What’s your favorite Spike Lee joint? Mine is Mo’ Better Blues. Within my top five, though, is the 1986 ground-breaking film She’s Gotta Have It. In it, Spike Lee follows Nola Darling a twenty-something Brooklynite who balances friendship, her career and separate relationships with three men. Each of the men beg Nola to commit, but she refuses because she cherishes her freedom. The topic of Black female independence was revolutionary in the 80s. Though slightly more accepted today, Black women who are artistic, outspoken, sexually liberated and who are exercising the power of choice are vastly misunderstood. Spike Lee, being the genius that he is, is set to tackle these social topics again for the 21st century audience.
The upcoming Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It, premieres on November 23 – Thanksgiving Day. Spike Lee entrusted creating fresh looks for each character to costume designer Marci Rodgers. A Chicago native, Marci is well-qualified. In addition to years of experience designing for theater and TV, she also has a B.B.A. in Marketing from Howard University, a Corporate M.B.A. from Florida International University, a Certificate in Fashion Design and Marketing from London Fashion College: Central Saint Martins in London, England, and a M.F.A. in Costume Design from the University of Maryland.
I recently spoke with Marci about her experience creating the modern looks for such iconic characters, what it’s like to work with Spike Lee and much more. Check out highlights from our conversation.
Jazmine: How did you become a costume designer?
Marci: God ordered my steps. I strongly believe that we possess the power to speak things into existence. I was working as a stylist, and I remember saying to myself during a photo shoot, “I don’t want to do this.” From that day forward, my daily affirmation was “I want to be a costume designer.” It didn’t happen immediately. I pursued my master’s degree in costume design. While studying abroad at Central Saint Martins in London, I read The Alchemist and it gave me insight into realizing my dreams. When I got back to the U.S., within a matter of time, things shifted and now I’m a costume designer.
Jazmine: How did you connect with Spike Lee?
Marci: I assisted the late Howard professor and costume designer Reggie Ray on a play he designed. Mr. Lee attended Opening Night of the play at Studio Theatre, which is where I met him.
Jazmine: Tell me what it was like to receive the script for She’s Gotta Have It? Were you super excited?
Marci: Of course! I grew up watching Mr. Lee’s work (Although he tells me not to, I call him Mr. Lee. I just have great respect for him.) I saw She’s Gotta Have It years ago and had no idea in the span of my lifetime, I’d be working with Mr. Lee on his very first TV series, the contemporary version of the classic film.
Jazmine: What was your process for finding each character’s look? Where did you find inspiration?
Marci: I watched the film again. As a designer, I like to embody each character to understand why they dress the way they do. I found pieces of my life and personality in each of the characters. For example, Nola (played by DeWanda Wise) is an artist and a trendsetter. That’s what I do each day on stage and on screen. Jamie (played by Lyriq Bent) is a tailor-made gentleman. His character reminds me of my father who I’ve never seen in a pair of jeans. He is always impeccably dressed in custom-made suits, jewelry and hard bottom shoes. I like to call it Sunday’s Best. Mars is jovial and fun, like my style and like the actor portraying him – Anthony Ramos.
I also asked myself what kind of music would each character listen to? Based on my research, I envisioned how they should be dressed keeping in mind the need to have a good blend of who they were in 1986 and who they are now in 2017.
Jazmine: Who does Nola listen to?
Marci: Prince! (Among other artists.)
Marci (continued): With the blend of Mr. Lee’s vision, the production designer’s and my ideas, we created an amazing body of work. The trailer is genius because the ambiguity of each character’s introduction allows the audience to interpret them how they wish until the series debuts.
Jazmine: Who was your favorite character to dress? (I guessed Mars. Spoiler: I was wrong!)
Marci: I enjoyed dressing every character. My greatest gift as a designer is giving the actors looks that they feel comfortable wearing and that help tell the story. It’s also important to play up the actor’s natural strengths. For instance, Cleo Anthony is an attractive man and that speaks for itself on screen. Over-stated clothing would distract the audience from his naturally good looks.
Most important, I wanted to create looks that were still true to the original characters in Mr. Lee’s original vision. I remember the day we filmed the trailer of the mock scene of Jamie on the park bench. I wanted Mr. Lee to really like Jamie’s costume. As actor Lyriq Bent walked on set, Mr. Lee pointed and said “Jamie Overstreet!” I was thrilled to watch his reaction.
Jazmine: Did you shop or design most of the looks?
Marci: Half of the looks were created and half were shopped.
Jazmine: How does your theater background assist in designing costumes for TV?
Marci: I’m always a student of my craft. I’m bi-lingual, in a sense, with experience in designing for both. I’ve learned how to stretch my artistic ability in both settings, which are very different in terms of schedule and budget.
Jazmine: You mentioned Reggie Ray. Who are some of your mentors?
Marci: I’ve had the privilege and honor of working with some phenomenal designers including Reggie Ray, Ann Roth, Paul Tazewell and the incomparable Ruth Carter, who I worked with on the set of Chi-Raq. Being from Chicago, Chi-Raq was a dream come true for me.
A good costume designer knows costuming history. I’ve learned so much from the designers before me and I’m sharing that same knowledge with my team.
Jazmine: What’s next for you?
Marci: I recently designed costumes for two stage plays at Studio Theatre in D.C. I just wrapped a movie from a London-based director starring Orange Is The New Black’s Danielle Brooks. We shot in the Dominican Republic over the summer, which was great. There are great projects ahead! I hope everyone watches She’s Gotta Have It!
Jazmine: Last, but not least. What’s your favorite Spike Lee joint?
Marci: School Daze. I saw it years before I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Chapter. It’s classic!
Jazmine (Bonus): Will Opal Gilstrap’s character be featured in the series? She’s often an unspoken character, but one of my favorites.
Marci: Yes. All of the original characters are in the series and then some!
Check out photography from the series, which showcases Marci’s work. For more information on Marci Rodgers, visit her website.
Be sure to watch Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix on November 23.