A native of Guam, “P-Valley” costume designer Alita Bailey has always had an affinity for style and fashion. Learning to sew at a young age, she occasionally created looks for fellow creatives. A move to Los Angeles after a year attending the University of Guam led her to further delve into the world of fashion.
Following stints at Spike Lee‘s Joint West and Smashbox Studios, Bailey began assisting her sister Rita Bailey McGhee on various costume design projects. The number of jobs coming their way changed considerably following McGhee’s Emmy Award nomination for her role as an “Empire” costumer designer. Following work on “The New Edition Story” series, the sisters were tapped to work on “P-Valley,” a story adapted by Katori Hall from the 2015 play “Pussy Valley.”
With her sister taking on other projects, Bailey assumed the role of head designer for the second season of “P-Valley,” which is currently airing on Hulu’s Starz network.
Check our exchange with Bailey below, who lets us in on what it takes to be a successful costume designer and how season two’s costumes and storyline depart from season one.
Snobette: What led you to pursue a career in costume design?
Alita Bailey: “I’ve always loved fashion and learned how to sew at a really young age. I’m originally from Guam, where I lived until my first year of college at the University of Guam. When I moved to the states my sister Rita Bailey McGee was working on the first season of “Martin.” While I started school in L.A., I was working at Spike Lee’s West Joint and Smashbox studios. During that time Rita was also working on music videos and that’s when I started assisting.”
Snobette: How did the P-Valley project come about?
Alita Bailey: “When Rita was nominated for an Emmy for her work on “Empire,” that was big. After we worked together on the “New Edition Story” series, she got a call to interview with Kotori Hall, the creator of P-Valley. We read the script, did a lot of research and then came up with the concept. When we spoke with Katori, we learned that it took her about eight years to bring the series to life. Part of the interview process was providing a timeline on how long it would take to complete the work and how much staff we needed. Katori loved our concept and we started to prep in Los Angeles.”
Snobette: Did you anticipate the success of the series?
Alita Bailey: “With every project we work on we always give glory to god. We’re very passionate about what we do. I always like to say that love is in the details. We’re working with the most incredible, talented and amazing cast. The dedication was palpable and we knew we were part of something special.
“The stories of strippers have never been told this way. Especially having a woman telling women’s stories. Knowing how harsh and judgmental the world is of strippers and non-binary people like Uncle Clifford (Nico Annan), these stories have never been told in this way. We definitely felt how powerful ‘P-Valley’ was going to be.”
Snobette” In Season 2 Episode 201, Mercedes who is played by Brandee Evans has sparklers in her heels. Where do elements like that come from? Are they part of the script?
Alita Bailey: “In season two, I took the lead on costume design because Rita was working on another project. The sparklers came from Katori’s precise attention to detail. I know ahead of time what the setup is going to be performance-wise and I will design accordingly.
“When I have my costume meetings with Katori, she will specify what she wants as a ‘build’ in other words, made and designed custom. For example, for Uncle Clifford’s Crown Royal cape, I sketched about 10 different options before the final approval. It took about 153 Crown Royal bags just to create the fabric of the Crown Royal cape, and then we added the fur. Then we had to look at the reflective elements and how they looked in the scene.”
“For season two, Katori was very interested in having more custom looks. Uncle Clifford’s red corset in episode 202 and his green look in episode 201 are some examples. In these two episodes alone we created 80 percent of the looks and shopped for the rest.”
Snobette: How did you translate the look and feel of The Pynk given it was located in a small southern town strip club rather than a large city?
Alita Bailey: “Yes, we definitely have to be specific, thankfully Katori is very descriptive. Early on when I moved to L.A., I was dancing with Fatima Robinson, so that has helped me understand what a dancer needs. We do also a lot of research by going to lots of club. That has allowed us to differentiate what type of floss or stripper costume a Magic City dancer from Atlanta would wear as opposed to a dancer in Chucalissa, Mississippi.
“Some of the dancers on the show also dance in the clubs and thanks to them we also get tips on the swagger, style and vernacular as well as the difference of movement when a dancer wears a six-inch heel versus a seven or eight-inch heel.
Snobette: Will there be a big distinction in style from season one to season two that we will notice?Alita Bailey: “I think there will be more of an arc around the characters and where they’re going personally. From a design perspective, there was much more custom work and more performance scenes. In season one we saw more of the city of Chucalissa and the performances were more spaced out. In the first five episodes of season two you will notice that there’s a lot more performances.”
Snobette: Beyond your technical and creative skills, what’s a quality you possess that’s enabled you to excel?
Alita Bailey: “I would say having a make it happen attitude. Starting from the mindset that nothing is impossible and being dedicated. I like to take every experience I have on the job and do them with joy, because I’m solution based. Things change quickly on set. Oftentimes the easy way to deal would be to just say no, but I’ve learned to push through even if I have to do something myself.
“Being collaborative is very important, and mostly not taking things personally. With these costumes, I’m creating a character. So if you come in, and you’re like, ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,’ my heart’s not hurt. It’s about a conversation. Talking about what the approach is, from the characters perspective and being okay with having to change a direction. I always say that challenges make champions.”