Costume designer Lou Eyrich has created many of the iconic looks seen on Ryan Murphy’s hit television shows – from Glee to American Horror Story to the mini-series Feud: Bette And Joan. Today the three-time Emmy Award winner is herself a cult figure – with an online following to rival that of Patricia Field. She even set a witchy fashion trend with American Horror Story: Coven. “I’m completely oblivious to that!” a modest Eyrich insists from New York, where she’s prepping Murphy’s new ’80s drama, Pose.
The Minnesotan owes her Hollywood career to rock royalty – kinda. Eyrich was Prince’s dresser on the 1990 movie Graffiti Bridge. As writer, director and star, Prince conceived the idiosyncratic flick as a sequel to Purple Rain – shooting it at Paisley Park. Eyrich was “so new” as to go with the flow. “I didn’t know what to compare it to,” she says. “So, to me, it just seemed normal.” Eyrich would tour with Prince for three years – accompanying him to Australia in 1992, circa Diamonds And Pearls. “He was very, very creative – and he really knew what he wanted,” she recalls. “To me, he was a musical genius.” Yet, ultimately, Eyrich was more interested in costuming than styling – and so this self-trained designer turned to Hollywood. “I like reading a script, seeing it on the page, and then creating characters – that’s what I love.”
Fast forward to the late ’90s and Eyrich scored her inaugural TV gig on The WB’s teen comic melodrama Popular – screenwriter Murphy its co-creator. “I remember the very first time in a meeting, in a boardroom, a production meeting, and he was talking. I was like, ‘Who is this man? He’s really gonna be something someday!'” Eyrich has since worked on other Murphy franchises – including Nip/Tuck, Glee and Scream Queens. However, her name is indelibly, and invariably, linked to American Horror Story. Launching on FX in 2011, the postmodern horror show has met with critical acclaim while engendering an intense fandom. (It’s well represented at Australian pop culture cons.)
Murphy is known for his meticulousness as a showrunner. “He has such a strong vision when we start a new project of what he wants and for the characters and the tone of the show,” Eyrich notes. After Murphy explains his concept, she assembles tone boards. “Usually, it’s pretty much spot-on with what he was thinking.”
American Horror Story is an anthology series with a repertory cast – each season having its own narrative, characters and aesthetic. Eyrich deems ‘Asylum’ the most personally inspiring. “That was probably my most favourite season to work on for a long time because I just loved the psychological thriller – and it was really great storytelling.” The most challenging? “Season 4 of the show [‘Freak Show’] was the hardest to work on, the most challenging, and probably not my favourite,” she reveals. Indeed, because that cycle centred on “a very sad, dusty old freak show” in ’50s Florida, Eyrich had to age the performers’ costumes. And she needed to consider “different”, and non-conforming, body-types – “a wonderful challenge”.
Eyrich liaises closely with the show’s stars. “I very much love to collaborate with actors. I like to help them find their character, but also they can bring things to me that I wouldn’t have thought of about their character.” Initially, she will share the tone boards with cast members. “Once in a while, we’ll start the fitting and it’s just not working and we’re not feeling it. So I’ll send them home and we will repool and reshop and then start anew.” Eyrich has had extensive exchanges with Jessica Lange – a fellow Minnesotan, silver-screen legend, and Oscar winner. Lange appeared in the first four seasons of American Horror Story (and in Feud). “She is so easy with fittings. She usually, of course, has studied the script… Actually, she’s very collaborative. She really wants to hear what Ryan wants and what Ryan’s thinking about the character. Then, again, we really go through the research boards. Once she sees that, she understands what Ryan has in mind and then we go from there. But it’s always been a pleasure – I enjoy her so much. We laugh a lot and listen to old tunes. She likes short fittings – you know, just get it done! [There’s] no drama with Jessica.”
American Horror Story requires costumes both period and contemporary, often even within the same season – but always on budget. Eyrich does shop online but, being “very tactile”, she also raids vintage stores and fairs. Some costumes are “custom-made” – such as those worn by the lost 16th century English colonists depicted in last year’s era-shifting ‘Roanoke’.
Though costume design is perceived as glamorous, there are downsides. What does Eyrich dread? “The early mornings!” she laughs. “The early morning calls – getting up at 4.30 in the morning to be on set – and the long days. It’s never under 12 [hours] – and it’s usually 14 or 15. That’s what I dread the most. I also don’t like having to shoot in the rain, because the costumes are gonna get ruined, or it’s so much work trying to keep them dry and warm.”
Eyrich’s costumes were the subject of a June exhibition, American Horror Story: The Style Of Scare, in Los Angeles. The media have their picks. In ‘Freak Show’, Lange’s German troupe leader Elsa Mars paraded a David Bowie-referencing sky-blue pantsuit. Then, for ‘Hotel’, Lady Gaga’s vampiric Elizabeth Johnson, aka The Countess, donned a striking Michael Costello fuchsia couture gown with her Swarovski-studded leather glove. But Eyrich especially adored dressing ‘Coven”s Myrtle Snow – the stylish, Grace Coddington doppelgänger witch who shrilled “Balenciaga!” as she burnt on a stake, ironically in a scarlet Carolina Herrera dress. “Frances Conroy had that big red wig on and, no matter what we put on her, she looked good,” she says.
This year Eyrich received another Emmy nom for her design on the introductory instalment of Murphy’s latest buzz anthology, Feud – Bette And Joan dramatising the competition between Hollywood divas Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Lange). Eyrich is unsure how involved she’ll be in 2018’s Charles And Diana. “I’ve kinda moved into a new position where I’m just overseeing the shows – where I start them out, get them going, and then I move onto the next one.” (She only supervised the current American Horror Story arc, ‘Cult’.)
American Horror Story has consistently provided cosplay inspo for Halloween. (The premiere season, ‘Murder House’, actually had a two-part episode entitled “Halloween”.) By way of easy DIY, Eyrich recommends ‘Asylum”s serial killer Bloody Face with his gory mask. Alas, she won’t be dressing up. “I don’t do Halloween!,” Eyrich admits. “I really don’t like Halloween. But I go every once and a while to parties… I spend every day, all day, coming up with clever ideas for costumes, so I just don’t wanna do it then for fun. It’s not fun for me to come up with something to wear to a party. I enjoy looking at everybody else’s ideas – and everybody’s costumes, I love. I love going to a big Halloween party. Our head makeup designer [Eryn Krueger Mekash] always throws a huge Halloween bash and people go all-out for these parties and there are some amazing costumes. So I do enjoy going to watch everybody else – but I’ll sit in the corner and have a cocktail and watch everybody. That’s my fun Halloween!”
‘American Horror Story: Roanoke’ is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.