Inside “The Mayor” Wardrobe Room
By Darralynn Hutson
Inside the Wardrobe room on the ABC studio lot where shows like “American Housewife,” “Hip Hop Squares,” and “Big Brother,” are loudly being filmed; there’s a peaceful hum of people at work. Make-shift desks set against hollow walls made for production are covered with sketches, scripts pages, cut out pictures from fashion magazine, buttons, bracelets, adornments and trinkets of blissful sayings that exude a warm work environment. Debbie, the show seamtress’ sewing machine is heard churning out alteration for Lea Michele’s next fitting. Across several high and low racks of clothing; each categorized for each character and each scene of the series including extras and guest characters; there lie two sturdy desks facing each other for Rita McGhee and her assistant and sister Alita Bailey. Rita isn’t seated at her desk, she’s moving back and forth from rack to rack with two navy jackets and a full pants suit in her right arm browsing through a rack for something else…something else. She takes what she has back inside another door which houses the “fitting room” where characters try on and take off clothes chosen specifically for them.
As the Costume Designer and Assistant Costume Designer for ABC’s “The Mayor”, starring Brandon Michael Hall as Courtney Rose, veteran actress, Yvette Nicole Brown, his mother and Lea Michelle, best known for her role “Glee,” Lea Michele as his friend Valentina; Rita and Alita are responsible for “styling and dressing all of the characters; telling a story through clothing.” Described as an urban comedy, The Mayor takes, Courtney from the confines of a small bedroom closet as a struggling hip hop artist, to the chambers of the Mayors office inside of a city federal building. “I’d describe the shows wardrobe as Hip hop politically saavy,” says Rita. “Courtney has to dress the part; because he’s still from his environment but he has swag which means that he will also ways crisp jeans and classic sneakers.”
Working with her sister helps to keep the calm, as Alita has assisted on film and TV project for going on eight years: on BET’s popular “The New Edition Story” mini series,” and “Zoe Ever After; Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq and most recently Lifetime’s “Micheal Jackson: Searching for Neverland,” and the two had a small yet important part in the much anticipated Marvel’s “Black Panther.” “We were able to support the great Ruth Carter and her team by shopping for two months,” remembers Rita. “Just being in the essence of Ruth Carter was a wonderful experience.” Rita would never toot her own horn but an incredible slate of projects most infamously as the first Costume Designer on the first season of Fox’s ridiculously popular family drama “Empire.” Rita essentially gave Cookie her essence. Before landing “Empire,” she was the Costume Designer for Biker Boyz, Next Day Air, and King’s Ransom. Working on set as an assistant costumer for such great films as Mo” Better Blues, What’s Love Got to Do With It and Baby Boy. Rita has been putting in time building her reputation and telling fabulous stories through fashion.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to hire “Shiners” who are respectful of each other and they do their best every time,” says Rita. “Alita is my assistant and she’s on the pulse of new designers, new styles.”
Some of the fashion treats to look out for are ample African prints incorporated in the wardrobe through pieces of clothing on Dina Rose, Courtney’s mom, Jermaine and TK who are Courtney’s best friends on the show. “We shop at the mall, downtown LA, online, in boutique, with designers, anywhere where we can find clothes that fit the character and fit the story line,” says Rita. “This takes long hours, a lot of consideration for lots of different personalities and over coming lots of challenges to bring to life a single vision; I feel very fortunate to be living in my purpose.”