Interview: David Zyla, Head Costume Designer, All My Children
David Zyla, five time Emmy-nominated head costume designer at All My Children dishes on his career, the color of style, and the future of soap operas as we know them. Oh yeah, and what he’s going to wear to the 37th Daytime Emmys!
UPDATE: Congratulations to David for taking home an Emmy in 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design.
Congratlations on your Emmy nomination.
Thank you, perhaps 5 is the charm!
Could be! Maybe Susan Lucci is rubbing off on you?
(laughs) I adore Susan but I don’t want what she went through.
Understandably. Well, we have a few things to cover, but let’s just start: How did you get started and established in fashion so quickly?
I started costume design at NYU. When I got out of school I started designing a lot of shows, and through a weird set of circumstances I ended up creating a very small line of my own, and it was picked up at Bergdorf Goodman and Macy*s and several other stores. I dressed Hillary Clinton when she went to China and Japan and, I was in fashion! Being in fashion led to daytime television, because the designers from the TV shows would buy my line to use on the characters on the shows. When one of the designers was leaving his position, he suggested me to the producers, and they already knew my work. I’ve been in daytime television for 10 years now. I started with Port Charles for two years, then General Hospital for a year, and now currently I’m with All My Children.
So this wasn’t even on the horizon when you first started out.
No, no. Although I do remember as a child, my grandmother watching her “stories”, speaking of characters on the show as if they were people who lived next door to her. So perhaps it was inevitable it would happen at some point, that it became a reality.
Do you find it quite a good place to be? Fashion is a place where there is a lot of turmoil, and you’ve been able to build quite a niche for yourself.
Yes, it’s wonderful. We have characters that are trendsetters, and we have professional people that have a lot of money, so we’re able to show a lot of cutting edge designs on the show as a result.
What are some of the challenges you come up against working in television, working with characters?
Well it’s just the volume; it’s what we do in a day. We are taping sometimes 50 something scenes in a day. It’s the changes, the continuity I would say, are the challenges. Obviously styling 20 something people everyday is a feat on it’s own but beyond that it’s keeping track of everything and making sure that we’re telling the story through clothes as well.
What do you think has contributed to your success in this field?
I think it’s really paying attention, obviously to fashion, paying attention to characters, learning how to work with people. In my job I intersect with a few dozen people every single day, and my job is to make them look and feel fantastic with the clothes. I think it’s very simple, that’s the secret.
Speaking of secrets, you have gone beyond characters and come out with a great book called “The Color of Style”. It has a very unique formula you work with. First you work with stars, but how does this translate for the everyday person? Is it recommended for men as well?
Yes. First of all, this book is really for every woman, but men can use it as well. When you get to the archetypes, you may want to translate a little. I don’t know if there are any men that want to be a “Playful Princess” (laughs). But who knows? I’m open-minded. The book really is about looking at your coloring in a very honest and real way and pulling the colors out that already exist in you. By wearing them and surrounding yourself in them you are showing the world who you really are.
What are ways that people commonly misinterpret their style?
Whenever you hear someone say, “I should be more…” what they think on some level is who they are is not to be expressed. They are going to buy things and wear things that are not authentically them. If you are in a store or you pass a window (display) and say “That dress is so Susan!” or “That necklace is so Monique!” those people are clearly being themselves and have a style that is clearly identifiable and you notice it. Whereas the person who is always shifting and changing day to day, or only following trends, is not really honoring themselves. And they are hiding from themselves, I would say.
You have a unique system of Artist, Flower, Shape and Texture. How did you develop that system?
I developed that system after working with people for 20+ years now. I noticed archetypes of women, and I found relationships with this type of woman wore this type of scent, and this type of woman’s coloring and contrast were consistent with a certain artist. When I put this book together, I compiled all of this information together. The way you can use it is if, for example, someone’s palette is like a Mondrian painting with big blocks of very contrasting color, that’s a clue to how she wears color from head to toe and she always needs a contrast. If your artist is Monet, and you think about the water lilies, there is more of a soft, melded look from head to toe without any hard color differentiation. I think that’s a great way to think about a silhouette from head to toe.
I think that paints a very easy picture. Do you think it is bad for someone to try different artists, straddle different genres? Or best to stick with one.
You know what, there may be other artists that connect to your personal palette, absolutely. I just give what I feel is the strongest example and are popular and known.
It obviously works, clearly with the Emmy nominations. What else is coming up in the future? What will you be wearing to the Emmys?
First of all, the hardcover book The Color of Style (Dutton) came out February 4th, and this coming February we’ll be releasing the paperback (Plume). I’m very excited about that. My next book I’ve started writing and it’s about home and working your colors into your environment. I touch on in it a little in this book and I’ve been asked to dive into it in a fuller way, so we’re going to be working on that. We’re also in the midst of creating a reality show based on upon this book, and I’ll have something to report very soon, so great things are happening on that. I’m doing a lot of speaking, and will be teaching at The Learning Annex on July 19th in New York. I’m doing a lot of guest lecturing around the country. It’s just extraordinary how people have embraced this book and philosophy and I couldn’t be happier. As for the Emmys this weekend, I’ll be wearing an Ivory Damask dinner jacket with a pink lapel.
We’ll be looking out for that! So, can you tell me what’s up for the citizens of Pine Valley, in terms of style?
No one wants to think about it since we’re not even in the middle of summer, but we’re going to start shooting for the fall season in three or four weeks now, which means fall fashions. We’ll definitely be keeping our fashion forward feeling. You’re going to definitely see a little more edge with our character Erica Kane, played by Susan Lucci. Greenlee (Smythe – Actress Rebecca Budig), we’ve got her living on the edge with her storyline, and her clothing is going to be showing that as well.
How closely does hair, makeup, nails work with wardrobe?
Everything we do here is such collaboration. I always say it sounds like one person is responsible, but it takes a team of people to bring a look together, and I have a fantastic team around me. There is also a whole hair department and makeup department*, and we collaborate asking, “This dress, is it possible to wear her hair up?” and they come back with styles to review and we get a dialog going. Which is important because we have to work as a unit so that you get a look that is fantastic.
You’re now out in LA – how do you like that compared to filming in New York?
It’s so funny. When I first joined All My Children, about 7 years ago now, I was at General Hospital and was asked to make the switch. I was very happy about getting back to New York where I had been for many years. I flew back and hit the ground running with the incredible cast and great group of people. Who would ever think that after 40 years that the show would move to Los Angeles! At first it was a bit shocking, but having lived here before, and worked here before, I have a great appreciation for it. I had great connections here, so it didn’t really impair us in our department at all. I am going back and forth to New York quite often, and I’m loving having the best of both worlds.
I have a viewer question for you. Sara from Washington asks, “What do you see in the future for soap operas in general?”
You know what, we’re seeing a change in the way people watch television. I think to many people, reality television, like the Housewives of New York and Atlanta and Every Other City, in many ways has definitely tapped into the soap opera market, and really taken advantage of the idea of a soap opera, and updated it a bit. I do think, though, there are always going to be viewers that enjoy the classic form. Soap operas in this day and age need to stay current and not ignore the fact that people are tuning into Housewives. Why is that? Maybe their issues are relatable; maybe the issues on daytime dramas need to be more relatable and closely connected with the viewers. As opposed to the ‘80s when it was all about excess. Not only daytime soaps, but nighttime soaps like Dynasty and Dallas, where everyone had so much money, and everyone was having an affair, and no one cared! (laughs) It was just all about excess and fantasy escapism. Now, I think, to stay relevant they need to stay current.
So you think people are looking for answers in their lives through these shows?
I think so. To see someone that lives two towns over you talk about her marriage breaking up is much more relatable than a character who has already been married several times in the last year. Is that relatable? If it’s written well and the character is compelling, I think so. I think it’s all about how it is done.
New ways of relating ties into the new media/social media trend. I noticed you’re on Twitter and Facebook. Do you think the lives of the characters and actors should become intertwined?
I think for a lot of people this happens automatically. People feel very strongly about their characters, and I think the lines could definitely be blurred. I think any sort of promotion like having characters have Facebook and Twitter pages, is a fantastic idea and I will definitely pass that along here!
David Zyla’s “The Color of Style” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
*All My Children’s Makeup Department was also awarded an Emmy