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Tripping the Couture Fantastic with Jean-Pierre Dorléac
He imaginatively dressed up Lorne Greene in TV’s Battlestar Galactica and artfully dressed down Brooke Shields in the cult classic film The Blue Lagoon. But Quantum Leap fans will best remember costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorléac for giving their favorite show its most iconic image, and for giving their favorite hologram his flamboyant style.
In our post Mad Men, nostalgia-driven media culture, it’s hard to remember a time when costumes weren’t so much wistful distractions to be blogged about as they were tools to transport viewers into another time and place. And when it comes to embodying eras gone by, Don Draper ain’t got nothing on Sam Beckett.
And that’s thanks to Dorléac. In his series-long tenure as costume designer for Quantum Leap, Dorléac had one of the most important jobs on show. When Sam Leapt into a new time and place, his first clue as to who and where he was was often his outfit. It was a crucial, visual shorthand for both the character and the viewers—one that required Dorléac to reliably recreate four decades worth of fashions.
He rose to the challenge brilliantly; whether tracking a dropper named Clapper as noirish Nick Allen in “Play it Again, Seymour,” fighting sexism as a stylishly-dressed Samantha Stormer in “What Price Gloria” or romancing on the high seas as wealthy playboy Philip Dumont in “Sea Bride,” Sam convincingly inhabited any era a story required. And Dorléac made it look so natural and effortless that he was nominated for four Emmys for his work on Quantum Leap (including for the aforementioned “Sea Bride”). In fact, his QL period costuming was so effective that it is now studied in university classes.
But not only did Dorléac have to faithfully recreate the past. He also had to give viewers a glimpse of the future. And his fashion choices have given Quantum Leap its signature genre style.
The designer’s futuristic flourishes take front and center in the show’s very first scenes. Al’s neon star lapel pin and matching shoe appliques are prominently featured in the tease for “Genesis,” as are Tina’s LED high heels and earrings. And while we’re still grinning over this retro-future chic, Dorléac hits us with Quantum Leap’s most iconic image: Sam, in his clean, white Fermi suit, arms outstretched, being buffeted by quantum energy in the Accelerator Chamber as he prepares for his first Leap.
Fashion, both real and imagined, was critical to the success of Quantum Leap. And fashion would remain the show’s primary tool to differentiate the past from the future, embodied mainly by Al.
Al’s flamboyant fashion choices were a brilliant counterpoint to Sam’s historic mien. And while the metallic fabrics, funky cuts and garish hues may have started out as a visual gimmick to make the hologram an anachronistic standout in Sam’s pedestrian surroundings, they evolved into an abiding character statement for Al. For a man who spent five years in filthy black rags as a POW, Al’s colorful clothes proclaim that he remains unbroken, and that he’s full of joy and lust and a zest for life.
Quantum Leap wasn’t the first time Dorléac recreated historical fashions for show creator Donald P. Bellisario. They started working together on Bellisario’s 1930’s era series Tales of the Gold Monkey. And Dorléac lent his futuristic vision to a parade of genre shows through the 1970s and 80s: Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century, Automan, The Greatest American Hero, Max Headroom, Knight Rider and the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica, for which he won his first Emmy. And his impressive roster of film work includes another time travel classic, Somewhere in Time, starring the late Christopher Reeve.
Dorléac has chronicled his storied career in his new memoir, The Naked Truth: An Irreverent Chronicle of Delirious Escapades. In it, the costume designer relates never-before-told, behind-the-scenes stories about working in theater, couture, television and film.
And in the vein of those never-before-told stories, The Quantum Leap Podcast is proud to bring you Jean-Pierre Dorléac’s first-ever interview about his work on Quantum Leap. Listen as he recounts his time with Scott Bakula, Dean Stockwell and the unique challenges presented by Sam’s trips through time. Along the way he tells us more about The Naked Truth, and his passion to preserve historic Hollywood fashions.
Join us as we take this couturistic leap!
Signed copies of The Naked Truth: An Irreverent Chronicle of Delirious Escapades, are available at Mr. Dorléac’s website jean-pierredorleac.com
The Naked Truth: An Irreverent Chronicle of Delirious Escapades is also available on Amazon.com and wherever good books are sold.