André Holland, "Dr. Algernon Edwards"

When you first got the role as Dr. Edwards, did you have an idea of the types of things doctors wore during this era? Did you do any research yourself to see what they wore?

I did do a lot of research. I pulled a lot of photos of what men wore during that time. To be honest it all seemed pretty uniform. A lot of dark suits, dark colors—so I think what we wanted to do with this character was…well he's obviously very different than the other characters. He's been living in Paris, so we felt like his sense of style would have had a little more flair to it. When I met with Ellen, she pulled a bunch of fabrics and she asked me what I thought about different things, like, would the character wear a turn down collar? We talked about lapels. We talked about vests. And we had a long discussion about what the first look should be. How do we introduce this character? The level of detail was something I had never experienced before. We ended up choosing this navy suit with very subtle golden stripes. And in a subtle way it separates him from everyone else on the show.

How did the clothes you wear on the show inform how you play this character?

I think literally the act of putting those clothes on, you know, it takes time. You put on the shirt, and then the paper collar attaches in two places. I spent a lot of time getting dressed, and I made everything very precise. So I do think taking the extra time to make sure everything was perfect did inform how I played the character. And putting on the vest, and the suit, the hat, the topcoat, the shoes, all of it changes one's physicality, the way one moves, sits.

Does that give you a new appreciation for getting dressed? Your character basically puts on all these fancy clothes to go work in a hospital and ruin them every day.

I do think there's something beautiful about a man taking his time to get dressed to make sure he looks his best. I think nowadays, people just throw on whatever when they're in a hurry. It definitely has changed my own personal style. Since doing the show, I take more time to get dressed and think about what I'm wearing.

Do you think Algernon has a little more to prove when he's getting dressed? Does he have to go the extra mile with his style because of everything he's fighting against as the only African American in the hospital?

My sense of it is that when he was abroad, he developed his own style. I don't think he was out to prove anything then. In the second episode, he's wearing his nice shoes and nice suit and he comes back to the house where he's staying, and one of the other black tenants starts picking on him about these fancy shoes he's wearing. I think it's then that he starts to realize that the way he dresses separates him from the black community. I think part of what scares people at the hospital is that he presents himself in a way that is so different from any black person they've experienced at that time. But rather than let that change him, he takes it further and sticks to his guns sartorially and psychologically. But I will say that the way the writers laid it out with the black tenant picking on him was really beautiful. I just think it's a really smart way to deal with the racial undertones. He doesn't fit in anywhere. He presents himself as the picture of success and integrity, and yet he isn't respected anywhere. It isn't until he goes home to his parents that he finally takes everything off and is comfortable. It's like he's taking off a costume at the end of a play.

Would you say that putting on these clothes helps him put on a show every day?

A little. I don't think he intends to put on a performance, but the clothes he wears kind of become a costume because of the way people treat him. It's in a way armor.

Going back to the fancy shoes, what are the fanciest shoes in your personal wardrobe?

I do have a pair of Loro Piana suede boots that I got years ago. I don't wear them that often, because they were not inexpensive. I wear them on special occasions.

You mentioned this before, but how has getting to wear suits made by Martin Greenfield on the show and some of the other things changed what you gravitate to in your personal life?

I tend to be very classic. I'm not one to follow fashion or trends. But I really love beautiful suits. I think I'm more careful now about the fabrics I choose when I'm buying a suit. I feel like I understand more now about how suits are made and what makes a quality suit. Classic and clean, man.


Ellen Mirojnick, Costume Designer

What source material did you go to uncover what people wore in New York at the time—especially medical professionals?

We did quite a bit of research in medical journals—photo research—and there really is quite a bit of material out there if you go looking for 1900 New York City pictures. The photo research is really quite available. And there were some wonderful photos of the time in pictorial journals. But what was most helpful, and how we got to André's character, was through the way the character was written. He's not only a black man, he studied in Europe and has professional experience from his time in Europe. So we took a bit of license with him so we could contrast him with other characters. We found doctors at the time wore very simple things. It was charcoal, dark colors, dark wovens, sturdy fabrics, and heavy woolens.

We distinguished André with the choice to use bold colors and patterns. We obviously didn't go bright bright. But we had a full color palette that we came up with based on class. Those on the Lower East Side were in dark colors, the wealthy on the Upper East Side were in cool colors, and those in the Tenderloin, where Algernon had to live, wore warmer colors. The colors there were rich. That said, Algernon still had to be toned in a way to be taken seriously as a doctor.

As for Clive's character, he recently said in an interview that his character doesn't abide by the traditions of the times, including when it comes to what he wears.

John Thackery is arrogant and he can do whatever he wants to. There's this rivalry between John and Algernon, not only in their cultures and beliefs, but in what they look like. We wanted to be able to define the characters through some thread of truth. The interesting thing about doing a period piece is that the only information is what you find in the book. And they're usually black and white. Those photos are not candid, they're staged. So you look at them and you can understand the silhouettes of the suits, but we actually learn more from paintings when we're trying to see what surgeons and doctors wore regularly.

What was it like working with Martin Greenfield to create these suits?

It's funny. I learned recently that Martin actually made the suits I designed for Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. So he and I have actually been working together for quite some time. Going to Greenfield's is terrific because it's a totally dependable and reliable place. They understand what you're trying to do. They've found their rhythm with the entertainment industry. Martin gets such a kick out of meeting the actors. They are a great family. I have a very keen eye when it comes to certain details, but there's nothing that we discuss that won't be tended to. And also if I'm not certain about something, and I can ask Martin, we can have an open and great dialogue. They were so helpful, particularly with Algernon's character, whose suits had a slightly different cut.

What's the difference between the way suits fit in 1900 to today?

First of all, it's a four-button suit. The thing that the actors had to get used to the most was the smallness and tightness of the shoulder. It's a small shoulder, and the armhole is high. It could probably be compared to the '70s French silhouette. There's darting in these old suits that I think is fabulous. It's a more natural silhouette it shouldn't be confused with the naturalness of today. It fits the body like a glove. We invented some different shapes with Andre's character because he is a fashion leader of the time, so we took some liberties there—but the clothes are every bit as modern as something you could see today. It's very adaptable. On that note, I'm actually about to do a small collection of menswear based on the inspiration from The Knick. I can't wait.

There are a couple pieces on the show that I think people want to know about, the first being Clive's white boots.

Well actually all of the doctors on the show have white boots. But we feature them on Clive because we thought it was a really good way to define his character, because of his personality. Our initial instinct was that, well, doctors really did wear these white shoes during surgery at that time. During one of his first fittings, he looked at me and said "So I could be David Bowie?" And I said, "Yes." So, the white boots became a big part of his character. But Clive has them as part of his working wardrobe and will wear them out of the hospital while none of the other doctors do that.

The other was, and we only see them maybe in one shot, but Dr. Edwards's "Fancy Paris Shoes."

The aesthetic in Europe at the time really was quite fancy. So we thought that we're going one hundred percent with this. It was in the text, so we had to fill in the blank. It was modeled actually after a Crockett & Jones boot from the 1900s. They were custom made for the show.

What was Soderbergh's input?

He is fantastic. He and I usually just talk about the big picture and then I go off and put together a lookbook for him, filled with palettes, inspiration, etc. We try to give him a visual language that we are trying to accomplish. Howard Cummings, the production designer, usually meets with me to discuss everything so we're on the same page. But Stephen is so great because he really just lets us go off and do our thing. You have to bring your A+ game, and let nothing go to waste, but he inspires people to do that. And I feel I'm a really, really lucky artist to be able to work with him.