Women Behind Canadian TV: Jennifer Haffenden

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Haffenden
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Haffenden

Working on a TV set often requires putting in lots of hours and very long days. Who you work with can make a huge impact and be the difference you need on those extra hard days. For costume designer Jennifer Haffenden, being able to roll with the punches and add positivity to her days on set is something she looks for when building her team. Haffenden, who just began her fourth season as costume designer on Wynonna Earp and worked on CBC’s Fortunate Son, recently joined our Women Behind Canadian TV series.

In addition to her CSA nominated work on Wynonna, Haffenden has also worked on series such as Tin Star and Young Drunk Punk and says she has been interested in clothing her entire life. She detailed how she uses clothes to bring characters to life and why she loves working on Wynonna Earp alongside showrunner Emily Andras, star Melanie Scrofano and the rest of the cast. 

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: Have you always been interested in clothing? Did you always have your eye on costume design?

Jennifer Haffenden: Yes, definitely. Since I was 4 years old I was making clothes. My mom still has the apron I made then, and it looks like it was made by a 4 year old, but it’s kind of cute. [laughs] It was all I ever wanted to do and I’m very fortunate I’ve been able to do it.

Being on Wynonna, this is probably the friendliest set: best cast and best crew. I’ve been doing this for over 25 years and it’s definitely the most fun show I’ve ever worked on. A lot of people on crew would echo that. I’ve always wanted to do this job, and now I’m in a position where the environment is even more fun than I imagined. It’s quite a bonus.

TTVJ: How did you land your first design job?

JH: I had been doing student drama for a bit, and moved around for university but came back to Calgary. A friend of mine needed someone to work on a Calgary Stampede commercial featuring Maasai warriors. They looked so authentic that people were coming up to these gentlemen on set, and assumed they didn’t speak English. I was hooked from there and it was a fun commercial that did well on the commercial festival circuit. It was an interesting gig that made me even more addicted to this crazy way of life.

SYFY
SYFY

TTVJ: More specifically then, how did you become involved with Wynonna Earp?

JH: That was through my history of working with Seven24 Films. I’ve been working on their projects for probably 19 years. When Wynonna Earp came to town, they put my name forward and I remember my first interview with Emily [Andras, showrunner] and Brian [Dennis, executive producer]. I just knew when I sat down that I had to work on this show. Every show has its fun and stressful parts, but this just sounded like a show that needed to be made, and that it’d be a blast. That really helps because the hours can be crazy.

TTVJ: With both Wynonna Earp and Fortunate Son, you’re working on them from the beginning. What is that process like trying to help bring those characters to life and figure out who they are when a series is just starting out? 

JH: That’s the fun part. You can have discussions with the actors beforehand, and meet with the showrunners to see what they have in mind, but the real magic happens in the fitting. It’s often something very unexpected too — a certain pair of sunglasses or a different scarf — and all of the sudden you, and the actor, feel like someone is coming to life.

For example, we had bought an Eero leather jacket for Melanie, and then I had read up on the Wynonna Earp backstory, so I thought putting a fire flower pattern on the jacket would be worthy of her fiery personality. Something happened when she put that jacket on for the first time, and that’s when we knew we were really onto something.

TTVJ: Once production gets underway on a series, what’s a normal day like for you?

JH: I have a great, compact team on Wynonna Earp. We’ve all worked together before and trust each other’s instincts and have each other’s backs. The days are long and I’m often starting at a 5:30 a.m. call in the morning. I like to make sure that any new outfits that haven’t been established are on the characters, and that everyone is happy and comfortable with them. Around mid-morning I head back to the shop, touch base, and make sure we’re all moving forward in the same direction. Yesterday I got here at 5:30 a.m. and left at about 10:30 p.m. because I had a big project. I’m doing that all again today, but it really doesn’t feel like work.

SYFY / Bell Media
SYFY / Bell Media

TTVJ: You mentioned the team that you work with, but how do you go about putting together a staff? What are you looking for?

JH: Trustworthiness is the most important quality. Changes happen in this business at the last second, they can be very stressful, and time is money. You don’t want to hold up camera, but things happen and weather changes. You need people that can roll with the punches, think on their feet, and maintain a positive attitude. Emily, Mel, and the other leads are unfailingly positive and I need my team to reflect that. Times can be stressful, but if you’re finding a few good laughs out of a potentially disastrous situation, and then avoiding it, then that’s a win. I’ve had a lot of people say they love working for this team because they know, no matter how the day goes, that they are going to have some fun.

TTVJ: What is the balance between clothes that you’re custom making versus items that you’re buying? What’s it like trying to do that when you have a quick turnaround?

JH: I would love to make everything, but because we’re limited with time, and often need multiples, it really depends. It changes every year, but probably around 75% is bought, and then I like to Frankenstein items, like we did with Wynonna’s jacket. We start with something we buy and then transform it a lot, but having bought that base saves us a lot of time and money.

CBC
CBC

TTVJ: Since Fortunate Son is set in the past, how do you go about creating looks for that period? What kind of research is involved?

JH: The first, second, and up to tenth step is definitely research. I had huge catalogues on my desk for research and I’d refer to them when needed. The Fortunate Son showrunners wanted characters to be authentic and be their own person. They wanted us to come up with looks that people would respond to today. Sometimes when you see 70s dramas, what they are wearing seems so over the top and removed from what we could wear, and it’s a little bit distracting. For this series, it was all about the drama and as a costume designer, I had to keep my ego in check and realize the clothes were supporting the drama. The lead male, Darren Mann, he wears a Levi’s trucker jacket that is authentically from 1968, but pretty darn close to the Levi’s trucker jacket that you can find today.

TTVJ: Given you’ve styled shows across all genres and time periods, what do find to be the most enjoyable to style?

JH: I’ve done a few things in the 1920s and that is my go to era. It just feels magical and as if everyone is a fun party mood. It’s my favorite.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Haffenden
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Haffenden

TTVJ: What are some of your favorite or most inspiring TV series or movies when it comes to costume design?

JH: There’s so many, but I really thought Russian Doll was a contemporary series that really nailed character development through clothes. Because it was a Groundhog Day situation, there weren’t a lot of changes, but each character did have their very strong personality. They didn’t even have to open their mouth and you could tell things about them by what they were wearing. There’s also a British costume designer named Jenny Beavan and she does all kinds of British period dramas. Without even knowing she’s designed it, I can instinctively tell.

TTVJ: Do you have any advice for others looking to get into costume design?

JH: Just jump in and get your feet wet. Take those volunteer gigs. Go in for the experience and for the fun. There are a lot of people that love being in the wardrobe department, but maybe don’t have super strong sewing skills. Working on those basic skills will always get you a foot in the door when it gets busy. When crew members in town are low, they are going to go for the person with the most skills on paper. Also, just be willing to put in the hours.

 

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Wynonna Earp Season 4 will air later in 2020 on SYFY and CTV Sci-Fi. Fortunate Son airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

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