In the very first scene of Schitt’s Creek — perhaps the finest Canadian comedy import of the past decade — Catherine O’Hara’s character is aghast at the prospect of being removed from her precious wigs. Not the wigs, she pleads, anything but the wigs! She and her family are being evicted from their mansion, thanks to their business manager’s pesky tax-evasion scheme, and they’re soon banished to a motel at their only remaining asset: the quirky boondocks of Schitt’s Creek, a town that was purchased by her husband Johnny (Eugene Levy) for their scion David (Dan Levy, his real-life son) as a joke many years prior. Four seasons in, the small-town shenanigans of Schitt’s Creek continue to delight on Pop TV, but comedy aside, one of the show’s most defining characteristics is its use of fashion. Including the wigs.
“It’s continually reminding our audience where these people came from,” Dan Levy, the co-creator and star of Schitt’s Creek, explained to Vulture on a recent afternoon. (Levy supervises the costume department alongside seasoned designer Debra Hanson.) “The juxtaposition of designer clothes against the backdrop of this town is able to tell a story. When we starting putting the show together, one of the fundamental building blocks of the wardrobe was making sure we’re not only creating an aspirational aesthetic, but also creating dimensions to these characters. Any way we can squeeze as much character out of these people as possible, the better.”
That aesthetic is best personified with O’Hara’s character, Moira. She is never without a “severe” or “sculptural” outfit, strongly favoring monochromatic looks by Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, and Givenchy. Her wardrobe is stunning, yet a humorous contrast to the achingly mundane town. “When Catherine first signed onto the show, I met with her to discuss what she thought the character would wear and how she carried herself,” Levy explained, noting how O’Hara brought a photo of Daphne Guinness for inspiration. “We collectively thought, This is a really great jumping-off point. But how do you translate someone like Daphne Guinness, who wears couture on the streets of London and New York, into a character on television who’s slightly more palatable and easy to grasp?”
The resulting outfits and accessories brim with brazen black-and-white designs, which also helped to craft the style of Moira’s son, David. “We thought it would be funny if he adopted the elements of her aesthetic as his own,” Levy said. “David’s very much his mother’s son, so it made sense he would look up to her sartorially in his own way and try to reinterpret what she’s been doing.”
But in order to set Moira apart as much as possible, O’Hara believed she had to incorporate one more element for maximum style: those beloved wigs. “The idea was she would have these wigs on the wall because she previously had a wig room in her mansion,” Levy said. “It’s been a defining element of what makes this character tick, and also how she’s able to express herself. Catherine’s really brilliant when it comes to understanding the minutiae of a character and really squeezing every last laugh.” (Sometimes, O’Hara even wears a wig or dress backwards to evoke Moira’s oft-frantic mood.)
As for the characters of Johnny (the elder Levy) and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy), the same “mandate” applied for their wardrobes, even if they aren’t as in-your-face as the other Roses: Alexis enjoys a rotating bohemian aesthetic from Isabel Marant and Derek Lam, while Johnny is almost always in a well-tailored suit from Hugo Boss or Ermenegildo Zegna. “I needed the clothes to be authentic. We can’t be doing knockoffs,” Levy said. “In the chance someone working in fashion in Europe or New York was to sit down and watch this show, I want it to speak to them in the same way it would to someone in middle America.”
The challenge of obtaining a carousel full of ready-to-wear items every season was easier than expected, thanks to Levy’s savviness at scouring eBay, consignment stores, and sample sales for potential items. That, and he’d been preparing his entire life for such a gig. “It’s really fun for me,” he said with a laugh. “I get to play around with all of these amazing clothes I’ve admired from afar and bring them to life in new and different ways.”