Jeriana San Juan on Her Emmy-Nominated Costume Design For ‘Halston’

Michaela Vargas Caro interviews Cuban-American designer Jeriana San Juan for Remezcla:

The 1970s was a formative decade for American luxury designers who began to revolutionize fashion. It was the first time American garment designs created an iconic fingerprint, which impressed the industry with its relaxed silhouettes and ready-to-wear aesthetics compared to the more habitually copied French & European haute couture styles. 

Many of today’s Fifth Avenue moguls were at the precipice of becoming household names, including Roy Halston Frowick — known as the mononymous Halston, one of the foremost visionary designers of the time. In May, Netflix debuted a limited miniseries to depict the personal story, rise to fame, and legacy of the late mid-western born and raised designer and his significant contribution to the essence of American fashion that persists today. Alongside Halston, played by Ewan McGregor, the series features his entourage of larger-than-life celebrities, socialites, and models, such as singer Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez), artist Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez), model Elsa Peretti (Rebecca Dayan), and illustrator Joe Eula (David Pittu). They were muses for Halston’s archival creations of kaftans, halter gowns, Ultrasuede coats, and other pioneering styles in the biopic. [. . .]

[. . .] Cuban-American tv and film costume designer, Jeriana San Juan, was selected with the unique opportunity to bring Halston and the revolving cast of characters to life through the wardrobe. San Juan’s journey to costume design began when she learned to make clothes with her Cuban grandmother at their kitchen table in Miami. Later, she earned a fashion design degree from FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York City. With her hands-on experience and aesthetic knowledge, she is well versed in the visual language of garment design that was translated through Halston’s character. Additionally, San Juan’s costume expertise from her impressive roster of work in other well-renowned tv shows positioned her as the perfect fit to recreate and interpret the stylistic world of Halston on-screen, making the series an enthralling visual treat to watch. 

We spoke with San Juan — who is now nominated for Outstanding Period Costumes in the 2021 Emmys — to gain insight into her process for dressing the Halston biopic, her costume design career in the tv and film industry, and advice for Latines interested in pursuing costume design.  [. . .]

It was great to see two Latinx actors that played leading roles as Victor Hugo and Liza Minelli in Halston. Lately, there’s been more awareness to diversify TV and film, and Latinx folks are among the demographic that are underrepresented in the industry. I imagine that’s also true behind the scenes. I was wondering what your experience has been?

For me, the whole concept of diversifying behind the scenes is still far less prevalent because people don’t often do that much homework about who’s behind the scenes in a show. I haven’t felt that much of a shift in my time in the industry. I’ve always found myself never seeing anyone who looked like me in this field and who did this job in which I could look up to, that was a Latinx costume designer, that I knew first hand or could have a close relationship to be a mentor for me. Representation matters and it means a lot when the cast is diverse and has Latinx representation as well, but I think it means just as much to have that behind the scenes.

Seeing how Latinx representation behind the scenes is also few and far between, especially in costume design, how does it feel to be at the forefront of being a part of representation in that space for others? 

I’m very proud to be part of that movement. I’m very proud that I have Latin heritage, come from a Cuban family, and that my first language was Spanish. To me, every marker of success that I’ve attained I completely credit to my family. I think there’s a lot of my own success that I attribute to the fact that the road was never as paved for me, so I had to fight even harder, and I think that’s something I now turned into a positive attribute since things weren’t as available to me.

The Latinx parts of myself used to be the parts I tried to hide because it was always about blending, and “I’ll succeed when I’ve blended with everyone else, and I’m not too ‘Spanish‘ so they’re not scared of that element of me.” It’s a weird existence to live in because I think many Latinx people can identify with that. It’s important to draw from all of those different experiences and have a diverse experience of culture and life because it all comes into the work. There are parts of my work, even for Halston, that my Cuban grandmother directly influenced, so it’s just a matter of putting everything that you have, the experience, the culture together and using your vessel to express it all. [. . .]

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