Inside the Costumes of Netflix’s ‘13: The Musical’

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Emily Gunshor is the costume designer for Netflix's 13: The Musical.

The Musical is about a 13-year-old, Evan Goldman, who has to move from NYC to a small town in Indiana after his parents' divorce. To make his Bat Mitzvah the party of the year, Evan has to navigate the social complexities of his new town to make friends. 13: The Musical stars Josh Peck, Eli Golden, and Debra Messing which premiered August 12th on Netflix. 

For this project, Emily utilized color as a storytelling tool. She designed the looks for the Indiana kids with more saturated colors such as purple, light blue, and gold. Whereas the NYC kids were more fashion-forward, wearing dark colors like burgundy and gray. She also assigned each character a carefully selected color based on their personality, and incorporated it into their wardrobe. Emily also faced the challenge of shooting this project in the midst of one of the worst COVID lockdowns in Toronto. She was unable to go shopping for pieces and fabrics in person, so had to get creative with how she sourced and crafted the costumes. 

PH: Can you share a bit about how you got into the industry? What drew you to costume design? 

Emily Gunshor: I grew up making clothing and jewelry and was a huge fan of dress up. When I broke my ankle while studying to receive a BFA in Dance, I needed to shift my direction in order to graduate.  I decided to focus on designing costumes for the company, and it felt very natural. After graduation I started focusing on theater, dance, and fashion, but I was lucky enough to meet Donna Maloney and Ann Roth who welcomed me into learning about the film industry. I was drawn to their focus on character development, expression of body language and the multitude of projects that presented themselves. Within costume design, I love digging into the characters through clothing fit, colors and working with the actors/directors to make choices that help tell the story. 

PH: Who are some of your influences?

Emily Gunshor: One of the most exciting parts of my job is that on every project, I look for inspiration in different places, people, and things. On 13TM, I went back and watched old and new musicals, looked on Instagram, TikTok, Teen Vogue–you name it, I was looking at it. Jacques Demy (The Young Girls of Rochefort) and Twyla Tharp (Hair) were both musical color influences for this project. I have two children (11 & 9) and a niece who actually had her Bat Mitzvah while we were shooting, so 13TM was right up their alley. I drew inspiration from them and their friends and thought both about what these kids wear and what I think they should be wearing. 

PH: What led you to your latest project, 13: The Musical?

Emily Gunshor: I worked with Tamra Davis on Stargirl, and we really hit it off.  When I heard about this musical, I was very, very eager to be a part of the project, as musicals tie back into my dance training and it has always been a dream of mine to design them.  I love working with choreographers to have the costumes help the movement and feel and expression of the dance. 

PH: What was the importance of color in this project and how did it become a character in itself? 

Emily Gunshor: Color in 13TM was really important. To start, I wanted to make a very clear palette differentiation between NYC and Indiana as a way to help tell the story of Evan fitting in and show the difference in the locations and types of people. NYC colors were dark, sophisticated, autumnal and moody, while Indiana's colors were bright, vibrant, poppy, light and fun. This was a discussion Tamra (director), Almitra (production designer), Adam (DP), and I had early on.  We really pushed no black or dark colors in Indiana until the Bar Mitzvah, so much so that we never even had black cars past New York! Once we set the New York/Indiana color story, I also added a color per kid in Indiana. In such a large ensemble cast, we wanted to be able to clearly tell who each kid was not only by their individual style but also by their color palette. Of course there is some wavering in variation, but for the most part each kid has a color. 

PH: Can you share your process of selecting character colors based on personality traits? 

Emily Gunshor: Kendra = pale pink/yellow, Lucy = purple, Molly = green, Charlotte = orange, Brett = yellow, Malcolm = turquoise, Eddie = blue, and Patrice is more earthy. As the kids get to the end of the movie, the colors are mixed up more and more. Evan, once the dark New York kid, is now in orange and feeling comfortable in his new home town. The colors for each character were chosen partly on what worked with their complexion, but more so on their personality type. We talked to each kid and looked at color personality charts to decide the color that best suited them.

PH: How did COVID lockdown in Toronto really present challenges when shooting this?

Emily Gunshor: The Covid Lockdown in Toronto while we were filming 13 was insane! Two weeks after we arrived, ALL of the stores were shut down. It was illegal to buy socks and underwear at Walmart/Costco. The stores had the areas roped off, and if you even tried to sneak something in your cart they would refuse to ring you up at the register - only food and “essentials.” Shipping was a mess, and nothing would arrive in a timely fashion. We spent many weekends driving to Montreal and filling cars with clothing. The first time we flew, rented a minivan, filled it with shopping and drove back, but then the Covid rule of flying meant we couldn’t see the cast for five days, so we had to drive the five hours both ways. We were tracking the guidelines, seeing what districts had stores open, and counting days until stores would re-open fully in Toronto. There was a time when stores were opening but at a very limited capacity, and the buyers would wait in line for hours to just enter the store. About three weeks before we finished shooting, the lockdown was lifted and stores began to open, but the supply chain was very messed up.  By this time it was summer and sweaters were still on the shelves. The show must go on, so we got creative in putting it all together! 

PH: How did you get creative to source fabrics for costumes since shopping wasn't really an option?

Emily Gunshor: We had to be open to all the options and think outside of the box to make it happen. Fabric stores were also all closed during the lockdown. Luckily our buyer knew the owner of one who would send pictures of fabric or hold them up to the windows, and we would just pick without touching or seeing in person. My amazing tailor and team put all sorts of things together, from building full dresses to “Frankensteining” two or even three dresses together. If items came that we liked the fabric or color of, but not the item itself, we remade it into something else! For example, Kendra's Bar Mitzvah dress was three different dresses combined. Cassie's dress was also three dresses that we used for fabric only and completely made a new silhouette. 

PH: Can you take through your process when having to create costumes for each character. What does it look like? Is it different depending on the character? 

Emily Gunshor: Coming up with costumes for each character is very individualized. I always start by reading the script multiple times and breaking down the times, places, and number of changes, all the while thinking about the arc and personalities of each character. I then spend time thinking about who each character is, what their interests are, where they would shop, and the physiology that would dictate how they dress. I will do research for any inspirations, and as I find out the casting for the role, this process evolves and becomes more defined. There will be conversations with the director, producers and eventually the actor about all of the choices to make sure that my designs serve the entire production and help tell the story. For example, when I began working on Evan, I was researching New York and Upper West Side boys by pulling images, checking Instagram, etc. I talked to Tamera and Robert Horn and Jason Robert Brown about the backstory of this kid and his interests–baseball, the Natural History Museum, music, art–then I met Eli, and he is from New York. We talk about things he may actually be into, and slowly his character evolves. He wears jeans, t-shirts, and cool sneakers. This process is slightly different for every character depending on the project and the change. For some things it's just this is it, this is what you’re wearing, and for others there is a longer conversation.

PH: Throughout the years, do you have any favorite costumes you've developed? Can you share why? 

Emily Gunshor: There have been so many that I can’t pick a favorite. That’s like picking a favorite child:) Each had its own labors of love and challenges.  

PH: Finish this sentence...to be a great costume designer, you need to...

Emily Gunshor: be open minded and collaborative

PH: What other projects/work are you excited to share? 

Emily Gunshor: I just wrapped up “Please Don’t Destroy”, a comedy directed by Paul Briganti, and I am very excited by a lot of the fun things we made for it! Opening in October is Halloween Ends, which is the end of the trilogy, and I am excited for the world to see it.

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