Emmy-nominated 'Black-ish' costume designer tackles social issues with style

Michelle R. Cole incorporates current events into her styling, but keeps one golden rule in mind: Make the characters look good.

ByAndrea Lans OTRC logo
Thursday, August 13, 2020
'Black-ish' designer tackles social issues with style
"Black-ish" costume designer Michelle R. Cole sat down with On The Red Carpet to talk about the Emmy-nominated wardrobe from the "Hair Day" episode and post-pandemic production protocols.

"Black-ish" has gained a reputation for addressing social issues through the lens of comedy.

In addition to the writing and acting, elements such as wardrobe and styling also play a huge role in bringing Black culture to life. The "Hair Day" episode is Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes and Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling. The musical episode from the sixth season covers the complexity and beauty of Black hair.

"Despite what the world tells us, all Black hair is beautiful. Truly," Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) tells her daughter Diane (Marsai Martin) before heading to the salon.

"Hair Day" marks costume designer Michelle R. Cole's third Emmy nomination for "Black-ish" and seventh overall. Cole previously received four Emmy nominations for her work on the groundbreaking television show "In Living Color."

Having designed for "Black-ish" since its pilot episode, Cole loves bringing vibrant designs to life on screen to help tell the characters' stories.

"We hit a lot of good topics on that show and when we're doing the costumes we try to fit in with what's happening, or whatever social issues that they're attacking. [But] they still look great as characters," Cole said.

The costume designer also works on "Grown-ish" and "#BlackAF," where "Black-ish" creator Kenya Barris plays a fictionalized version of himself. While Cole couldn't pick just one cast member to take the cake for having the best fashion sense, she did reveal that Ross is the most involved in choosing her wardrobe.

Cole is now back to work with extensive safety protocols, which include consistent COVID-19 testing, wearing masks, conducting fittings outside, staying within designated zones on set and even setting the wardrobe aside for a quarantine period before and after filming.

"They're doing the measures. It's intense because everybody's trying to keep everybody safe," Cole said.

Despite the new limitations on filming, Cole is confident fans will still be impressed when the show returns with its seventh season.

"People like to get away for awhile and that's what comedy does," Cole said.

See also: ABC unveils 2020-2021 primetime schedule

The Creative Arts Emmys will stream virtual ceremonies at Emmys.com from Sept. 14-17. The live broadcast ceremony will air Saturday, Sept. 19 on FXX.

Tune in to the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards airing Sunday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. ET | 7 p.m. CT | 5 p.m. PT on ABC.