It’s the early 1950s — and society thinks women like Brie Larson’s character Elizabeth Zott belong at home and not in a science laboratory.
Apple TV+’s “Lessons in Chemistry” follows Elizabeth, who dreams of being a chemist, but the world has other plans. Rather than listen to any of her ideas, the men at the Hastings Research Institute where she works believe she needs to smile more.
Costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier wanted to portray Elizabeth’s growth and journey from lab tech to eventual cooking show host of “Supper at Six,” showing a young woman with passion and drive, a woman who didn’t conform. She picked green as Elizabeth’s signature color.
The first time audiences see Elizabeth is at the top of the premiere episode in a flash-forward. In a long-shot take, Elizabeth enters the TV studio and the camera follows her in. “That’s her signature green. I wanted to make that color iconic from the beginning. I also made sure the back was interesting with buttons down the back, a V-shaped neck and she’s wearing cigarette pants,” says Gordon-Crozier. “She puts on her lab coat with matching royal green silk piping – and that color is carried throughout.”
While Elizabeth is at the Hastings lab, Gordon-Crozier used dusty muted tones. “I used teal, salmon pink and down-to-earth colors that had a certain brightness whenever light shone on them.” She adds, “I don’t really use much pink on her because she’s not much of a pastel gal.”
At the lab, Elizabeth has to attend a work beauty pageant. The secretaries are dressed to impress. “They are dressed to meet a husband, and work for them is an interim solution until they become a husband,” explains Gordon-Crozier. “So, the beauty contest was autumnal-themed. They’re really looking forward to this every year, and they match a lot. It’s unprofessional and they had to do it in this work setting which is why Elizabeth dislikes it. So, she just wears what she has in her closet. It’s simple, not sexy and not revealing.”
When Elizabeth is caught off guard and falls in love with Calvin (Lewis Pullman), Gordon-Crozier softens her look a bit. “She starts wearing beige and cream colors. When she’s in Hastings, she wears this beautiful linen circle skirt and a cream top to show she cares more about her appearance.”
As the show evolves, Gordon-Crozier has fun with Larson’s lab coats. ”She cooks in a lab coat because she considers an apron to be silly. The lab coat covers more surface areas and it has pockets,” Gordon-Crozier says. “We start doing a couture situation where every episode is a different lab coat. She starts to have fun with it and isn’t so oppressed by her fashion.”
Elsewhere, Gordon-Crozier picked warm fabrics such as linens and twills for Elizabeth’s wardrobe. “Knitwear was really important because it added texture and depth to her costumes.”
Showing that Elizabeth’s mind was on her work more than her clothes, she would simply piecemeal things together, unlike other women who matched shoes, gloves and bags.
As for her inspiration? Everything from Sears catalogs to the eternally glamorous silhouettes of Grace Kelly. Says Gordon-Crozier, “She has her hair in berets and out of her face. As she goes to ‘Supper at Six,’ she crops it a bit and gets up to date.”