What is a period crime drama without the fashion? Godfather Of Harlem may be the captivating tale of Bumpy Johnson’s ascension to drug king pin in the 60s, but the silent star of the Epix series is the style! Godfather Of Harlem is a time portal back to the Black Is Beautiful movement that encouraged Black people to wear Black designers and take pride in their natural Black beauty while also shifting the negative perception of the Black community. Sunday’s best became a daily mindset that was exuded through the emerging Black fashion scene rising in Harlem’s hubs.
All of which is displayed through the casts’ wardrobe on the critically-acclaimed series. Ilfenesh Hadera embodies Mayme Johnson – wife to Bump Johnson (Forrest Whittaker). Mayme’s style is a standout on the show. From her fitted dresses and cloche hats, her sartorial style is always on-point like her delivery.
With two stylish seasons, Godfather of Harlem deserves to be recognized at the 73rd Emmys for its impeccable style.
“Wardrobe is such a huge part of the creation of a character,” says Hadera over e-mail. “Mayme specifically came from really humble beginnings. Born in 1915 in North Carolina, she was determined to leave behind the oppressive poverty she was born into. In many ways Mayme is putting a costume on when she gets dressed just as much as I am, she’s just been doing it longer.”
According to Hadera, her character’s style is about escapism. “She’s grown accustomed to a closet full of fine fabrics and tailored silhouettes, but there’s much more than vanity and expensive taste there, there’s a deep-rooted desire to separate herself from the girl she left behind in the south.”
With great fashion shoes to live up to, costume designer Sarah Laux took over the reins in season two of the popular series, but you couldn’t tell, something Godfather Of Harlem star Ilfenesh Hadera called a “seamless transition.”
“There’s such great attention paid to detail – your hat to match your shoes and dress; your earrings paired with your necklace and your brooch. I think people really dressed with intention and presented the best version of themselves to the world. As a black woman in the 60s you didn’t need to give anyone another reason to treat you like a second-class citizen so your hair was going to be done, your clothes pressed.”
Hadera isn’t the only stylish star on the show. She praises her co-star Forrest Whittaker’s keen fashion sense. “Your co-star Forrest Whittaker also looks dapper every episode himself,” I say to which she joyfully responds, “Doesn’t he?! And Giancarlo as ACP is always impeccable. I’ve never seen a cast of men who look more sharp in a suit.”
Much of Bumpy and Mayme’s style of dress is rooted in their command for respect. “There’s such a difference between how Bumpy and Chance and Pettigrew dress and how their Italian counterparts do. Bumpy is always suited up, even at home, when we see Chin whether at home or in his social club he’s always in a pair of slacks and untucked short sleeves. Same for the henchmen on both sides, Chance and Pettigrew are much more casual in style than Bumpy but still, everything is well tailored, their hair is always done. The same cannot be said for Ernie and Benny Eggs; that’s no accident.”
Fashion in the 60s was a direct representation of the culture, Black resilience and creativity. It’s safe to say Godfather Of Harlem got it right in the wardrobe department.