It's been more than a decade since a contemporary series took home the Emmy for Outstanding Costumes -- Sex and the City's 2002 win was followed by American Dreams, Carnivale, Deadwood, Rome, 3 wins for The Tudors, Pushing Daisies, The Borgias and Game of Thrones. And while it's hard to deny the beauty of an intricate bodice or expertly welded chest plate, the same could be said of the couture gowns and trend-setting styles costume designer Mandi Line bestows upon ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars.
And, most of the time, she's creating this lush visual tapestry within a targeted price point. That means every item Aria, Hanna, Emily and Spencer wears could be, reasonably, purchased by the show's ferocious army of superfans. ETonline sat down with Line in one of the massive PLL wardrobe trailers to talk about her journey to Rosewood, the highs and lows of mixing high and low and her single favorite item to ever be worn on the show.
ETonline: When did your love affair with fashion begin?
Mandi Line: In high school I knew there had to be something different and special about me. Every girl had long blonde hair, pretty eyes and was tan -- I thought that was so boring. We didn't have a lot of money, my mom was an athlete -- she didn't sew, clothes weren't her thing, but I remember seeing these daisies on a towel she owned, cutting it up, making patches and putting them on some jeans. What I didn't know at the time is that terrycloth frays, so by the end of the day my jeans were in pieces [laughs]. But I was always doing stuff like that.
ETonline: What was your first professional job after graduating from FIDM?
Line: I was an intern on a low budget movie, but being an intern on a low budget movie means you do everything [laughs]. It was a post-apocalyptic film noir called The Outsider -- I've done many films where the only difference between it and another movie was the [lack of] pluralization. I did a movie called Starship Trooper, and I was getting all this free stuff.
ETonline: How did you come to Pretty Little Liars?
Line: I did horror films, every rock music video you could think of, and then music video budgets were slashed. I didn't know what I was going to do. I was at the dentist when a director for Greek said they needed my help to inject some hipness into the show. I sent the producer my resume, she had two 13-year-olds and saw Linkin Park, she saw Korn, she saw Ozzy Osbourne and she was like: "I can't refer you to assist, you're going to design this damn show!" But you have to remember that ABC Family wasn't "A New Kind of Family" yet. Greek was kind of the show that did that for them, and so me, in pink dreadlocks, had to win over this whole panel of conservative people. But these conservative women in cardigans were like "Let's see what she can do!" Greek was my baby. Then, when that ended, I ... got a call to do the Pretty Little Liars pilot in Canada. I didn't want another young show. Then, afterwards, I watched the pilot and realized it wasn't a kid's show -- this was like all the soaps I grew up on rolled into one. I said, you have to add a fashion element into the show because, before Gossip Girl, fashion wasn't the fifth character on a show. Now, it's another lead.
ETonline: Aesthetically, you're on par with Gossip Girl when it comes to glamour, but unlike most other shows, the clothes on PLL have to be within a real world price point. Is that exciting or terrifying?
Line: To get creative without spending money is tough. I'll get calls from designers on shows who have bigger budgets asking how we do it. Of course there are times I just want to go to Neiman's, but then we'll get a character, like the therapist, who is supposed to be high end, and I'll get to go to Neiman's and Barney's and Saks. But in those moments, I always take myself back to Aria in season one. And I did that this year by putting her in this crazy comic book dress. I like a budget. I think it helps. Plus, I love when I can tell a fan where to get something from the show; they get it and send me a photo of them in it. It makes their month, and that's the best thing in the world to me.
ETonline: Are there clothes you regret putting on the show?
Line: Yes, I remember watching the show and thinking "Why did I do that?!?!" a few times. What you take from that is what not to do and you learn early on not to force an actor into wearing something because, on the day, they're not going to want to wear it.
ETonline: Fashion-wise, which character has come the furthest?
Line: Oh, Emily for sure. I can put a belt on anything, flip the collar up, stud it and Aria will rock it. Aria's storyline is consistent to who she is. Aria wasn't scared in the beginning and she won't be scared now -- who cares if she loses this man; she's still gonna wear a gangster necklace, a tiger jacket, printed pants and high top tennies to tell Ezra goodbye. In that outfit, she don't care [laughs]. Emily has taken a much bigger journey a lot of Emily's fashion arc is because of her journey, so you see it represented in her clothes.
ETonline: How much do you see the market reacting to what the girls are wearing?
Line: The girls have become icons in everything they do, so they've taken that fashion responsibility to another level on their own, which helps me. But it's to the point where Ashley Benson shot a selfie in a grey sweater, and thousands upon thousands of people liked the photo so the company sent me a box of them. It's awesome because it gives you the freedom to work with independent designers and support up and coming artists.
ETonline: At its most egregious, how many black hoodies were in your possession?
Line: [laughs] It's funny -- that hoodie has taken its own journey. There have been so many black hoodies over the years, but I think we're down to 26 hoodies, 26 pants, 26 gloves. Everyone that's had to wear it has their own head-to-toe version.
ETonline: Do you have a favorite brand of black hoodie?
Line: I love me some Alternative Apparel.
ETonline: Do you have a rule about repetition given how often the characters change clothes?
Line: Budget-wise, and TV proportion-wise, we repeat denims and shoes. Anything recognizable -- stripes and prints, specifically -- I try not to use again because on average, we have 3 school days per episode. That's five girls, plus their boyfriends [and background extras] -- it literally comes out to 123 outfits. It's nuts. But nothing compares to Greek. We had 23 leads, literally -- and they always had a party and an event. What Greek did for me and my crew as a training ground is unbelievable.
ETonline: What's your favorite piece of clothing you've ever put on PLL?
Line: The feather earring made me realize the power this show has. Aria's red and black striped masquerade dress was so custom, down to the fabric, which doesn't exist. And the studded black hoodie Aria wore for a fundraiser thing at school reaffirmed the power this show has. I still get emails about that hoodie to this day.
ETonline: Given the show's connected fanbase, what has it meant to you to have fans who love this show love your contribution to it?
Line: It's given me a voice; I'm a single woman, costume designer that doesn't question what I’m doing with my life. I know I won't have Pretty Little Liars forever, but the feedback from the fans, good or bad, fulfills me -- and you can't take that away from me.
Pretty Little Liars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.
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