In the Curb Your Enthusiasm universe, there is nothing more iconic than those three opening notes of theme song “Frolic.” But if there was a runner up, it might be Larry David’s normcore style, which launched a micro-movement in 2014 with art kids taking inspiration from his mundanely anonymous look. Over the past 17 years—yes, it really has been that long—Curb Your Enthusiasm has been a unwaveringly anti-fashion show. But that doesn’t mean that clothes aren’t important in Curb. In fact, they’ve been the focal plot points of some of the HBO series’ most memorable episodes, from the pilot “Pants Tent” to “Chet’s Shirt,” “The Bracelet,” “The Bare Midriff”—the list goes on, including Larry's wig-and-mustache combo in last night's season premiere. That will continue to be the case as costume designer Leslie Schilling revealed to W. “It’s all about situational humor and a lot of situations happen in your daily life in your clothes,” the designer explains.
Like many of the other crew members, Schilling is new to the ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, as creator Larry David took six years in between the latest one and the last, without the promise of the show’s return. Her path to Curb came at the request of executive producer Jeff Schaffer, who she worked with on The League. “I went in and met Larry [David] last July and that was it,” she recalls. As daunting as it is to walk into a long-running series as a costume designer, Schilling found her own way to leave a mark on the show. “The show and the characters are pretty established,” she says. “The characters are who they are, but I did have a lot of great opportunities to come up with fun things throughout that will be in the story.”
That meant pushing Larry outside of his comfort zone, amplifying Susie Greene’s sensory-overload style, and updating everyone’s looks for 2017. “What we did is push it into this decade,” she says. We talked to Schilling about what’s in store, sartorially, for the cast, how much overlap there really is between the characters and actors—spoiler: there is a lot, clothing-wise—and what the inside of Larry David’s closet actually looks like.
What was your initial meeting with Larry like?
I’m a big fan, like a lot of people are. The show has been on since 2000 when I was in high school. So I was really nervous, and I don’t normally get nervous. But it was easy. I gave him my resume and he could care less. He just wanted to know that I’m a sane person who knows what I’m doing in my job. He said I had the job right there, which I wasn’t expecting.
How did you prepare? Did you re-watch old episodes?
I watched episodes and looked up a lot of the characters’ costumes, because Christina Mongini had done the previous four seasons and she’s on another show, so she wasn’t available this round. I looked at old costumes and took into consideration that it’s been six years since the show was on so styles have evolved, people change slightly. So we updated their looks to make it a bit more modern.
Within the Curb universe, do the characters and their sensibilities ever really change?
No, no. Everyone is who they are. That being said, Susie Essman is not Susie Greene. She’s the kindest woman in the world. They’re all just playing extreme versions of themselves so you know what you’re getting. They’re consistent.
Larry David has talked about how the characters on the show are just that—characters. How does the clothing lend itself to that idea? Is there much overlap between what people wear on the show and in real-life?
Well, Larry dresses like he dresses. I bought I’d say 90% of the clothes on the show. One of the weirdest things I’ve ever had to do was, before we started the show, go to Larry’s house and look in his closet. He likes what he likes to wear and writes down sizes and brands that he likes. He likes to be comfortable. When we established new costumes, we’d ask him, “What would Larry wear for this scene?” He’d have something in his room and say, “I don’t wear this making eggs.” He likes to feel like he would actually wear something like that in that moment.
Once we started, I went shopping and then pulled a few key pieces from his closet because he has some beautiful coats and nice suits. For the most part, he wears what he wears at home—and, at the end of the show, he took all the clothes home. He’s wearing them now in interviews like on Seth Meyers.
That’s too funny. What is the inside of Larry David’s closet like? Is it like opening a superhero’s closet where everything hanging is the same?
[Laughs.] Yeah. It’s all the same. It’s like grey, maybe blue or green tone sweaters. He loves James Perse t-shirts. All the colors you can get we bought for him. There are a couple of scenes where he had to dress outside of his comfort zone for this season but, for the most part, it’s like you said—all of the simple shoes lined up in a row. It was almost easier with the scenes where he wouldn’t normally wear the clothes because he wasn’t thinking to himself, “Would I be wearing this if I were checking the mail?” You’ll see throughout the season.
Were there any surprises inside his closet?
No. He had his Seinfeld jacket so that was exciting for me to look at, but he doesn’t wear it on the show.
Larry has become an unlikely fashion icon for his normcore style. Is he playing into it at this point? Is he even aware of it?
No. If I said normcore to him, or someone else said it, he would be so confused. [Laughs.] He would be like, “What? These are just my clothes.” That’s just who he is. It’s his style, or lack thereof. But he has nice taste. He only goes into really nice stores. So even though it looks like it’s nothing, it’s really a beautiful sweater from Saks Fifth Avenue. He doesn’t think of it as style. It’s just comfortable.
It does feel like Curb is intentionally anti-fashion. Will this season be challenging that idea?
I think so. All of these people and their style has changed since 2011. It’s definitely updated. Also in the beginning of the show, in the first couple of seasons, people were really just wearing their own clothes. It was very low budget. Now there’s more money to spend and, as far as the main characters go, we tried to step it up a bit and bring them into this decade, like making sure Larry’s pants are more of a modern cut than on the baggy side.
Who took the biggest style risks?
Susie always wants to go for it and make it as loud as possible, which is always really fun. She likes to make sure that each piece on its own would be fine but when the combination of them together is something awful. It’s funny because the actors can take home clothes at the end if they want and Susie was like, “I don’t want these clothes.” Maybe she’s wearing a cool top, but it will be with a terrible pair of pants, or vice-versa. She has a couple of special clothing moments this season. They are big scenes for her and she’s really dressing for them.
We did pull a couple of things from a storage room that had things from old seasons. We never used anything she’s worn before but we used things that were purchased before and never worn. But most of it was outdated.
Are there any plot points that revolve around clothing this season like there have been in the past, like Chet’s shirt?
There is definitely some big costume moments throughout. They are scripted things that are costume jokes. The show is improv so we’re just given an outline, but something will happen in a scene that we weren’t expecting so we have to stay on our toes with costuming and be like, “Now this clothing is part of the show.”
What kind of direction did you receive for the characters?
Larry makes the final decisions when it comes to what the characters are going to be wearing. When the outline would come out and there was a new character, I would go to him and ask him who he thought this character would. It’s helpful to have that because he has a vision of what the story is. In the trailer, Carrie Brownstein is in it and he was like, “I just want her to look plain, a plain Jane. No one cares about her.” That’s the costume direction. It’s not necessarily “she should be wearing this and this.” There’s not a lot of dialogue in the outline so you need a little bit of background on the characters—you don’t get as much as you would in a normal script. For Carrie, we shopped at J.C. Penny or Sears for elastic waist pants, that kind of stuff.
Is Richard Lewis an exception for the guests on the show as the only person who wears their own clothes?
Yeah, Richard and Bob Einstein who plays Marty always brought their own clothes. They're awesome. I would send them an email and say this is the scene, this is an idea of what you should be wearing. Like clockwork, every time, I’d get a phone call from both of them to go through the email and I’d make sure they’d have what they’re bringing in. There were a couple of storylines where Richard said, “I’d really like something like this for this scene. Can you take care of it?” But, except for a couple pieces, those two always wore their own clothes. Richard dresses in a very particular way with designer clothing. He really cares about fashion and clothing.
Has his look been updated? He’s always favored an ‘80s vibe.
It’s still the same. He’s in all black all the time. If anything, he’ll mix in a white shirt. But he has these classic designer pieces in his closet that are perfectly tailored for him, like an Alexander McQueen coat—and some he’s had since the ‘80s because they’re classic. It’s always fun to see what he’s bringing in.
Were there any clothing mishaps?
I sent Larry’s clothes home with him and we came back and shot a scene a few months later and Larry misplaced one of his jackets. So we had to make it where Larry changed within the episode because he couldn’t find his jacket and then it turned out it was at the drycleaner.
In the past, Larry has left the cast on a cliffhanger about whether or not there will be another season. Was the possibility of another season addressed at the end of this one?
It’s open-ended. People would be like “next season we’ll do this”—the producers would be like “next season we’ll do casting sooner”—but it’s just talk. There’s not for sure a next season. It’s a matter of if it works for everyone’s schedules. Everyone—Jeff Goldberg, Susan Essman Cheryl Hines—has their own stuff. It’s all about the timing of getting everyone together. I’m sure everyone would want to do it again.