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From its nonstop sight gags and clever critique of Hollywood (sorry, Hollywoo) culture to its unusually honest portrayal of depression, there are lots of reasons to watch Netflix’s animated comedy, BoJack Horseman. And while even diehard fans probably wouldn’t add “amazing fashion” to that list, series production designer Lisa Hanawalt knows that clothing plays a crucial role when it comes to defining each character.
Along with overseeing the show’s general aesthetic, Hanawalt is responsible for designing and outfitting each of BoJack’s characters, from key players like Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter to the well-heeled team at Manatee Fair (the show’s Vanity Fair stand-in, staffed entirely by some very stylish marine mammals). Below, Hanawalt discusses her favorite BoJack character to dress, the Marc Jacobs cameo you won’t want to miss in season 4, and the significance of the show’s clothes. (What do they mean? Do they mean things? Let’s find out!)
Where do you begin when drawing outfits for these characters?
It starts with a conversation with Raphael [Bob-Waksberg], the creator of the show; we’ll talk about who we know in real life who’s similar to a character, or what actor or actress they should remind the audience of, and what stylistic references I should use. And then I just get to go nuts on Google Image search, look through my collection of Japanese fashion magazines, look at fashion blogs, and draw whatever looks fun and feels appropriate for the character.
Most of the central characters never change outfits. Did that affect how you designed them originally?
I feel like if I’d thought of that, I would’ve been totally paralyzed with indecision! I honestly didn’t think the show would get picked up, much less that we’d have this many seasons; I’m a pessimist about every project I work on. So I didn’t think about what I’d get stuck with season after season, and it’s probably for the best.
I wish I could change [their outfits], honestly — like, I’m a little tired of Diane’s green army jacket at this point. But it’s an animation thing: You want to create something that people will recognize instantly. Like, if you look at The Simpsons, their outfits have stayed the same for 28 seasons now.
That makes sense. Okay, so once you’ve got your outfit inspiration for a character, what happens next?
I don’t usually draw pieces exactly as I see them; I like to mix and match and collage them into something new. It’s like I get to pretend to be a fashion designer!
Like, going back to Diane’s jacket, that wasn’t inspired by anything I’d seen in real life. I like weird shapes and patterns on things, so that’s where the little red arrows came from. I thought they’d be fun on top of the green. That specific green is also sort of serious and bookish, and I’ve used it for other characters; I always think of them as characters that BoJack should listen to, even if they’re not always telling him what he wants to hear.
Of course, that green also always makes people think of Daria. That was definitely part of the inspiration for her character; Diane is very similar to Daria.
Yes! Princess Carolyn is always looking to what pop stars wear because she’s getting older, but she wants to stay hip and relevant in the industry.
I’ll often reference celebrities [for other characters], too. Like Jessica Biel, who’s actually on the show — she has the best street style, so I look at what she wears a lot. There was this leather army green one-sleeved mini dress she wore that I definitely put on a character. And I recently drew a dress that Constance Wu wore to the Critics’ Choice Awards; I love her.
How’d you approach dressing the editors at Manatee Fair? Those scenes are my favorite.
I definitely looked at Prada for the characters in that office, although I mixed and matched a lot of stuff. That was crazy fun to draw, and I liked that they’re the opposite of model body types. It was fun to take runway fashions and put them on manatees!
You’ve created some really great prints for the clothes on the show, too.
I just love patterns and prints. I don’t even know if they’re still trendy; like, I feel like they were really trendy about five years ago. They’ve probably peaked.
When creating the prints, I start by thinking: What would this animal actually like? So Mr. Peanutbutter has some bone-print stuff, and Bojack has his apple-print pajamas and swim trunks. Everyone on the crew actually got apple-print pajama bottoms for Christmas one year! [Laughs]
Has anyone ever asked you where they can find these clothes in real life?
I’ve definitely had people tell me that they want to buy clothes from the show, and there’s actually a Tumblr that matches up Bojack fashion with real-life pieces! It [feeds into] my fantasy that someday maybe I could have a fashion line. I’ve dabbled in it; I’ve done collaborations with Print All Over Me, for example. But obviously it’s hard to do.
Who’s your favorite BoJack character to dress?
Sextina Aquafina, our dolphin pop star! For her, I was inspired by Bradley Callahan; his label is called BCALLA, and he’s done outfits for Azealia Banks that look sort of... I think the word would be amphibious. They’re crazy, and so perfect for a dolphin. It totally works.
I loved doing Sextina’s music video; there’s a bunch of outfits she wears in it, but there’s one in particular that looks like a cross between Mad Max: Fury Road and Transformers; it literally has car parts on it. I love drawing outfits for her because she’ll wear anything, so I can get really creative. I don’t think she’s in this season, unfortunately, but I hope she comes back, because I love her. I want her to have a spinoff show!
What are a few of the fashion moments in season 4 you’re excited for people to see?
I got to do some period costumes from the ’40s this season, which I’m really excited about. That was crazy fun. And I got to design costumes for a really rich family that has that kind of New England, old money, frozen-in-time look. It ended up looking very Wes Anderson.
I also got to design for a bunch of millennial women working at a blog; they’re all wearing the kind of stuff that I would wear if I was way more confident and didn’t give a fuck. [Laughs]
In the trailer, we also briefly see Todd walking the “Sharc Jacobs” runway. Is BoJack going to Fashion Week?!
Kind of! I will say that Sharc Jacobs is actually played by Marc Jacobs — who I believe showed up to his recording session in a shark costume, which makes him the coolest guy on the planet. I feel like so much of the fashion industry takes itself so seriously, so it’s really delightful to see a designer who doesn’t.
Finally, I want to talk about all the trench coats on the show. Obviously Vincent Adultman comes to mind, but it seems like whenever a character’s sleuthing or snooping, he or she is wearing a trench.
Yes! Princess Carolyn’s worn one, BoJack’s worn one. It’s such an old-timey, cartoon-y thing — very Looney Tunes. And of course whenever I draw a trench coat for someone, it’s got to be just right. I get all geeky about lapels and buttons and shit in a way that drives everyone crazy, I’m sure. But I swear, it makes a difference whether you draw a suit double-breasted or two-buttoned.
BoJack Horseman season 4 hits Netflix on September 8th.