The Watcher Costume Designers on Noma Dumezweni’s Fashion Persona – The Hollywood Reporter

“I’m an ordinary bastard Murder, she wrote,” declares private investigator Theodora Birch (Noma Dumezweni) to overload New Jersey patriarch Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) in Ryan Murphy’s The Watcher. But in her pitch to identify the culprit terrorizing the new suburban owners with threatening letters in the Netflix mystery, the PI may be referring to her enigmatic self.

“She’s an Agatha Christie type. You don’t know who she really is or where she comes from. You like her so much and you think she’s telling the truth. But is she?” asks Lou Eyrich, Murphy’s longtime costume maestro and series producer.

In a dark dining room, Theodora makes her first impression in a vintage 70s Lanvin trench over a black turtleneck and trousers, with a graphic print head. “She’s hidden, undercover,” Eyrich adds. Theodora shares her colorful origin story – or spins a yarn – involving a jazz career, rehab stint and addiction to true crime documentaries.

She gestures emphatically throughout, while her spectacular Sermoneta orange gloves punctuate her storytelling. Theodora’s penchant for regularly covering her hands with lavish leather gloves was a Murphy directive. “Because she’ll never leave fingerprints,” explains Rudy Mance, who co-costume designed the show with Eyrich. (Catherine Crabtree also co-designed episodes six and seven.)

Later, Theodora’s brown gloves, with visible seams and white piping, help point the finger (sorry) at Dean as The Watcher, as she dramatically reveals handwriting analysis evidence to his suspect wife, Nora (Naomi Watts). But the refined accessory was more a style choice than an Easter egg – or a red herring. “It just depends on the outfit, whether it needs something a little more unique, something quirky, something matching or something more elegant,” says Eyrich, who encouraged Dumezweni to “play around” and sometimes choose her own accessories.

Noma Dumezweni (left) and Naomi Watts in Netflix’s mystery anthology series The Watcher.

Courtesy of Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

Theodora’s trademark head wrap, also a Murphy mandate, reinforces her timeless aesthetic that cannot be identified with specific fashion trends or eras. “So it confuses you, too,” Eyrich says. The team sourced luxe fabrics, like a black moiré, from Mood Fabrics, plus vibrantly printed scarves from local East Village boutiques. Key hairstylist Tim Harvey created the elaborate braiding and flourishes, while Dumezweni tied her shawls in trim.

“She’s a little more theatrical and grand, but without being completely over the top,” says Mance. He and Eyrich – dubbed “Lou-dy” by the crew – balanced Theodora’s jewel tones and dynamic square and circle graphics to counter the struggling Brannock family’s “new preppy” palette of lush neutrals. “She can’t be that far away that Dean wouldn’t trust her,” Mance says.

Strategically dressed for the occasion, Theodora, in an Another Tomorrow white and black check pantsuit, pairs up for a first solo encounter with Nora, who regularly wears all things ivory while drinking red wine. “They mirror each other,” says Mance.

To bring Dean up to date with newfound horrors in the family house’s history, Theodora purposely veers from her form-fitting silhouettes into a pleated dove gray cape, with a pointed python-print collar peeking out. The slow-building tension of Theodora’s narration, and intense close-ups of Dumezweni, present the perfect moment to showcase the piece from vintage rental house Early Halloween, a Lou-dy favorite. But it also adds to the overall mystery.

“If she’s a little more bold there, maybe it will distract from the fact that she’s wearing head-to-toe black underneath it,” says Mance. “Is she The Watcher?”

This story first appeared in a standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine in November. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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