How Offspring redefined Australian television costume design

Sure, Offspring’s fifth season was the most stylish to date, but Nina’s local labels and vintage finds represented more than just good fashion: they were the real barometer to what was happening on the show.

Whether you’re a cult devotee of Nina and Billie Proudman, or just secretly relieved the whole thing is over, there is no denying Offspring‘s amazing costume design achievements.

Contemporary, modern day screen styling is a tricky business. No other Australian television show has ever managed to reach such sartorial heights, either commercially or emotionally. Think about it: what other modern series has attracted so much interest in its costumes? Period fashions, while fabulous to watch, unfortunately don’t count here, and by that I mean rich visual offerings from 1970s shows like Puberty Blues, Paper Giants and Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, or even the 1920s-set Underbelly: RazorTelevision charicatures don’t count either, despite iconic costumes from The Comedy Company‘s Kylie Mole, Ja’mie from Summer Heights High or any of the gals on Kath and Kim.

Offspring Season One - Asher Keddie and Don Hany

So we must look to popular, everyday, modern female characters. Sigrid Thornton on SeaChange was worshipped almost as much as Nina, but did anyone ever really care what her character threw on each morning? Ditto Kate Richie in Home and Away? Love My Way‘s Frankie (Claudia Karvan) comes to mind as a similar style standout, but I don’t recall a mad spike in retail to snap up whatever she was wearing the night before. Likewise Jessica Marais and Jessica McNamee on Packed to the Rafters.

This, then, was something special: an Australian show utilising contemporary costuming as a spectacular storytelling device, and no visual tool held as much symbolism from beginning to end as Nina’s signature layers, particularly her scarves. (Although it goes without saying they do seem slightly unsuited to her occupation as an obstetrician.)

Offspring Nina style scarves in Season Two

At times those scarves were skinny, tight, and looked as though they might even strangle her (which often meant she was uptight or on edge), while open and loose often meant she was feeling more comfortable. Wide and messily looped often meant she was flustered. Even the lack of a scarf meant something: perhaps she felt less of a need for “body armour” and was more comfortable in her own skin; or perhaps she had simplified her wardrobe since becoming a mum and reduced the amount of layers in general. Each piece signified something.

The fact we know so much about the individual brands worn by Nina and Billie speaks volumes too. Women wanted to emulate one or both of the Proudmans so ferociously, there were entire blogs, fan pages and Pinterest boards dedicated to captioning their outfits (if not divulging details of the exact items worn on screen, then tributes were created by way of ensembles inspired by the show).

Offspring season 3 - Nina

The only real comparison to that level of hype is American shows like SuitsScandal, Revenge and Sex and the City. That is the level of fashion frenzy we’re talking about.

It comes back to the amazing work from costume designer Michael Chisholm, who has often spoken about the specifics of crafting Nina’s eclectic style with associate costume designer Zed Dragojlovich. Sourced predominantly from local designers, overseas finds and items created just for the show, Nina’s bohemian look was refined over the seasons from hippy boho to sophisticated boho as befitting a 30-something single mum. (Er, definitely not the outfit she wore in her Bad Pregnant gangsta dream below… but it still goes down as a style highlight.)

Bad Pregnant Nina in Offspring

That meant boots, open blouses, kaftan tops, scarves, draped jackets, skinny jeans, open waistcoats, layered necklaces, kimonos, boho bags, cropped jackets, maxi skirts and lots of dresses, including night-time ones for Nina’s early party looks. Wide belts helped cinch in all the flowing layers.

Australian brands on display included TL Wood, Wheels and Doll Baby, Tigerlily, Binny, Scanlan & Theodore, Samantha Wills, Lola Australia, Little Joe, Lee Matthews and Sass and Bide, with the odd bit of Zara, Warehouse and True Religion denim thrown in too. Green often featured in her colourways, anything from mint to emerald, as did floral prints, the occasional paisley, artistic patterns and muted colours.

It would be easy to write Offspring off as a mere fashion fest with a parade of styles merely chosen for their vintage or designer appeal (which grew in proportion to the popularity of the show)… it would be easy if they didn’t tell so much of a story themselves.

Thomas and Nina in Offspring

It’s no secret that Season Five, which has just been released on DVD, is without a doubt my fashion favourite. (I wrote about it over here when the show ended, and I also briefly interviewed Offspring fashion expert Nikki Parkinson of Styling You). The addition of Billie’s luxe punk and striking corporate daywear really sealed the deal for me, drawn from the likes of Armani Exchange, Hugo Boss, Barbara Bui, Vivienne Westwood, Theory, Karen Millen and Thurley. Best of all were Billie’s fabulous tailored jackets which came in a sumptuous range of fabrics, from tweed, to studded leather, to sequins. Those jackets became to Billie what scarves were to Nina: image defining.

Ah, Offspring. You raised the bar for television everywhere, and with any luck, left directors and writers with plenty more costume possibilities to think about too.

To finish off, here’s a quick look back at the evolution of the Proudman sisters over five seasons of Offspring:

Season 1 - Billie and Nina key casual looks - scarf and vest

 

Season 2 - Billie and Nina jeans and boots

 

Season 3 - Billie and Nina denim jacket

 

Season 4 - Billie and pregnant Nina fashion

 

Season 5 - Nina red kimono jacket and Billie red jacket

* Images: Courtesy of Channel 10 and Madman Entertainment

Offspring Season Five is out now on DVD.

the author

Marie C

Feature writer by trade, movie maniac by night, Marie-Christine grew up watching films from the projection booth at the local drive-in and now she's lucky enough to write about them.

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