fashion world?
A: My mom, who much of the character looks for Grace were inspired by, always knew. She told me to go to FIT in NYC (I didn’t listen to her, of course.)
Q: Do you sew?
A: Yes, but not a lot. I have an amazing cutter/fitter/tailor here who does any custom pieces we need and also an endless amount of alterations, because fit is everything. I value my tailor very much.
Q: What article of clothing do you find essential?
A: Caftans. Q: In a previous conversation, you told me that you have told your kids they are wimps because they don’t have to put on snow pants and deal with frigid temperatures. At what temperature do they complain about it being cold in California?
A: Ha-ha! They don’t really, because it never gets cold, really cold. And when it is cool, we all rejoice and bust out the sweaters and sweatshirts! My oldest daughter is at college now on the East Coast, though, so she has learned about the cold. And, BTW, I have never heard her complain about it. My kids are actually not wimps; that was a joke on the weather. Because they are my kids, I have taught them 100 percent resilience, like a real Minnesota girl.
Q: What restaurants do you have to hit when you return to Minnesota?
A: We love going to Yum; my kids are obsessed with the Nut Goodie bar that they make there. The insane cinnamon rolls at Isles Buns is a stop for sure, and I still have a fondness for the wild rice soup at the French Meadow Bakery and Cafe. Oh, and my husband loves the burgers at the Nook.
Q: What kind of business would you like to open in Minnesota if you could be guaranteed success?
A: Grace print shirts for all!
Q: What brings you back to Minnesota?
A: Seeing my family! [Her parents are James and Helen Brown, former Minnetonka residents who now live in Stillwater.] They all still live there. I love and miss them every day!
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.