On the phone with my dad, I gleefully revealed I had scheduled an interview with Fran Drescher. It was to mark the 20th anniversary of her sitcom’s final episode, I explained, a show that she did not only star in but created: The Nanny. It was not my journalistic prowess, or the ‘get’ itself, that subsequently subdued him into silent disbelief, but the fact that it had been two decades since he had seen Fine on air. What my father found most shocking was the fact that the nanny, in her Moschino, mini skirts, and square-toed mules, must now be, well, his age.
The word ‘enduring’ is often associated with characters that have such an impact on the pop cultural conscious, they are referenced far beyond their retirement. A more appropriate descriptor for Fine is ‘ageless’—and Drescher isn’t the only woman responsible for that. The dream team that is costume designer Brenda Cooper and The Nanny‘s inceptor created a character whose aesthetic is so memorable, it has an entire Instagram account dedicated to documenting each of her outfits—worth noting, @whatfranwore has more online disciples than even Drescher herself.
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“[ Season 1 episode 15 “Deep Throat”] 🧡 🧡 🧡 This orange blazer is from avant-garde designer Val Piriou,” reads the caption on one image, “…I love that Brenda Cooper used up and coming designers of the decade. It made Fran’s style much more unique.” The post has over 12,000 likes.
Twenty years on, one can pinpoint any Nanny ‘look’ as an outfit they themselves has worn, thrifted, or digitally saved. Prior to Friends, before Sex and the City, and long predating Gossip Girl, The Nanny made fashion a main character. For the aforementioned anniversary of the show’s finale, we asked masterminds Fran Drescher and Brenda Cooper to walk us through just how they created Fine’s style and flair to become The Nanny.
First off, how were you two introduced?
F: It should start with me on that because I created The Nanny, but actually, I worked with Brenda prior on a show called Princesses and I was very impressed with her. Even though she wasn’t the lead designer, I thought she was the more talented of the two, and I felt that, should I get into another series situation, I would absolutely want to bring her on to the project. As fate would have it, it wasn’t long after that that The Nanny happened, and that’s how we ended up working together.
Brenda, how was that experience for you, meeting for the first time and coming on board?
B: You know, in Hollywood not many people keep their word, but Fran was completely amazing. After a very short period of time, I got a call saying that she’s heading a series and she wants me to design it. Fran and I are a match made in style heaven.
Did you expect the response of millennials to Fran?
B: When I created them in partnership with Fran, I wanted it to be enduring. But who knew an idol would be born?
F: Everything about the show has become a television classic. While we were doing the show, the costumes were the star. The show has just taken on such momentum over the years, if anything, its gained traction. There are people who weren’t even alive while we were shooting it that are now huge fans of it, and then millennials who grew up watching it and have great nostalgia for it.
B: I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t know about the show and the look of the show, which is fab. It’s really just amazing, people just love it and I talk to people on instagram about it and it’s great to hear their reaction.
What did you intend to be the lifeblood of Fran’s styling when you first set out? What did you really want to convey in those really early days?
B: The funny thing is that it was actually my first job. I had assisted for three years and I wanted to create a classic style, tons of wit. In the beginning we didn’t have a lot of money so it was hard to create that sense of humor and she [Fran] came up with this “spirited elegance” and that was what we wanted to achieve. At that time in fashion color was huge, so I just started playing with silhouettes. In the beginning it was turtlenecks and mini skirts, the black and pink tights and black square heels, and then changing out the other pieces. As the budget increased, I would spend Monday and Tuesday shopping at will, on Wednesday we would do a fitting for a couple of hours, and we’d find the outfits.
F: With the popularity of the show, there were a lot of designers that were coming up at that time—Moschino was doing things that were really out of the box. They had a lot of humor in their designs and it was very important to Brenda that the Nanny character, straddle that line between being sexy but wholesome and never trashy. So there were a lot of boardroom sessions where we’d go through three or four dozen outfits until we really found the thing that gave us everything that we wanted to give. Many times, in working with some of these great young and new designers that were so enthusiastic for us to be able to play with their designs and mix-and-match, it became a really wonderful collaborative situation. Brenda forged a lot of great alliances with other people responding to her talent.
B: I feel like thats such a modern aesthetic too. That’s such a 2019 aesthetic, the whole “I can be clothed head to toe and still exude sex appeal.” Fran’s character was very inspirational. The way Fran dressed gets lots of comments about people who were struggling or having a hard time and looked at Fran and her character for inspiration and to uplift them in their lives.
As Fran’s character evolved and matured, how did you approach her style? What shifted?
BR: We really wanted that to be the whim of what was in fashion. It was first what’s in fashion and then we would tweak the same feel but in certain ways to make it less conservative or more conservative but, it was always the same formula, just slight tweaks. We always had people assist who would do alterations and embellish the costumes, nothing ever was straight from the store without ever being adapted or embellished or going through a fitting. It was all perfectly Fran.
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F: Brenda also has a great feel for building a body from the inside out. I’ve never worked with anyone that was as knowledgeable and committed to offsetting and enhancing a woman’s body with the right undergarments. Very often, people are not wearing the right undergarments, not the right bra, not the right smoother, not the right underwear, and this is all part of her specialty. If you add on to that the right shoe, the right stocking, she would reach into the pantyhose and pull on my butt so that it was in the right position—it was just incredible. Also, details in terms of improving on design because we were using the garments for the purpose of television which was the only visual medium. Nobody was watching the show on any other devices, so buttons were changed to be more glamorous and showy, rhinestones, colors, lapels were hemmed with different colors and different fabrics and everything matched. We would buy pieces and we didn’t even know what we would be wearing them with. It was a look!
You also handled maternity so well. There is usually such a division between pregnancy and sexuality—like when the female character becomes a mother, she loses all her sex appeal.
F: Well, the central tension on the show, between Fran and Mr. Sheffield, was also a major component for its success, so it was important that she be female and flirtatious at the same time as wholesome and motherly. So that was a tightrope that we always had to walk and I think that the show was very successful. She was very appealing.
How was the response back then the show’s costuming? Were you getting the same overwhelming praise you are now?
F: At the time, the show’s clothes were as big of a star as I was. Everyone talked about the clothes. What’s interesting to me, and I’m sure Brenda will agree, is there aren’t more shows that do that. They’re so determined to make people feel normal but that’s not really what people tune in to see. They want to see a visual feat. They want to get lost in things, they want to be inspired by things, they want to spend a half an hour in something that’s larger than life and really takes them on a journey and a ride that makes you laugh out loud. That’s what this show did. It was a coming together of talent, but the talent was on all levels and thats why the show became a classic. We all knew that we were catching lightning in a bottle and that something special was happening.
B: I wanted to show this elevated comedy in a very stylish way. A lot of producers wouldn’t necessarily let me do that, but Fran was divine to work with and she just gave me my wings, let me fly, let me do my things, nine times out of 10.
Fran, were you ever nervous that Brenda was so early in her career? Did that feel like a risk at the time?
F: No not at all. All the people coming on were in the right place at the right time. Shortly after I worked with Brenda, I found myself in a little club in New York City ‘s theater district. There was this young woman singing original songs and I was sitting in the audience. I swear to you, I said to myself, I’m going to get this woman to write me a song…she wrote me the most famous theme song of ’90s television, The Nanny‘s theme. Stars were aligning. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with working for people I didn’t think were talented based on the mistakes they were making, so I was determined to get inside in a big way. I was putting it out to the universe and everything came together in the right way.
Are there any history-making outfits that you feel really defined the character?
F: I mean I think Brenda and I would probably agree that it was the Moschino dress.
B: There were so many outfits that I personally absolutely loved. The great thing with Fran was draping her in a Barbara Streisand look and then placing her in an Audrey Hepburn look, its just so difficult to hone in on one outfit because everything was so exciting and delightful.
F: Brenda is one of those designers, and believe me there aren’t a lot of them, that can read the script and the comedy and get inspired to translate that and support the comedy with her designs. Thats a whole other skill set that we had. The things that she would find just off of being inspired by the script just made all the elements come together in such a cohesive way.
There are so many outfits I would die to wear today.
F: I wish there was someone as aware of what was happening online as we are because I think there should be a tribute to The Nanny for what we brought in terms of costume to television in the ’90s. People try to emulate the looks, even people like Cardi B. I think that it should have even more of a platform in popular culture outside of social media. It’s an anomaly that it hasn’t happened before or since.
Have you seen another show since where fashion has had a main role the way that it did on The Nanny?
B: I mean, maybe one or two not many come to mind right now. The thing is, we did it with such finesse, whereas others make fashion cliche. We didn’t make fashion cliche.
F: There were sitcoms were the people dressed well. I think probably the only show that spoke to fashion the way the Nanny did was Sex In The City. That took fashion to another place. People watched it for the clothes as much as they did on The Nanny. I don’t know if they used it as much as we did in terms of enhancing out joke and I don’t know whether the ladies of the show became a global conversation like all the characters on The Nanny, in one single shot. The show absolutely did record fashion in a way that is rarely done.
Brenda, were able to inject the same amount of work and commitment into the other characters that you put into Fran?
B: Yes, I mean I was passionate. I was passionate about every detail that went into the show. I paid as much detail to every single character in the show as I paid to Fran. When they were on upstairs, I was glued to the monitor. If anything was wrong, Fran would be so wonderful to let me stop and adjust and make it 100% perfect. I had the same attention to detail and commitment to every character on the show.
Surely you have been approached for a reunion?
F: I can’t really do a reboot just yet, that’s a couple of years away. Im also considering that if the timing happens, perhaps it would be more interesting to do a millennial show with an all new cast. It wouldn’t be “Where are they 20 years later?” but a series again with stars from today with new clothes and an all new female thing. Here’s the thing. I think that it’s a classic television show and I have to be very conscientious of that. I don’t want the last thing you see be like Godfathers 3. It’s very important that we don’t rush into doing something that we may regret and that we really know what it is. I think the next thing that we’re working on is going to be very exciting and will be the thing to take us wherever the series is supposed to go.
If Fran was revived, how would she dress in 2019?
B: I would add three inches to her skirt! An elegant sexy woman instead of a sassy elegant woman. There wouldn’t be a huge difference but just an updated version of what we did before. Finding a look and finding what’s right is so organic. I think we would see what’s there and work together and use the resources that are available to shape who she would be today. It would be what worked for the character and what was available and we would make it look fabulous!