Costume designer Kimberly Adams-Galligan chats with us about rebooting the 80s for AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire’.
If you’re feeling weary about this new television season, we hear you. Nowadays, it seems as though some of the best TV shows aren’t even launched during the traditional September-May network schedule. (For instance, we’re feeling a bit withdrawn right now, not having those new, end of summer ‘Breaking Bad’ episodes we’ve grown so accustomed to.) So it’s the perfect time to binge watch a show or two that you might have missed the first time around. Where to start? ‘Halt and Catch Fire‘.
Set during the technological boom of the early 80s, AMC’s ‘Halt’ is the story of Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a slick, ex-IBM exec now working at the Dallas-based Cardiff Electric. His goal is to beat his former employer at the PC game by cloning their top selling product. To help him bring his scheme to reality, he enlists Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a sulky engineer at Cardiff who is desperate for success. Rounding out the tech world trifecta is Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis). A 22-year old computer coder that Joe literally plucked out of her college classroom, she’s bratty, stubborn and brilliant. While the men are stuck in the present, Cameron is the future — a woman in a male-dominated industry who wants to ‘build something that makes people fall in love’. She sees the infinite potential in creating a product that has heart, one that is more than just a big box screen and keyboard.
Cameron is also one of the coolest characters on television right now and reason enough to watch ‘Halt and Catch Fire’. She’s an unlikely heroine, lacking basic hygiene, going braless, and blasting Sonic Youth and the English Beat while she works. Her bleached, unkempt, cropped haircut and army/ navy surplus wardrobe are initially shocking to Cardiff’s button-up corporate headquarters but eventually, her mere presence wields influence not only at the office, but over Joe, her boss and on-off flame. We talked to the ‘Halt’s costume designer Kimberly Adams-Galligan to learn more about what went into creating Cameron’s persona from a visual standpoint and how regional fashion is almost nonexistent in 2014.
FF: What kind of research went into doing the series, which takes place in 1983?
KA: I started watching movies from late 1970’s through early-80’s (‘Body Heat’, ‘China Syndrome’, ‘Tootsie’, ‘E.T.’, ‘Footloose’, ‘Caddyshack’, ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’, etc, some TV too). So many great classics during this period, it was fun! I went through lots of period magazines, lots of catalogs Sears, Wards, Penny’s, and yearbooks. I went through research on all levels of tech industry types, not just the iconic ones. I found so many great family photos of the period in Dallas, San Francisco (I was born there), and New York. I like to look at the country as a whole when I am thinking about all the characters and the influences, depending where in the country we are. Texas and “middle America” were behind in fashion to both coasts. It is quite interesting that because we were not the “wired” community in 1983 that we are today, fashions were more regional and trends took longer to trickle down. Now it is immediate, so it has changed all of that, and changed it globally, not just in the United States.
When you first started working on ‘Halt’, what was Cameron’s character sketch?
It’s interesting there were descriptions of black rimmed glasses, exposed collars from cut t-shirts, and neon tights and pink Converse! As I put together visuals for the character and Mackenzie was cast, it felt more grounded to push her to be more surplus store-meets-thrift store. Mackenzie wanted the same thing. It was really fun pulling together various visuals to figure out Cameron. I mixed it up with punks of the time period…especially in Texas, which had its own DIY look so different than LA or NY, or anywhere else in the world! But I also mixed in classic rock influences like early Debbie Harry, Exene, Annie Lenox, and of course a splash of Bowie. Whatever felt like an influence in her life growing up like she did.
Where do you get the clothes (vintage stores, army/ navy, built)? Cameron looks like she shops a lot in army surplus stores.
Surplus and thrift was where she would have shopped. I did shop thrift, but since thrift is so different today than what would have been available, I went through all the costume houses and did every decade pre 1980’s back to turn of the century, and shopped the houses like she would have shopped a thrift store. Cameron is not a fashion follower or trendy, and she is definitely not a girly girl! Thrifting in the 80’s was a gold mine of decades past. Her military pieces tended to be her armor and she mixed vintage and boys pieces into her closet. But Cameron would put something like a vintage WW2 women’s USMC jumpsuit on backwards and roll up the pants and wear it with Edwardian men’s balmoral boots she doodled all over, and a boys tank. 80-90% of Cameron’s closet was mens or boys clothing. The army bag she carries has her entire closet in it. My husband’s brother flew choppers in Vietnam and we used his original bag.
Were there any influences for Cameron’s look/style? A lot of people have seen Mary Stuart Masterson from ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’. That 1984 Apple commercial is referenced too in the final episode.
I keep hearing people referencing ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’. It was late 80’s and was not an inspiration. If anything, Watts’ character in that film was inspired by those same kinds of people that Cameron was in the early 80’s. I think because of the hair style/color similarity, everyone thinks that was the inspiration. People seem to forget someone like Annie Lenox was sporting that hair in the early 80’s and I had a punk friend that had short cropped hair at that time. It was the beginnings of the androgynous look.
You also see Joe transform throughout the season. In the beginning, designer suits & ties (there is one scene where he is putting together his outfit that is really reminiscent of that famous scene from ‘American Gigolo’) and then he becomes more relaxed as the season progresses. Is this at all due to Cameron’s influence? In the final scene of the finale, he’s even wearing army gear.
I do feel there was some influence from Cameron, as well as all of the guys at the office, especially with all the coders in jeans and T-shirts. I loved that he ended the season in the military green. Cameron was definitely an influence, even if he didn’t know it.
(Tearsheet courtesy Kimberly Adams-Galligan. All other images courtesy AMC.)