meet the costume designer behind the nanny named fran
We head behind the scenes of 'The Nanny' with the woman responsible for Miss Fine’s decade defining style.
Before Carrie Bradshaw demonstrated an unnatural ability to stretch a normal salary to cover a high fashion wardrobe, Fran Fine showed us how much Moschino could be procured on a nanny's budget. While she was known as a svengali of the sale rack, who famously never shopped retail, she also had a secret weapon — Brenda Cooper. The show's Emmy winning costume designer was responsible for the hundreds of iconic looks currently flooding your Instagram explore page.
Cooper originally met Fran Drescher through work on an earlier show. The two hit it off and the future Miss Fine promised that if she ever got her own star-vehicle, she'd bring the young stylist with her. A year later, the Nanny came to life, and Drescher kept her promise. Over six seasons of The Nanny, the two would create a style legacy that is still drawing in new fans. Loading up on statement pieces from Marc Jacobs, Azzedine Alaia, Todd Oldham, Anna Sui and Dolce & Gabbana, the show has survived as a colourful fashion time capsule to the decade's best trends. We called up Cooper to hear about how our favourite looks came to be, and understand the science behind her signature Fran Fine Formula.
The line between Fran Fine and Fran Drescher was purposely so blurred, was the visual characterisation built around her?
No it wasn't actually. My first official job as a designer was with Fran, we had a great relationship and she just let me do what I wanted, which is very unusual. She just put it in my hands and I absolutely knew, right from the get go, that I wanted to make a statement of style. I guess I did.
You absolutely did. Who were your references then?
Honestly, I work very organically and very intuitively. I love fashion, Fran loves fashion, we love style, so it evolved without really thinking about it. I had a garment I'd taken off the show that I'd worked on recently, a Moschino vest, I looked at it and I thought, this is something that I want to do. I love colour and I love boldness, and that vest was the inspiration for the whole show: it was sexy, it was sassy. I wanted to push the envelope but keep it stylish.
I remember that vest so well. There are a lot of images now with a picture Fran next to a shot of Kate Moss or Linda Evangelista wearing the same looks. Were you very engaged with the fashion community in the 90s?
I have to be honest, I didn't really follow anything at the time. I just know what I like, and then I do what I like. [Working on the show] I was in Beverly Hills and I did have a budget, so I'd go shopping and see pieces that were incredible — but I never actually looked to anybody to create the style. Back then, in my eyes, people didn't really treat fashion and style with the importance it deserved. But I thought, well, I've got this job, I am going to make a statement here. I'm going to show that fashion and style is important and can make a big impact.
There are big names that appear again and again — Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Anna Sui — did you work directly with designer?
There was a designer I loved, Todd Oldham, so Todd was an inspiration and I worked closely with him and he'd lend us stuff. But most of the time, I was actually going into Beverly Hills and buying all of those pieces. Back then it was different: TV moves so fast I needed stuff immediately. I was doing like 70 outfits a week — I was in charge of crazy Fran's looks, but I was also doing the whole show — you don't have time to get in touch with designers. I used to go into all the department stores and just go through the racks. Back then Dolce & Gabbana had so much personality, all the clothing with fruit on it, there was so much colour and so much fun, their clothes made that bold sassy stylish statement but with a sense of humour and a sense of wit.
It sounds like the most dreamy job in existence. You won an Emmy for the show, but it feels like the cult following has really bloomed online. How have you found this new wave of interest?
I love it! When I created the show I wanted it to transcend the test of time. Now I've gotten on with my life and career and had kids part of me hasn't paid attention to it. I've come back into it in the last year or so. I'm absolutely passionate about fashion and creating looks and statements of style with a sense of humour. I love all the little girls that love it and the teenagers. I still have friends come over who want me to dress them as The Nanny. It's very touching and heartfelt. I've seen a lot of comments online where people tell these stories of their lives, saying the show and her look, her boldness, helped them through difficult times. That for me is like, wow. People say that image is superficial but I think it's very powerful. It can make a huge impact on the way we feel, behave and are perceived.
Do you have a favourite look that stands out to you as quintessentially Fran?
Absolutely, there was a formula, the Fran Fine formula. It was a black pencil skirt, black turtleneck, black suede high heel stilettos and then I would put a vest. Vests were huge I've still got a whole bunch of them here. I always say that Fran and I were a style team from heaven. I worked with her every Wednesday afternoon, we would do a fitting and I would have racks of clothing to try on. I would pull pieces apart, take sleeve from this and add it to that, piece things together. Not one garment ever came off the rack and went onto the screen without us adding an alteration or embellishment. It was a team effort, she trusted me and it was easy and effortless, it was the most fun job ever!
Text Wendy Syfret
Behind the scenes Polaroids courtesy of Brenda Cooper