Living the “American Dream” is at the heart of many stories.
WELCOME TO CHIPPENDALES, HULU’s eight-episode limited series gives insight into Somen “Steve” Banerjee's dream, through the skyrocketing success of the now iconic Chippendales clubs bringing male stripper revues to female audiences, to his inevitable murderous downfall.
Set Decorator Linette McCown SDSA and Production Designer Richard Bloom take the audience on a visual odyssey through the years of 1979 through 1994, the researched and curated sets showing the beginnings of Chippendales, the upward mobility, and the dramatic implosion of many involved in the deadly dance of Chippendales.
SDSA Executive Director Gene Cane talked with Linette and Richard when they were in the midst of production for the series.
Entrepreneur Somen "Steve" Banerjee’s Chippendales office: A foreboding view of the successful club from the upper-level office. Vertical blinds like prison bars serve as a prophetic warning. Image courtesy of Hulu.
About the Chippendales Club...
Richard Bloom, Production Designer: Very early on, before Linette had come on and we were first scouting, we pulled all the research, and found that the club itself was a one-story club on Overland. The structure still exists, but it's not one that's filmable in terms of the exterior.
Paula Huidobro, who was our DP, and I started talking about all the references that we wanted to pull from of the some of the earlier films in the ‘70s. We got into this red and turquoise palette, and we knew that we wanted it to evolve along with the club. The big challenge, of course, was how to evolve the club. How are we going to tell that evolution as the club gets bigger and more exciting, and also tell the moment of time? We had limited funds and limited time, with the company constantly moving in and out, and we all kind of built upon it as a group. Knowing that in the ‘80s, as the marketing materials change and everything gets a little more Technicolor and there's more neon, the club does get a little jazzier as we go.
The other huge challenge was COVID, we had to go back and forth in time during our shoot. It was a real challenge every morning, redressing...where this piece of neon went, where these chairs went in, with how the partitions were placed...and it was seamless, they just killed it every morning. And then they would go dress three sets on the other side of the stage while the club was thumping! It was crazy.
A Chesterfield for Chippendales. As the club grows more successful, the offices and personal lives become more refined and opulent. The patterned carpeting resembles a road to success. Tufted leather seating with brass nail head trim and polished wood tables let Steve show his upward direction for his America Dream. Image courtesy of Hulu.
Nick [Murray Bartlett] and Denise [Juliette Lewis] get a bit of dance fever during rehearsals. The expansive club set became brighter and more opulent over time with the success of Chippendales. Covid prompted the shooting schedule to be re organized, causing the crew to redress to earlier looks, and back again. Photo by: Jessica Brooks ©2022 Hulu.
Linette McCown SDSA, Set Decorator: That was a big collaboration. I mean, everything's collaborative, obviously, but between my department and Richard and Rama, just trying to think of how we go through the evolution of the space. The footprint of it was quite a large locker room. We had costumes...cheesy costumes! We had a ton of eBay dead stock*, like old mouthwashes and food stock, we also used eBay for a lot of wardrobe. I bought a lot of tube socks, a lot of shorts and sneakers, fantastic jogging suits, good, old towels with different stripes to bring in a little bit of color and stuff like that. Then, progressing into the club evolving, like the scenes in the second episode where they're all being kind of sexual, we started to bring in cocaine lines. And we always had cigarette ash trays.
Dressing Room/Locker Room: The club locker room actually serves multiple purposes as dressing room, gym, laundry and storage. Carefully chosen period dressing and details fill the cramped multi-purpose area. Here, we see only a corner, with one end of a two-sided makeup table. Image courtesy of Hulu.
We rented the makeup tables, and we rented all the weight equipment from Omega**. When we were talking about 108 chairs, my brain immediately was, “This is the second week of shooting? We need to find these chairs! This is going to be a thing that's going to be tricky to get the right kind and the weight room equipment.” And it was, so I rented stuff from Omega and then I just had those repurposed and put slipcovers over everything to tie them into the club.
Linette: I really loved doing his apartment. And I felt like Richard and Rhama (Farahat, AD) and I had a big high five because we got to use the worst, worst ugliest shag carpet that I've been dying to use. Everyone was on board with this hideous carpet. For the set dressing, we went on eBay shopping sprees...we bought so many Playboy magazines! We had stacks of period magazines that had to be approved and fabricated.
Somen Banargee, who goes by Steve, is planning his American Dream while working at a gas station. He begins with a sort of dream board of his own high-level aspirations, along with stacking chairs and fabric for his dream club, a gentleman’s club...a strip club was never in the consideration. Image courtesy of Hulu.
There are a lot of little personal touches in that apartment, even though it's very sparse. We tried to bring in a lot of food from the mobile station, as if he were bringing it home and stocking stale chips, or old sandwiches. We had these great conversations with Kumail (series star Kumail Nanjiani) in the beginning of the show where we were all trying to collaborate on what kind of things Steve might have in the apartment. He gave us his list of things that he thought would be telling of a character, like specific tickets from shows from specific years and different trinkets, we had a little plastic egg. Little things that you don't see but really added to the set, and they made him very happy to go in there. He had all this character stuff to work with, which was nice.
Steve’s austere lifestyle is worth depriving himself for what he sees as a great future. Oily, dirty carpet and beat up furniture will do for now. Built on a set, Set Decorator Linette McCown SDSA found beaten up mini blinds to use, threw a sheet over the window as a curtain. Armless sofa is a discarded part of a sectional found to fit the space. Atop the TV is a patinaed bell, likely brought with him when immigrating from India. Image courtesy of Hulu.
Richard: That was really Linette. In the script, Showrunner Rob Segal, had said, “It is really sparse.” And Linette’s view was, “Well, it would be really cool to see he is starting to collect the things that we're going to see in the club. Rob got really excited by that, to the point he was saying, “Let's get it a little bit more cluttered!”...which was a huge undertaking, all those Playboy ads on the wall, and all of that period dressing.
Nick’s Apartment...Ribbon-Arm Sofa and other equally definitive set dressing:
It's a 1960s sofa , like from Modernica, a great source. They have one or two versions, but those were a corduroy type fabric that wouldn't work for this. We need something more upscale, something that was a cream mohair, especially to go with the dining chairs, which were very violet. They're covered in actual ‘70s fabric, a dead-stock fabric we found that was absolutely gorgeous.
Nick’s, A high taste “bachelor” pad in West Hollywood. Unique ribbon couch in mohair, marble parson coffee table with smoked glass inserts, travertine pedestal table with geometric patterned chrome frame chairs and Capiz shell pendant lamp overhead are the central eyeline view of the stylish apartment. Set Decorator Linette McCown SDSA carefully curated Nick’s apartment, giving much insight to character’s qualities both good and bad. Image courtesy of Hulu.
We rented almost all the art. The only art that we fabricated were the pictures on the back wall and his office, a lot of Bob Fossi-like stills, along with some Broadway bits. Richard and I talked about the concept of what kind of art Nick would have, and I tried to find a lot of things that had a lot of movement, or were alluding to the body in motion, and had a little bit of sexuality to it, like the painting in the dining room that is a very sexy woman. I tried to have it be androgynous because we don’t know...is he bisexual? Is he gay? He's just a sexual person. He's a choreographer, and so I think every piece that we have in there has some sort of alluding to movement of the human body, and the sensuality of movement. And, as a plus, it was a fun palette to incorporate.
Nick’s lifestyle requires him to stay in shape, a home gym is a focal point of the apartment. As a dancer and choreographer, and bisexual, much of the artwork is androgynously figural in an impressionist style resembling movement. Image courtesy of Hulu.
Richard: Yeah, it was great, and I will say that Murray Bartlett who played Nick, was immediately so complimentary and so into the world for him, both here and the later sets for New York. In fact, his character, which is a true thing, won an Emmy for UNICORN TAILS. And Linette found this beautiful brass unicorn that's up on the bookshelf, which then migrates to his New York office. Really, she finds all these touches that are just so special.
Chippendales New York Offices, which Nick now runs. Starting with the very old New York black and white floor tiles, the offices of the New York division also has lines and textures promoting movement, the vertical grain of the wood panels, the horizontal pattern of the wallpaper, even the grid in the drop ceiling and carpet. Note the artwork reminiscent of Nick’s West Hollywood apartment and the unicorn on the desk from his shelves at home. Image courtesy of Hulu.
On Working in the 1979-1990 Period...
Linette: It was fun. The show that we did right before this was also mid ‘70s, so I was already on a kick for eight months of eBay, ordering everything. We had about two solid months of prep on the show, which is fantastic for TV, and you know how fast everything is moving now.
So, we just immediately got to sourcing and purchasing. Most everything in the club we owned, and we just set out buying. I had the most fantastic team including Leadperson Ashby Whorf, Assistant Set Decorator Marianne Broughton [SDSA Associate], and my two Buyers Payton Stafford and Ashley Bussell. We had 4 Buyers at one point, but we had two key people.
They're like a dream team of human beings, with sourcing and efficiency and aesthetic. And we just got into buying everything very quickly, all the electronics. Jamie Mengual, our prop master who was hands down one of my favorite prop masters I've ever worked with, brought in Sears catalogs, and we had a whole table of reference books. I usually buy dead stock items, or a lot of reference magazines per period, things that we start doing especially because some people on our team were young kids or young adults in the ‘80s, and then some people weren't born yet!??!! So, we had to just get in there with your encyclopedias and go, go, go. We went to Rose Bowl markets, we went to Whittier, we went all over the place. Fact.
A very of-the-time look to Paul and Dorothy’s apartment. Brass-trimmed lacquerware headboard and dresser (reflected in the mirrored closet doors), etched and inlaid mirror, lighting and all surrounding items are identifiable of the late ‘70s early ‘80s design. Image courtesy of Hulu.
Richard: What I love about what we do is really telling the story of the characters. And these characters evolve so much, for better or for worse. But I also just love the challenge of the day-to-day, I love television. We want to make sure we give everybody their due, because it was such a team effort, and it was a dream team of people like I've never had. We had fun. I hope everybody enjoys it as much as it was enjoyable to work on, despite Covid and the other challenges. It was, really, a lot of fun.
Linette: We faced many challenges, including working through Covid and being respectful in characterizing real people, in real events, seeking the American Dream...which, unfortunately, did not have a happy ending. But with a great team and collaboration with other departments, I think we accomplished something special.
* Note the term dead stock is used several times, this refers to eCommerce items that are not expected to sell, also known as dead inventory or obsolete inventory.
** The iconic prop house Omega|Cinema Props