Ryan Murphy had one note for his costume designer Paula Bradley when it came time to outfit this season of American Horror Story: 1984. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a series that begins with a three-way (which is—very rudely!—interrupted by a slasher murderer), Murphy wanted the clothes to “drip in sex.”
Bradley, a longtime Murphy collaborator, is no stranger to such requests. After all, she and producer Lou Eyrich put Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Stevie Nicks, and company in vintage Yves Saint Laurent and thigh-high stilettos for last year’s AHS: Apocalypse, which garnered Bradley an Emmy nomination.
This go around, Bradley took the reins for costume-designing 1984. Set at a spooky summer camp where a group of friends are hunted by an escaped convict, Bradley knew she was going to have to wage a war against a lot of blood-stained clothes. But first, she relished the era Murphy chose to set his story in.
“I was a fashion student through the 1980s, and I think that’s the last time we were so creative and had so much fun with clothes,” Bradley, who cut her teeth under the mentorship of John Galliano at London’s Royal College of Art, told The Daily Beast.
As a Brit, Bradley had never been to summer camp. She calls it just “Camp,” as in this year’s Met Gala theme. Since this is a Ryan Murphy production we’re talking about, the outfits skew less khaki and scrunchies and more skin-tight short shorts.
“Ryan asked for high-waist jeans, midriff, Jane Fonda,” Bradley said. “The fantastic thing about working with Ryan is that his vision expands further than the setting. We’re at camp, but he still wants it sexy and fashion, so he writes that journey into the story.”
The journey begins when Brooke (Emma Roberts), who is either an ingenue or angel of death—her clean-cut facade begins to unravel in the second episode—makes a few friends at an L.A. aerobics class. The crew (played by Billie Lourd, Cody Fern, Gus Kenworthy, and DeRon Horton) invite Brooke to spend the summer with them as counselors at Camp Redwood.
Unbeknownst to them, it was the scene of a grisly murder back in the ’70s which its new owner, the Bible-thumping Margaret (Leslie Grossman), survived. For good measure, a fictionalized version of the real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, also prowls around the camp, after attempting but failing to make Brooke one of his victims.
In an eerie turn of events, unlike past seasons, 1984 shoots under the cover of darkness, from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Half of Bradley’s 15-person team clocks in during the daytime, and the others work overnight. “I have established at 1 o’clock in the morning, and I’ve done a fitting at 4 o’clock in the morning,” Bradley said of her manic schedule.
The graveyard shift impacts how the actors are dressed. “You can’t have black clothing [when you’re shooting nights],” Eyrich, the producer, explained. “The fabrics have to have some bit of texture, shine, or something to bump the light, or else they would be bopping heads through the dark.”
It helps that Murphy’s preferred color palette, which he decreed to Bradley, is pastels. “It’s very youthful and hopeful,” Bradley mused. “These kids are at the beginning of their lives, the most exciting years, and I think pastels play into that optimism.”
Of course, given all the carnage, some of these characters are also at the end of their lives, too. And all that eye-stabbing and slashing draws a lot of fake blood—no friend to soft pink hues.
“The truth is, we just use many, many multiples of costumes,” Bradley said. Her team starts with pulling real vintage from stores and markets, then reproducing nearly every costume to make sure there is a clean set for necessary retakes.
“You make a schedule, like a chart, for every outfit,” Eyrich said. “Say the characters are clean when they’re leaving an aerobics class. Then, they fall out of a car. Then, they’re running through the woods, then they fall into the water and get stabbed. You do a whole breakdown of their journey, and then count how many outfits that adds up to.”
One of Bradley’s favorite looks from this season is a goody-goody rainbow knit sweater, complete with a white doily collar, she put on Emma Roberts’ character. She found it at the Pickwick Vintage Show, where dozens of vendors from Southern California gather to hawk their finds.
“Of course, Ryan picked the sweater for a scene that plays a lot,” Bradley says. She only had a week to make six replicas, even though “you generally need about six weeks to make a sweater.” Bradley calls the jumper “the biggest accomplishment” of season nine, sartorially-speaking.
Though part of the season had already aired by the time Bradley spoke for this interview, the costume designer still had five episodes left to shoot. The '80s may be fun to watch on screen, but behind the scenes her team works at breakneck speed.
“The speed of TV is immense,” she said. “There is no failure, no ‘No.’ If you can’t find a costume and it’s not there, then you have to come to a different solution. If you have to have something by morning, you will find it.”