Emmy-nominated costume designer Lou Eyrich took something of a leap when she walked out of the cheery halls of the fictional McKinley High in “Glee” and into the grimy world of Briarcliff Manor Sanitarium, a hospital for the criminally insane that serves as the centerpiece for “American Horror Story: Asylum” on FX. Tattered, soiled, and bloody hospital uniforms from 1964 are a far cry from show-choir sequins.
But Eyrich, who has been working with “Horror Story” creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk since the 1990s, had a chance to dive back into costuming a choreographed number on the Jan. 2 episode of “Horror Story.” Jessica Lange, who plays fallen nun Sister Jude, performs “The Name Game” during a hallucination. The swinging ’60s-inspired clip has become a minor Internet sensation. We talked with Eyrich about Lange’s channeling of Dusty Springfield, as well as dressing the nuns and patients of Briarcliff.
Q. What was your reaction when Murphy and Falchuk talked to you about the episode and costume for “The Name Game?”
A. Jessica was the one who was most excited about it. She’s the one who told me about it first. She was so happy to be out of the nun’s outfit. Ryan Murphy wanted a white or a silver 1960s girl group look, like the Supremes. When we did the fitting on Jessica, the white and the silver just wasn’t working. We wanted to find a vintage fabric that would pop and contrast with what the show had been, which was very drab and void of any color. That led to the turquoise dress.
Q. What was your inspiration for the silhouette of the dress?
A. I did a bunch of research with singers like Dusty Springfield. We wanted something fresh, flirty, and form-fitting. It was important to capture the 1960s.
Q. Were you excited to do something with color and exuberance?
A. Yes and no. I did “Glee” for three years. I had done a lot of that. Yes, I was thrilled, but at the same time I took on “Horror Story” for new challenges. So I felt, “Ok, I’ve done this.” But it was fun because Jessica was excited, and I was excited to collaborate with her on it.
Q. How much of a say did she have on the dress?
A. I would say it was 50-50. We decided together that the silver and the white wasn’t working. Other than the color, we tried a couple of silhouettes on her, and we talked about what we liked and didn’t like about each dress. Then we married ideas of three different dresses. I let her have quite a bit of say on this. It’s Jessica Lange after all!
Q. You went to “Horror Story” in order to do something different from “Glee.” What was it that drew you to such a dark and grim show?
A. There are two things that drew me in. I got to do the pilot of “American Horror Story” last year. But the first day of shooting I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So I didn’t get to do the season because I was in treatment. The idea of getting to do this season excited me. Also, when he announced that the second season was going to be taking place in 1964 in an asylum, I was like “Damn, I’m doing that one.”
Q. How is your health now?
A. I’m doing great. It has been a year and a half since I was first diagnosed. And I just had my final surgery in October.
‘We talked about what we liked and didn’t like about each dress. Then we married ideas of three. . . . I let her have quite a bit of say. . . . It’s Jessica Lange after all!’
Q. It must have been a challenge to design unique uniforms for inmates that, in theory, should all be the same.
A. That was a big conversation. For the women, I designed three different dress styles, rather than one style. So when Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), the reporter, gets admitted, I wanted a shapeless dress to make it even sadder for her that this was her new reality.
For Grace (Lizzie Brocheré), who is the love interest, I wanted to make something that showed off her waist and was a little more feminine, so we did a wrap-around style with cap sleeves. It made her girlie and cute. The style for Shelley (Chloë Sevigny) was sleeveless and button-down, because she was supposed to be the sex addict. With the buttons, she could show a little more shoulder so she could have sex appeal — as much as a uniform could have in an asylum.
Q. Lange’s nun robe seems quite fitted compared to other nuns on the show. Was that based on any particular style that was around at the time, or was that done specifically for her character?
A. That’s a total hybrid. I would e-mail ideas to Ryan, and then I’d e-mail them to Jessica and have more discussions. Ryan never wanted her in the big robe that the classic mother superior wears. That was never his intention. He wanted it to be long, sweeping, dramatic, and not over-size. I had made several samples. What we loved about the final version was the idea that she’s a woman in a man’s world.Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.