Awards Radar had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer May Nickel, the costume designer for Gotham Knights, about the amazing work she did bringing the comics to life and paying homage to past Gothams through her designs.
In the wake of Bruce Wayne’s murder, Gotham Knights follows Bruce Wayne’s adopted son as he aligns with the children of Batman’s enemies. The series stars Oscar Morgan, Olivia Rose Keegan, and Shanita Wilburn.
In this interview, we cover the many Easter Eggs scattered throughout the season’s costumes, Jennifer’s love for the lesser-known DC characters, and how she created a visual style that is both faithful to the comics and timeless in its approach.
Can you please share with us your background and how it led to you working on Gotham Knights?
Jennifer May Nickel: As most jobs in the entertainment business come, it was by word of mouth. Jeff Hunt was the producing director on Legacies, and was up for the same role on Gotham Knights. Before he even interviewed or landed the job, he recommended me to the Gotham Knights Showrunners. I’m very lucky to have worked with a lot of supportive producers throughout my career, and am so glad that Jeff and I got to work on these last two shows together.
In what ways are the costumes you designed similar to the comics, and how are they different?
JMN: For the most part, the costumes are designed in similar color schemes to those in the comics, while the details of the costumes are unique to our show. For example, Arthur Brown in the comics has his supervillain costume with burgundy, gold, and a teal-ish blue, and one of its main elements is a protective vest. For our show, we kept that color scheme in his episode 108 costume, but the vest evolved into a burgundy quilted velvet double-breasted vest with gold buttons. He wore a gold/mustard toned shirt and a blue brocade pant. In the comics, he often wears a neckerchief, and for our iteration we translated it into fun ascots. He’s flamboyant, brilliant, and deeply narcissistic; we wanted to show his egregious nature to the audience the moment he comes on screen.
What are some of the Easter eggs viewers may find within the costumes?
JMN: They are sprinkled in with every character, but Harper Row has a few great ones that I haven’t mentioned before throughout the season. At the beginning of the season, we were able to do one costume change that was a full “ripped from the comics” costume where she’s wearing a red plaid shirt, navy shirt, and jeans. We’ve been adding blue bird hints to all of her clothes and accessories throughout the season, and in episode 111, she’s wearing a work shirt for Duquesne Mechanics. The work shirt was extra special because it was Fallon’s (Harper) grandfather’s shirt that we made the patch for. He’d been an inspiration throughout Fallon’s life, and she saw a lot of Harper’s character in him. It was a perfect way to pay tribute to him, and the comics all at the same time. My favorite easter egg of all was for Duela in episode 109. She’s wearing a coat rigged with grenades, much like her father, the Joker (in the movie The Dark Knight). A few months earlier, I had been fabric shopping for the Talon, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the same fabric used for Heath Ledger’s Joker shirt. It was the raw, undyed fabric. I immediately texted the showrunners and co-creator that I didn’t know where we would use the fabric, but we had to use it somewhere for Duela. When I got the script for 109 and read about the grenade gag, I knew we had to use the fabric to line her jacket. It was our little love letter to Heath, and also the amazing costume designed by Lindy Hemming.
How do you determine personal styles for each character?
JMN: First and foremost, it comes from the writers. Their words inform and plant the seeds of each character’s style. Our showrunners and co-creator were fantastic to work with because they had specific ideas of what they wanted, and didn’t want, and were able to clearly convey those ideas from the get go. We let the comics be used as an inspiration point, but not a rule book. Once the actors started to come in, we further collaborated with them to hone in and solidify the finer details of each person’s individuality. Getting to the core of each character’s psychology defined what their rationale was for their costumes. Harper and Carrie are form and function characters, wanting what is practical and efficient. Turner’s whole world has been uprooted; he considers clothing a comfort blanket to feel steady and secure. Harvey has an alter ego that’s slowly been chipping away at his reality, and the duality of his mind comes into play in his clothing–two patterns playing against each other, or working together, accessories that have dual elements, and ties that have intricate knots and display who just might be in control on a particular day.
What was your biggest challenge?
JMN: Our biggest challenge is always time, but that is the nature of television. Where many shows have 7-8 prep days between episodes, we often only had between 4-7 because we were often filming two episodes at once on separate stages or locations. Doubling up episodes definitely gave this project an extra level of challenge because so many of our costumes were custom-made, and if not custom-made, they were heavily tailored and customized. We also had a lot of specialty costumes, as we were in Gotham’s superhero world.
What was the collaboration process like on this project?
JMN: This was one of the most seamlessly collaborative shows that I have worked on. From the top down, the showrunners, James Stoteraux and Chad Fiveash created a fantastic environment for collaboration and it made for a really great show we’re all proud of. It created an energy that carried through the different departments and had us all wanting to work hard to make the best show possible.
What are some of your favorite designs that you created for Gotham Knights?
JMN: Since they haven’t aired yet, all I can safely say is the majority of them are in Episodes 112 & 113. And there are MANY. But getting to design Robin & Talon have been two of my favorites. I got to design them from the ground up, including the Talon being custom made. For Robin, halfway through the season I even got to design new goggles for her, which was a special treat for me. And how could I not love designing Harvey Dent? But altogether, Duela and Rebecca March have been two of my favorites because of the range we got to do for their characters.
Which of the lesser-known DC characters were most fun for you to design for?
JMN: It’s a long list! Stephanie Brown, Harper and Cullen Row, Joe Chill, Arthur Brown, Dr. Chase Meridian, and everyone’s favorite character to love to hate, Lincoln March. They all have such a rich history in the comics (and for Dr. Meridian, originally from Batman Forever). We got to run the gamut of costumes from the Rows, the scrappy, from the streets, kids of Gotham, to Lincoln, political and always sharply dressed whether in a bespoke double breasted suit, stellar tuxedos, or his at-home recovery silk loungewear. It was especially fun getting to reimagine Dr. Chase Meridian too. Given our Gotham is a timeless one, we’ve had fun mixing in elements of different periods throughout the costumes. When thinking about Dr. Meridian, I was inspired by Bianca Jagger. While most know Bianca either for being married to Mick Jagger, or being Halston’s muse, she’s also a prolific human right’s advocate. She’s someone who cares deeply for others, carries herself with an ease of confidence, and has a classic sense of style – exactly how I’d been thinking of Dr. Meridian. Meridian’s costumes have interesting twists on the usual power suit, making them more unique to her as a psychiatrist, and our Gotham. I love getting into the psychology of characters, and it’s even more fun to get into that of a psychiatrist.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
JMN: I couldn’t have done any of this without the work of my amazing crew. They constantly brought their A-game to help create these costumes throughout the season. Given the time constraints, and double up days of filming, we were all fatigued and lacking sleep, but they always showed up for me with talent, dedication, and love for the work we were doing. I am forever grateful for them and proud of what we achieved this season.