It can be challenging to find your stride in the world of celluloid; those behind the scenes in the hair and make departments, or wardrobe rooms, even music supervisors and editors work one show, while vying for the next. Rita McGhee, Costume Designer for Disney/ABC’s new comedy series “The Mayor”, however, seems to have found her stride. Being the best at what she does and feeling blessed and abundantly happy with her accomplishments in this tumultuous world of TV and Film, McGhee is in her paradise.
Inside the wardrobe room on the ABC studio lot, where shows like “American Housewife“, “Hip Hop Squares”, and “Big Brother”, are loudly being filmed; there’s a peaceful hum coming from the people at work. Make-shift desks, set against hollow walls made for production, are covered with sketches, scripts pages, cut-out pictures from fashion magazine, buttons, bracelets, adornments and trinkets of blissful sayings that exude a warm work environment. Debbie, the show’s seamstress’, is heard churning out an alteration for Lea Michele’s next fitting. Across several high and low racks of clothing; each categorized for each character and each scene of the series including extras and guest characters; there lay two sturdy desks facing each other for Rita McGhee and her assistant and sister Alita Bailey. Rita isn’t seated at her desk, she’s moving back and forth, from rack–to-rack with two navy jackets and a full pants suit in her right arm, browsing through a rack for something else … something else. She takes what she has back inside another door which houses the “fitting room”, where characters try on and take off clothes chosen specifically for them.
ABC’s “The Mayor,” starring some new faces and some familiar ones, including Brandon Michael Hall in the starring role as Courtney Rose; veteran actress, Yvette Nicole Brown who portrays his mother, Dina and Lea Michelle, best known for her role “Glee,” Lea Michele as Courtney Rose’s friend, Valentina.
As Costume Designer and Assistant Costume Designer, Rita McGhee and Alita Bailey (respectively) are responsible for “styling and dressing all of the characters; telling a story through clothing,” says Rita. Described as an urban comedy, The Mayor takes, Courtney from the confines of a small bedroom closet as a struggling hip-hop artist, to the chambers of the Mayors office inside of a city federal building. “I’d describe the shows wardrobe as Hip hop politically savvy,” says Rita. “Courtney has to dress the part because he’s still from his environment, but he has swag, which means that he will also wear crisp jeans and classic sneakers.”
Working with her sister helps to keep the calm, as Alita has assisted on film and TV projects, going on eight years: on BET’s popular “The New Edition Story” mini series,” and “Zoe Ever After”; Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq” and most recently Lifetime’s “Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland”, and the two had a small yet important part in the much anticipated Marvel’s “Black Panther.” “We were able to support the great Ruth Carter and her team by shopping for two months,” remembers Rita. “Just being in the essence of Ruth Carter was a wonderful experience.” Rita would never toot her own horn but an incredible slate of projects, most infamously as the first costume designer on the first season of Fox’s ridiculously popular family drama “Empire”. Rita essentially gave Cookie her essence. Before landing “Empire”” she was the costume designer for Biker Boyz, Next Day Air, and King’s Ransom. Working on set as an assistant costumer for such great films as “Mo’ Better Blue, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “Baby Boy”. Rita has been putting in time building her reputation and telling fabulous stories through fashion.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to hire “Shiners” who are respectful of each other and they do their best every time,” says Rita. “Alita is my assistant and she’s on the pulse of new designers, new styles.”
“The Mayor” was able to incorporate two LA-based Black owned boutiques in the wardrobe room from Katula and Prii Unity Clothing. “I’m responsible for getting the clothes, collaborating on the looks and whatever she (Rita) needs to make it happen,” says Alita Bailey, Assistant Costume Designer on ABC’s “The Mayor.” “The best part of working with my sister is that she allows me to be creative and I Love being creative. I call myself a fashion hunter. I’m somewhat of a gatherer too.”
Some of the fashion treats to look out for are ample African prints incorporated in the wardrobe through pieces of clothing on Dena Rose, Courtney’s mom, Jermaine and TK, who are Courtney’s best friends on the show. “We shop at the mall, Downtown LA, online, in boutique, with designers, anywhere where we can find clothes that fit the character and fit the story line,” says Rita. “This takes long hours, a lot of consideration for lots of different personalities, and overcoming lots of challenges to bring to life a single vision; I feel very fortunate to be living in my purpose.”