Orange is the New Black Costume Designer Jenn Rogien: “It was a Creative Challenge”

Courtesy Photo (4)Netflix's new original series Orange is the New Black is making headway as a gritty comedy-drama set in a women's prison. Based on Piper Kerman's memoir of the same title, the series tells the story of Piper (starring Taylor Schilling), whose past as an accomplice to her international drug-runner girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) catches up to her cozy life with fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs). It results in her arrest and a year-long sentence to prison where she meets an eccentric bunch of inmates. Created by Jenji Kohan, the same woman behind Weeds, each episode is punctuated with flashbacks of a character's past. The show is incredibly compelling-and the costumes even more so. Costume designer Jenn Rogien, also the mastermind behind the boho Brooklyn look as the costume designer for HBO's Girls, reveals to us the challenges that come with styling prison jumpsuits, combing the city for '90s clothes and testing makeshift 'prison' accessories (like a shower slipper out of maxi pads). "I do appreciate and love watching pretty clothes on TV, but I gravitate toward the grittier stories that show how complicated and how messy we can be as humans," she tells Scroll down for her interview.

What drew you to Orange Is the New Black?
"I heard Jenji was doing a show for Netflix, and that combination alone was so intriguing and compelling. When I found out about the premise, read the book and discovered how the show was structured-that it wasn't about the walls of the prison, but about the characters, family and flashbacks-that entire combination made it really interesting."

A major portion of the costumes is inmate uniforms-did that make it easier or more challenging to dress the characters?
"I found it a little more challenging-it was a creative challenge: How do I portray a character with a limited range available? In some cases, we followed the rules and regulations within prison, no alterations to the uniforms, which are real prison uniforms from prison suppliers. In other cases, we folded and rolled cuffs. Sometimes, there were a few actual alterations to the uniform that characters could have executed on their own. These were the few key decisions that we had to make to differentiate these women that are all wearing the same thing."

There are two jumpsuit colors on the show: orange and khaki. What do they represent?
"In our world of prison, orange represents newbies, and as you go through orientation, you're assigned a khaki uniform. In the real world, there are different colors at the federal and state levels. But in our fictional prison based on actual research, we felt that the colors helped convey the story. Orange is more obvious-it's the title of the show and book and a recognizable uniform color. Khaki was cinematic for us-it dehumanizes, defeminizes you. The bland color expresses the drabness of the world we're building."

How else do you use the costumes to express life in prison?
"There are so many nuances. We definitely capitalize on the civilian scenes. We use a lot of jewelry-everyone on the outside wears jewelry and color. Larry's [Piper's fiancé on the show] whole palette is jewel toned. He wears rich sweaters and plaid to introduce more color. When he's sitting in the visitation room, we hope that the audience can feel, even if they don't recognize, the freedom and flexibility in the clothing choices of the outside world. It's juxtaposed against the limited reality of prison."

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- Andrea Cheng