The Dallas Decoder Interview: Rachel Sage Kunin

Rachel Sage Kunin

Rachel Sage Kunin

One of “Dallas’s” brightest stars works behind the scenes: Rachel Sage Kunin, the TNT drama’s costume designer extraordinaire. I’ve loved Kunin’s work since the series began and was excited to hear what it’s like to dress the Ewings.

Let me begin by saying this: I love your work! The cast looks gorgeous this season. Every character is stylish, but no one’s look is “over the top.” The clothes feel glamorous yet accessible. Is that your goal?

It is a conscious decision and a goal to make the clothes feel glamorous yet accessible. How great that someone can be sitting at home, enjoying the show and get inspired. Even I go into my closet and think, “What would Pamela do?” When shopping for myself I’ll go to the deep discount rack to find high-end looking pieces that Sue Ellen would wear.

I love this! Some of the Ewings’ clothes come from the discount rack. Who knew?

I also love going into secondhand shops in search for something special. I want the audience to be encouraged to do the same and know that it is possible. You don’t have to invest a million dollars to look like a million dollars.

How does the wardrobe process work? Do you receive a script and then try to decide what garments and accessories will work best for each scene?

Every costume choice I make is based on the needs of the script. I get my direction from the mood of each scene, what the characters are doing and how they relate to the story. Often times, I’ll buy a piece for a character not knowing where it might fit in. I’ll wait and wait just hoping the right moment comes along.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Rachel Sage Kunin 2How much collaboration is there between you and the cast? Do the actors help you choose their character’s clothes?

I love collaborating with the cast. My motto is that they are the ones that have to be, feel, embody the character on camera and I am part of the process to help them do that. Everything I bring into the fitting room I feel has potential to work. From there, I like to play dress up and find the character with the actor. We discuss what looks and feels right. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure the costume serves the story and the actors are on board with that goal in mind.

What’s it been like to dress iconic characters like Bobby and Sue Ellen? When choosing their styles, were you influenced by the way they dressed on the old show?

I have had many “pinch me is this real?” moments dressing the original cast. It helps a great deal having the huge amount of backstory known about each of their characters. The way they dressed does inform me how they would dress now, 20 years later. We all had so much fun figuring that out.

What are your memories of working with Larry Hagman? What was it like to dress J.R. Ewing?

The first time I met Larry was an enchanting experience that I will never forget. I had no idea he was a lifelong admirer of costume. I brought in a rack of clothes that we started to try on. The first few fit well and looked great but we both knew they didn’t exude that special J.R. swagger. When he put on the tweed jacket with its suede western front yoke we got excited. He was so enthused he threw on his cowboy hat, looked in the mirror with that unique sparkle in his eyes and said, “Now… this is J.R.!” We knew we had found an important J.R. look.

I can picture that. What a great experience for you.

Every time I was with Larry was just as special and interesting as the time before. He was always so generous telling stories, showing me around his amazing collection of family pictures, always willing to share the highlights of his life.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Rachel Sage Kunin 4Who is your favorite character to dress – and why?

I genuinely enjoy dressing all of the characters for various reasons. They all give me a different creative outlet. Christopher is great for his modern but classic all-American aesthetic. I love putting together looks for John Ross because we can get away with taking some fashion risks. Elena is fun because she goes from rugged to elegant with such ease. I’m enjoying Pamela Rebecca’s transition, going from soft color and styles to being more sophisticated and sleek. Sue Ellen’s statement looks are always very exciting to produce. I could go on and on about each and every character, whether they have had one line in the show or pages and pages.

If you could raid the closet of one “Dallas” character, whose would it be? Whose clothes would you most like to wear yourself?

If I could raid one of their closets it would have to be Elena. She has the most range with lots of comfortable pieces and this season we have been building up her chic work looks. Head-to-toe, there is not a piece in her entire wardrobe that I would not wear.

I would imagine you get to see the actors when they’re not in costume, so give me some “Dallas” dish: Whose personal style is most unlike their character?

I would have to say that Patrick [Duffy] and Linda [Gray]’s styles are most unlike their characters. Patrick is more modern in his real life. He doesn’t wear Wranglers and is less conservative than Bobby. He has a light pink and white stripe shirt that I absolutely love on him but Bobby could never pull it off. Sue Ellen generally gilds the lily a bit more than Linda would.

You mentioned those “pinch me is this real” moments. Were you a fan of the original “Dallas”? Do you have a favorite look from one of the classic characters?

I am a big fan of the original series. Looking back on the show as an adult and more importantly as a research tool, I have been inspired by some of Sue Ellen’s black and white moments. I subtly incorporated that into a couple of her looks this season.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Rachel Sage Kunin 3Yes, I’ve noticed that! That’s a nice treat for longtime fans – and by the way, Sue Ellen looks amazing this season.

Thank you. Linda and I knew that we wanted to elevate Sue Ellen’s style this year. We have such a great time working together! We’ll email ideas back and forth before a fitting, throwing ideas around about our thoughts on the changes she has coming up. Or we’ll grab lunch together and chat about it. Then, we get in the fitting room and Sue Ellen appears. She is always so thankful for what I bring to the table and I am grateful to now be able to call Linda a friend.

Tell me about HSN’s new HSN’s new “Dallas” boutique. People are going to be “dressing like ‘Dallas.’” That’s such a huge compliment to you!

Being involved with the “Dallas” and HSN partnership has been wonderful. Yes, what a huge compliment that people want to dress like “Dallas.” The idea that people have a direct go-to place to shop for the “Dallas” flare is brilliant. It really has been the cherry on top of an already amazing experience.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. What a wonderful behind-the-scenes story! It’s easy to gloss over how important costuming is. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into it. As a viewer, you may not pay attention to it, but you see it, so it influences you, even if you’re not aware of it. Great photo choices for illustrating this too.

    • Thanks dear. Rachel is amazing. She really understands the characters and how they would choose to present themselves to the world. Part of the fun of watching “Dallas” has always been seeing what the Ewings will wear in each episode, and thanks to Rachel, that tradition continues on the TNT show. I love her work!

  2. Dan in WI says:

    I don’t have a TV handy at the moment, but doesn’t Rachel look like the woman at the end of this week’s preview?

    • I don’t think so, although I like the idea of putting Rachel in front of the camera. Have you watched her behind-the-scenes videos on TNT’s “Dallas” website? She’s very telegenic!

  3. Rachel Sage Kunin does an excellent job. I really enjoyed this interview. I just have to ask you one thing, why no mention of Cliff Barnes / Ken Kercheval’s wardrobe? There is such a wide range of characters in Dallas that having a clothing inspired by the show makes perfect sense. I have to say that I always look better when my wife dresses me. When I pick out my own clothes, I can easily end up leaving the house looking rather ridiculous. I do have the basic color matching down though. Looking for clothes at discount shops or at the discount racks at Marshall’s is fun. It is great to find something really nice at a deeply discounted price. There used to be a store in the mall by where I live called “Daffy’s – Bargain Shopping for Millionaires”. It was great and it had really nice stuff at very low prices. I could not do the job the Rachel Sage Kunin has. I would not even last one episode. It is great to read that she has so much pride in the works she does. Dallas on TNT is a better show because of her.

  4. What a great interview! I have been amazed at how spot on perfect the costuming is on Dallas. It is not often that I look forward to what characters on a show will be wearing. Chris and John Ross certainly have their own distinctive style. Sue Ellen has just had some rocking outfits. Love her accessories! I could go on about all of them.

    The attention to detail is just fab. The only outfit I didn’t like this season was Elena’s red pants…..lol…but that is just a personal quirk of mine!

    The costuming, the camera work, the editing, the musical score, the direction of this show all are superb. Love the work they do!

    Again, I have to say great job to Rachel!

    • Thanks Hel! You’re so right about the behind-the-scenes staff. They’re all superb. Who should I try to interview next?

      • Next…go for whomever it is that does the musical score and chooses the songs! So good! I have done some iTunes shopping thinks to them! Also Rodney Charters (sp?) would be great! His camera work is delish and he did a very good job when he directed as well.

      • You’re reading my mind, Hel.

  5. Btw, Chris. Do you also feel a big twinge of jealousy that she got to play costuming with Larry Hagman? I know that you had to fully know the total love of costuming that he had…. That would have been a beyond geeky, nerdy, ‘sicky’ Dallas fun!

    • Hel, I feel a twinge of jealousy every time I speak to someone who got to work with him. More than a twinge, actually. More like a full-fledged tremor of jealousy.

      • ROFLMAO….oh, I so understand that feeling! I even am jealous of you that you actually got to speak with him and Linda on a quick phone call!

      • Yeah, I was really lucky I got to do that. What I wouldn’t give to be able to relive that moment.

  6. ellie617 says:

    Chris, this was a great interview, since I love clothes. You have been very lucky to be able to interview so many actors on Dallas. Well I would love to see Bobby, in a pink and white striped shirt. He is so handsome and I love his character. His clothes on the show work for him. Elena wears cute clothes. Pamela always looks great, Sue Ellen looks fantastic, and probably could wear anything and look great. Guess I never realized how much thought goes into the clothes they wear. I just know everyone looks great. Rachel does a great job. Oh by the way, I did like Elena’s red pants.

  7. I love how in the last episode that Larry Hagman was in, in the first scene where JR is in the limo talking to John Ross they had Josh Henderson dressed almost the same as JR. Same color suit and shirt, even the fabric of the suit looked the same. John Ross just had a more modern cut jacket. Nice touch!

  8. I love how changes in her wardrobe denoted the transformation of the sweet Rebecca Sutter to the scheming Pamela Rebecca Barnes. I too would love to see an interview with the music directors.

Trackbacks

  1. […] of “Dallas” and fashion: If you haven’t already done so, check out my interview with the new show’s costume designer, Rachel Sage Kunin, who discusses the secrets behind the […]

  2. […] To me, this outfit demonstrates the genius of Rachel Sage Kunin, the new show’s costumer designer. She manages to update Sue Ellen’s look while staying true to […]

  3. […] each actor’s pitch-perfect look at the wedding. Since interviewing “Dallas” costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin and hairstylist Charles Yusko, I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for how crucial the […]

  4. […] You see everyone’s amazing clothes and wonder if Rachel Sage Kunin would be willing to go shopping with […]

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