“Power Book ll: Ghost – S3” Secrets & Designer Looks of Frank L. Fleming and Trenton Dallas
The Power Book universe on Starz has fashionistas salivating. If you’ve not caught any of the shows that create franchises from 50 Cent’s hit: Power, be assured the fashion impact is like Sex and the City for anyone with a fashion gene, particularly for the young, and what’s even more refreshing, it’s a blueprint for men’s fashion.
Tariq St. Patrick (Michael Rainey Jr) is caught in a life of crime as he aspires to be the antitheses of everything corrupt. His clothing choices are fed by the wealthy youth of the private college he attends, but also by street flair, as he rubs up against the best in both worlds. His choices combine an understated style fed by the best designers, mixing and matching silhouettes and brands like Thom Browne, Louis Vuitton, and Givenchy – to name just a few.
His wardrobe pieces become ‘must have’ items amongst Power Book II: Ghost’s millions of fans. Since Tariq’s looks are created from the previous season’s collections, by the time an episode hits the screens, an item can sell out in minutes. Tariq and his cronies on Power Book II: Ghost S3 have become aspirational figures for anyone wanting to look fly.
But it’s not a case of hanging designer labels on actors. Each character has their own sensibility. We like how items get reused, and you see the evolution of style and time as growth and influence occur.
We caught up with costume designer Frank L. Fleming, (Monsters Ball, A Man Called Otto,) who heads up the Costume Design Department of Power Book IV: Force, Power Book III: Raising Kanan and Power Book II: Ghost. The latter is the focus of our Fashion Gallery. He is also a Producer. Trenton Dallas is the show’s costume supervisor and Co-Costume Designer, who hails from Harlem and Connecticut.
They took us into a corner of the costume area via Zoom to talk early influences, their secrets of a successful costume designer, and their surprise that the big labels aren’t offering up their latest threads to be showcased on the fashion must-see show.
One of Fleming’s early breaks came through costume designer Ruth E. Carter, the only Black woman to win two Oscars in any category. “I think my organization and the way I work comes from being one of Ruth Carter’s pupils,” he immediately intoned, before giving a breakdown of every garment in the gallery – you’ll want to flip through and see the wardrobe through new eyes.
What strikes the viewer is that it’s not only the beauty of the clothing, but how a costume lends itself to a character. You are creating the costumes for many series, how do you give each series its own individual feel?
Frank L. Fleming: When I was first interviewed for Power, I was introduced to Courtney A. Kemp (the creator of the Power Universe), it was important to me that there was representation of people of color on screen that had a voice. We do exist in various spaces that we don’t often see on television. For instance, we do shop at Bergdorf’s, go to really nice restaurants, we do travel. That sometimes gets lost because of budgets, or the inability of how we are seen in the world. That was very important to me. I would only do the series if I could approach it from that point of view. That’s the foundation of all of the series.
How do you create the various looks for each franchise?
You have a very good budget, but it’s really a representation of where our popular urban culture is, and we try and follow that format. Through each of the series I’ve set the tone for all of them. Because we’ve had three series going at the same time, I would have wonderful people like Trenton, we would go in and set up the tone of the series, the design format. We’ve had several different designers come on.
This year has been the most difficult. We find ourselves trying to keep the overall tone of the show consistent. That was always super important to Courtney. I was a designer and she elevated me to a producer like Lou Eyrich with Ryan Murphy. I’m responsible for the tone and that the brand stays on point. People think this is a super easy show, but it really isn’t.
The audience looks for a certain look for each character; why is this difficult for you?
Trenton Dallas: Making sure that each is an individual person has been the challenge. Being with this universe since season two of the original series, we’ve done it all. So, it’s about giving each character something special, and making them their own person.
You mentioned that people who have personal flare think that would make them a good Costume Designer, but you pointed out that there are other skills involved? There’s a difference between knowing how to dress personally and translating that into a universe with a budget and various characters. What are the skills required to run this department?
Frank L. Fleming: I’ve been blessed and fortunate with Tsigie and Trenton who understand and maintain the tone and quality of the brand. The budget is generous; the instinct can be to come in and re-create characters that don’t exist after they’ve been established. I don’t ever want to say you can’t have a voice. As long as you understand the story, and that the character stays consistent with the show. Understanding how to tell a story through clothing and not just because it’s something you can afford to buy. That’s one of the conversations we repeatedly have in understanding the show.
Yes, you can buy Louis Vuitton, but it also needs to make sense as to why the character’s wearing it and where it’s placed. There have been times when I was away doing a film and they had someone in a shootout and put the character in perfectly recognizable designer label with like, Givenchy, all over it. If you’re going to kill someone, you are not going to wear something so recognizable. In general, the person down the street will say “Yeah, it was the guy in the blue Givenchy jacket.” So, it’s just being true to story. The volume and organization are a huge part.
Trenton Dallas: Obviously the storytelling of clothing and characters is really important, but the business side is too. There’s so much more that’s involved. Costume as to enhance character. The biggest thing is being organized. It’s a big department; you got to run it in an efficient and manageable way, not just for yourself, but for the team. You’ll have to manage the money. It’s a lot. If you’re not in tune, focused and organized, then it’s not gonna be a good job for you.
Frank L. Fleming: We design according to a script. The scripts are huge and specific. One of the reasons that people buy into the universe is because we try and keep it as believable as possible. People can tell if you are a fraud. We’ve held interest for so long across most of the universe, because the world created by everyone is based on reality no matter where the story takes you. You can buy into the reality because it is based on reality.
When did you become aware of fashion?
Trenton Dallas: In my early teens. Growing up in Harlem, before I moved to Connecticut, fashion was a big thing. Having the latest clothing – and the community. What they wear is the big thing in black culture. When I got to high school, I started noticing fashion. On Sundays, the black church – my grandma and aunt on Easter Sunday – it’s the day you dress up. You had your church outfit and then in Harlem afterwards, you had your second outfit – a little more casual – but still something to be looked at. You’re not really going anywhere; you’re actually most probably just going right back outside to show it off. The black church was a focal point and inspiration for my fashion sense.
Frank L. Fleming: Being a teenager when MTV was launched, watching ‘99 Red Balloons.’ Madonna’s first videos. That time was a huge defining moment. I’m from Baltimore, it’s a creative community but it’s not necessarily super diverse.
Trenton Dallas: Myself and my friends are very much influenced by music in pop culture and always wanted to look as weird and as odd as possible. That’s where it started.
Your first outfit?
Frank L. Fleming: I was notorious for plaid pants. My favorite pairs were red, white and navy, I wore them with a red shirt and white shoes. I had my legs crossed in every photograph. I was so proud of my plaid pants and suit.
Trenton Dallas: My fashion journey advances as I got older. When I was younger, I correlated with my environment where I grew up – more urban. Air Jordan was big. When the Jordan 11’s came out, I’d match them with a light blue shirt and jeans. My cousin had the pink and white ones. My other cousin had the red and white ones. It was like a thing.
Do you have designers banging on your door, begging you to use their clothes?
Frank L. Fleming: Young designers. Instagram is people’s preferred method of reaching out on DMs. Trying to get your pieces or items on the show. Well-known fashion designers? No. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. People complement me on the work on the show, and I approach every show the same way I am a child of Ruth’s culture. Everything has the same care and thought process. It’s great.
This universe has brought attention to us, but in a very weirdly limited way. Even with awards. It’s who watches your show. Our audience is super supportive. But I’m not sure that we have matriculated into the mainstream. I’m not sure designers outside of the people who we work with, know us and appreciate us.
One of the impacts of the show is the fanbase want to emulate the looks. Amiri had 12 calls for Tariq’s jacket after it first appeared on the show. That it was from the previous season’s collection meant that it wasn’t available. (He laughs.)
Saint Laurent has been super supportive of us and invited us to the show, as did Balmain. They were gracious by inviting me to their show, but in terms of pushing their product? Generally, designers know they make money off the show, but they are not offering their product to the show.