‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies:’ How the Costuming Brings Rydell High to the 21st Century

Paramount+’s “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” brings the charm of the iconic original musical to serialized streaming, with ’50s era style and elaborate musical numbers. But that nostalgic fantasy looks a lot different than it did in the 1978 film version of “Grease,” which made Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta international stars. This time, Black, Latinx, and Asian cast members are in the spotlight — telling stories that really happened then, but are only getting Hollywood attention now.

When designing costumes for this more diverse Rydell High, costume designer Samantha Hawkins went deep into research on the styles and looks of subcultures in the ’50s, in order to provide authenticity to the fizzy teen musical’s world.

“Mexican-Americans, Japanese-Americans, they all existed [in spaces like Rydell High] at the time,” Hawkins told Awards Editor, Crafts and Animation Bill Desowitz at IndieWire’s Consider This Event on June 3. “It was just finding the photos of the time, and it’s a little bit harder and you have to go a little bit deeper. But it was a total honor to dress real greasers of the time who were a part of the Latinx community. They were the ones who started that look, and then it was popularized by James Dean … to dive into that research and get into the way they styled themselves, the way they rolled up their sleeves and wore those high-waisted pants, it was really amazing.”

Hawkins appeared at IndieWire’s spring Consider This Event at NeueHouse Hollywood with “Rise of the Pink Ladies” director and executive producer Alethea Jones, choreographer Jamal Sims, and hair department head Jaala Leis Wanless. In her interview with Desowitz, Hawkins further discussed some of the most memorable looks from the 10-episode musical series.

The first three episodes of “Rise of the Pink Ladies” featured costume designs from Angelina Kekich, before Hawkins joined the series ahead of its fourth episode. Hawkins wasn’t involved with some of the defining looks of the series, including the pink jackets that the members of the titular clique wear. But she still had a ton of opportunities to create outrageous looks, particularly for the character Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara), an aspiring fashion designer who wears, among other things, dresses with her face on them.

“Nancy I called my drag queen,” Hawskins told Desowitz. “Every look was on theme. You kind of have to suspend your disbelief a little bit because she knows the theme of the episode in a way. But every look she was in was taken to a campy degree, and we just went for it. Working with [series creator] Annabel [Oakes] and Alethea was amazing, because any time I had an idea they were like, ‘Go for it, and go farther!’”

Watch the complete interview with Hawkins above, and read more about the behind-the-scenes process of “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” here. Check out the other panels at IndieWire’s FYC — including for shows like “Yellowjackets,” “Wednesday,” “Beef,” “Stranger Things,” and “P-Valley” — here.

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