For Robin Kennedy, clothes mean character.
Kennedy is the costume designer for Fox's Raising Hope, which stars Lucas Neff as Jimmy Chance, a young man living with his parents while raising his infant daughter, who is the result of a one-night stand with a serial killer. Critics have praised the show for its heart and quirkiness, and the ratings have been solid enough that Fox recently ordered a full season.
Count us among faithful viewers. And what has caught our eye about recent episodes (among many other things) are Jimmy's T-shirts. Bigfoot fights Abraham Lincoln on one. R. Crumb's Mr. Natural appears on another. Our favorite: a shirt with a picture of pancakes on it with the word Pancakes.
Creator and executive producer Greg Garcia "loves T-shirts with logos on them, so we are always looking for something fun and out of the ordinary to use on Jimmy," Kennedy said.
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She says the characters often rewear their clothes "like normal people do," but with an average of 10 costume changes per actor, each episode, she likes to keep it fresh.
"We also provide all the duplicates for the many stunt people on our show," she said, "and we work with two sets of twins and a stand-in doll."
Kennedy also worked on Garcia's previous series, My Name Is Earl. She said it wasn't her plan to become a TV series costume designer. Originally from New York, she took a job at a Hollywood costume shop "out of necessity" after graduating from design school in Los Angeles.
"I wound up meeting and working with many costume designers that brought their movies, television shows and variety shows into the shop," she said. "I just got hooked."
We contacted Kennedy to see whether she'd tell us a little about how she goes about her job. She filled us in on the work that goes into the show's costumes and Jimmy's awesome T-shirts.
"In the pilot, we established that Jimmy has some artistic talents and would be drawn to more quirky images. Greg initially found the Abraham Lincoln boxing with Bigfoot T-shirt on the Web site Glarkware.com, so I contacted the owner, and he gave us permission to use his design on our show.
"The script said, 'Maw Maw walks out the front door in a bra and pants.' I thought, 'What can I do to instantly make the audience see her as fun and eccentric?' I had the idea to put her in an old-fashioned white bra, brightly colored vintage polyester pants and oversized vintage costume jewelry.
"From our first meeting, Cloris (Leachman) was on board in a big way — she laughed through the entire fitting. It's so rewarding to collaborate with an actor and help them realize who their characters are in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
"The pancake T-shirt has its own story. Liam Harty, our post-production assistant, is a bit like Jimmy — young, artistic, not wanting to spend too much money on clothes. During the making of the pilot, we were desperate to find some additional T-shirt designs.
"Every day, Liam would come to work with a different quirky T-shirt on. When I asked him where he got them, he said he makes them. He gets blank T-shirts, iron-on transfers, finds images on the Internet and cranks them out.
"So I grabbed Liam in his pancake shirt and brought him into Greg's office. Greg liked it so much we used it in the pilot, and he wrote it into a scene that Jimmy should be ironing the pancake artwork onto the T-shirt while saying his dialogue."