Allyson B. Fanger, the four-time Emmy-nominated costume designer for Netflix’s Grace & Frankie, has been a successful designer and stylist in Hollywood for a couple of decades now, with accolades and opportunities aplenty. She’s almost an empty-nester; her two oldest kids are in college, and one is in high school. So when I ask her if she’s reached a place of contentment with her career, her response might surprise you. “Content? Never,” she says with a laugh. “That’s not in my DNA. I’m always looking. I think that’s why I love what I do. Every day is different and a challenge. Every time I get a script, it’s a new challenge.”
Fanger’s family moved to Lake Minnetonka from the East Coast when she was very young, and her dad still lives here. “I feel grateful that I got to spend my formative years in Minnetonka and Hopkins,” Fanger says. “It was formative to me aesthetically, too, not only because Minnesota is so beautiful and the lakes are so beautiful, but there’s this sort of Midwestern version of preppy culture that I tapped into early on with my parents.” She mentions a recent episode of Grace & Frankie where the characters flash back to 1995. “Robert Hanson, Martin Sheen’s character—his style was 100 percent my dad from 1995,” Fanger says. She also mentions a relatively large cohort of Los Angeles designers and stylists who hail from Minnesota. “We have regular brunches,” she says. “There’s something about growing up [in Minnesota] and having this good work ethic, and good follow-through. I think that came from that Midwestern culture. And we’re all quite successful.”
Fanger, who graduated from Hopkins High School (which was called Lindbergh High at the time), gets back to visit the Twin Cities pretty regularly, especially every Thanksgiving. “We all love to gather and cook at my sister’s house, and we got snow this past year, so that was exciting for my kids,” she says with a smile. “We always do a walk around the lakes. That’s a family tradition, no matter how cold it is. We always go to our favorite restaurants.” She gives a special shoutout to Patti Soskin’s Yum! Kitchen and Bakery. “My kids love it. Especially the nut goodley bar.”
Allyson with two of her daughters on the lake in Minnesota.
Classic photo with Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
So how did Fanger hop from Hopkins High to Hollywood? First she headed to college in Colorado, where she majored in social anthropology—which would turn out to be a spark that ignited much of her future career. “I was really interested in people and character and culture,” she says. Now, when she’s creating a character’s style, “I factor in where someone came from, what the light is like there—all of that contributes to the way people dress and the colors they choose.” After college, she traveled all over the world. “I learned that people tell their own stories through what they wear.”
Back in Minneapolis for a while, Fanger started hanging out with local artists and photographers. She met Gus Gustafson, a well-known Twin Cities advertising photographer, who told her she should pursue a career as a stylist. “I said, ‘What is that?’” Fanger remembers. “He connected me with one of the stylists he was working with at the time. As soon as I did one job with them, I knew 100 percent this was what I should be doing.” Fanger worked on locally filmed commercials and movie productions and even got a job as a production assistant so she could dive deeper and learn more about the film industry.
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And the rest is history. She headed to Los Angeles, where she raised her children, and has worked on a huge variety of TV and movie projects over the past couple of decades. Grace & Frankie might certainly be a highlight of her career, garnering four primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes, and allowing Fanger to work with some of her favorite industry folks, including show co-creator Marta Kauffman. She’s close with the cast, and works closely with them to help show each character’s arc partly through what they wear. “When we first started with Mallory [played by Brooklyn Decker], she was a ‘west side mom,’ very classic, chic and understated,” says Fanger. “Now that she’s working, we started getting her all these great suits. And Brianna [played by June Diane Raphael] has a very strong, strong look. June will say to me, ‘Where is she wearing this, Allyson?’ and I’ll say, ‘To the grocery store!’ because she is so fearless, and people respond to her character.”
One particularly fun project for Fanger was getting to make shirts for Jane Fonda’s character, Grace. “I love a crisp white button-down, but I wanted to bring color into her life, because Frankie is bringing color into her life,” she explains. Fanger found a few pieces of vintage printed fabric and made the crisp, three-quarter-sleeve shirts herself. She started sourcing interesting prints from artists around the country, including one from Arizona, Bari J., who discovered Fanger on Instagram. She increasingly uses social media to find one-of-a-kind pieces from small-batch artists. “Instagram is so great for me. I find jewelry designers; it’s like the biggest craft fair in the world.”
Catch Grace & Frankie’s sixth season—and catch up if you haven’t watched the first five—streaming on Netflix. Grace and Frankie stills courtesy of
Netflix/Skydance. All other images courtesy of Allyson Fanger (@allysonfanger on Instagram).