A Closer Look at the Costumes of ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’

Costume designer Lou Eyrich has been brushing up on her knowledge of ’60s-era New York socialites in the lead-up to “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.” “I’m going back to swan school,” says Eyrich.

She became intimately familiar with the “The Swans” — a term coined by writer Truman Capote to describe New York socialites, (or, as WWD dubbed them, the “Ladies Who Lunch” crowd) — while working on the series, which wrapped last year. A longtime Ryan Murphy collaborator, Eyrich serves as costume producer for Murphy’s numerous concurrent productions — often, five a year — but took a more hands-on role for “Feud.” “When I heard Gus Van Sant was directing too, I’m like, ‘I’m in,’” she says.

The series, set primarily in the early ’70s through the mid ’80s, is a followup to “Feud: Bette and Joan,” which Eyrich describes as one of her favorite design projects. But unlike that first series, where the wealth of film industry stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was more covert, “Capote vs. The Swans” was all about showing the East Coast excess: “The yachts, the estates, the dinner parties, the art on the walls, the perfect floral arrangements,” says Eyrich.

The Swans were frequently photographed during their heyday, which meant that Eyrich and her team had copious visual research to draw upon. Creating boards for the six primary Swans in the series, she assigned each woman a distinct color palette — cream and beige for Babe Paley, darker jewel tones for Slim Keith. 

“Babe was the word ‘grace.’ It was less-is-more, always flawless. Presentation is everything,” says Eyrich of her approach to the show’s lead Swan, portrayed by Naomi Watts. “We really focused on [her] jewelry collection — Verdura, Belperron, Jean Schlumberger — for everyday. Van Cleef was more for going out. And the gloves. She always wore gloves.”

For Slim Keith, the approach was menswear silhouettes. “We gave her strong shoulders, usually belted to give her that menswear meets womenswear of the ’70s and 80s,” says Eyrich of Diane Lane’s character. “And then Lee [Radziwill] was more just whatever was more trendy,” she adds. “She just had an innate ability to take what was current and make it look effortlessly chic. She was also friends with a lot of the fashion designers.”

For C.Z. Guest, played by Chloë Sevigny, Eyrich focused on her love of gardening and horses. “East Coast prep was her thing. Cardigan sweaters, always a strand of pearls,” she says, adding that Guest gravitated toward American designers like Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene.

For Capote, given the difficulty of sourcing men’s vintage, the team recreated looks in the correct size for lead Tom Hollander. “It was really fun to watch Truman come to life after months of doing fittings,” she says. 

Costumes for Bill Paley were also largely bespoke, “because this is a man who gets his suits all custom-made,” says Eyrich. “We had an amazing tailor team. So we made a lot for Babe and Slim — but for Lee, besides a couple evening gowns for the party scenes, her stuff was all authentic archival pieces.”

FX’s FEUD: Capote Vs. The Swans

Naomi Watts as Barbara “Babe” Paley, Tom Hollander as Truman Capote.

“I wanted it all authentic vintage when we could, because you can feel the difference in the fabrics and the construction,” adds Eyrich, adding that she’s amassed a long list of vintage vendors throughout the years, and also looked to multivendor vintage shows.  “Instagram has become a major place to shop, which wasn’t that way when I did [the first] ‘Feud,’” says Eyrich. For jewelry and evening accessories, she worked closely with the brands to get authentic pieces. 

While the show features many vintage looks, the Swans were all outfitted in custom Zac Posen for the show’s recreation of Capote’s iconic 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza. “Ryan had a vision for the gowns. He wanted them a little more elevated and fantastical than the original dresses, so he just didn’t want to copy them,” says Eyrich. “I would show up for the fittings and then watch in awe as [Posen] was whipping things up.”

What’s next for all of those archival looks, getting their swan song onscreen in “Feud”? 

“We have a storage space that everything goes into, and then we pick certain outfits that go into our Disney archives, and then the Ryan Murphy archives in case we want to go back to them,” says Eyrich. “So if we do another show, it won’t be as hard to find all the good stuff.”

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