By Stacy Ellen Rich | December 4, 2023
Bringing Avant Garde To The Office
The Other Black Girl (Hulu) was presented to costume designer Kairo Courts as an office show. That term screams the usual suits and skirts, but in this office, the looks are anything but mundane. Mystery and plot twists shake up the status quo and ring in the avant-garde.
Coincidentally, Courts started off in publishing, at Honey magazine. She reminisces, “I remember the marketing and fashion folks were very fashionable. Everyone else in the editorial section looked just like Wagner.”
The storyline follows Nella Rogers (Sinclair Daniel), an eager editor’s assistant, who is climbing the ranks at Wagner Books, helmed by the powerful yet nonchalant CEO, Richard Wagner (Eric McCormack). As the only Black woman, Nella is frustrated with the glaring lack of color in this world. That is, until Hazel-May McCall (Ashleigh Murray) enters the scene as a new assistant whose presence and aesthetics are meant to dazzle and deceive.
To set up the world, Courts commenced with the palette of the office in subtle and muted colorways. Initially, Nella is trying to be “wallpaper” and not quite succeeding. Her closet mirrors facets of other characters. She may try to be a little more like her boss, Vera (Bellamy Young), and then like her street-style bestie, Malaika (Brittany Adebumola). As we move through the plot, Nella’s color story flourishes with poppy colors as she and Hazel become friends.
Color also tells a secret as Courts uses pink as a throughway. “We had this brilliant idea to present pink as a warning. In the world today, pink is pretty and soft. In our world pink takes on the opposite. If anybody is wearing pink, it is to make the viewer pay attention.” Courts scouted a beautiful pink mud cloth in an African shop in Atlanta and thought it to die for. She purchased all the yardage. At the time, she had no clue where she would use it. When Hazel hosts a hair party, she’s wearing the pink mud cloth in drop-crotch pants with a kimono. The design tapped the tale of pink as harbinger and vitalized a favorite look. Diana Gordon (Garcelle Beavais) floats through a scene draped in a silk peignoir ensemble by Fe Noel that emanates pure Diahann Carroll glamor.
Courts talks a bit about her top looks. “Each character’s look was meticulously thought out. Crafting Nella’s timid, unsure-of-herself style versus Hazel’s unpredictable, funky costumes allowed me to play in what felt like a street-style Barbie’s closet against grounded and familiar office attire.” Conversely, longtime Will and Grace alum Eric McCormack said, “I do not want to look like Will!” It took a lot of rounds to get it right. The initial concept was funky plaids like he was coming off the golf course, but McCormack suggested, “I don’t think that’s quite right. I think he’s quirky, fashionable, and a little laid back.” The team put that insight to good use and hit the nail on the proverbial head. And then came the pants. In the finale, a certain pair of showstopping trousers by Awake Mode created a buzz on social media.
The costume design is a glorious slow burn with fashion explosions set on high. Courts was thrilled to highlight quite a few Black designers including Andrea Iyamah, Diarrablu, Johnny Nelson Jewelry, Kahlana Barfield, and Sammy B. Courts says, “I always say I stand on the shoulders of my team because they are the ones that push me forward.”