How Costume Designer Brenda Cooper Ensured The Nanny's Fashion Would Live Forever
With Fran Fine edits flooding TikTok, The Flashy Girl from Flushing's bold, unapologetic style is still a massive fashion inspiration.
Like it or not, we were — and still are — one nation under Fran Fine, fashionable and with miniskirts and big hair for all. It’s undeniable Fran’s fearless ‘fits on The Nanny delivered style lesson after style lesson, influencing even recent fashion trends in an enormous way. Through a fervent commitment to styling few other people have, Emmy-award winning stylist Brenda Cooper, the mastermind behind the TV show’s most iconic looks, singlehandedly disrupted the fashion world and empowered people to tailor-make their own version of The Nanny’s style and flair. And it’s largely Cooper’s approach to fashion and styling that has allowed the show’s wardrobe undying appreciation from fashion lovers even now, as The Nanny landed on HBO Max in April and its costumes experience new life and admiration across social media.
Styling was instinctual to Cooper from a young age, though she may not have realized it at the time. Precariously balanced on her chair, Cooper shows me over FaceTime how she used to take something as inconspicuous as terry towels and intuitively transform them into chic swimsuits and halter-tops. Growing up, she became entranced with 1940s movies, and, as one often does when it comes to love, she fell hard... for Katharine Hepburn’s pleated pants, smart vests, and shoulder pads — all requisites for many of The Nanny’s costumes. Although, to be fair, they’d make a damn good outfit today, in Cooper’s opinion.
Her love of fashion steadfast, she worked under a number of other designers starting out, but she didn’t pursue costuming or her own fashion consulting business until she was in her 30s. Even then, that was mainly “to pay rent,” she tells Elite Daily. Eventually, one of her first clients recognized her knack for styling. “I didn't even really know it was a talent. I just loved fashion and I loved dressing people,” Cooper says. Her client introduced her to a costume design agent, and a few days later, Cooper “had a job.” “Three years later, I was walking up on stage to get an Emmy for The Nanny.”
Eventually, Cooper met Fran Drescher working on the short-lived show Princesses, and the connection was instant. Cooper recalls Drescher was essentially manifesting her own future at the time. Drescher told her if she ever got her own show, Cooper would be the one dressing her to the nines. She didn’t think anything of it until a year later, when she got the call: Drescher had just sold The Nanny to CBS. The show later launched in November 1993, with Cooper on board “I'm very confident about my ability and my skill to make a woman look and feel fabulous,” says Cooper. “It's a God-given talent. Thank goodness Fran saw it. Otherwise, I might not be a stylist today.”
During the show’s heyday, almost immediately, Cooper’s designs were revered by the public, and she was thrust in front of the press. The show’s fashion might as well have been billed as a main character — after all, it was The Nanny’s only Emmy win. Naturally, viewers came for Fran Fine’s eccentric personality and hilarious antics, but it was her bold, completely unapologetic outfits that really sold her character. “The character of Fran Fine...the way she dressed, which was self-expressed, and [how] she lived out loud, has helped [women] in their lives,” Cooper explains. “It has helped them get through difficult times when they didn't know who they were.”
Albeit the crux of the show and titular character, the show’s wardrobe was often written off by the production team as superfluous spending initially. But Cooper knew better. Mise-en-scène tells as much of an episode’s themes through the seams of Fran’s fluorescent Todd Oldham suits as a well-timed joke about Andrew Lloyd Weber. Understandably, humor and fun were among Cooper’s top priorities every time she’d stretch microscopic budgets and precisely curate the six outfits per week out from her overflowing clothing racks. “Before the actor delivered their first line, I wanted the audience to smile,” Cooper says.
Much like Fran during a crisis, Cooper shopped until she dropped for the perfect outfit. Sometimes, that looked like running through Beverly Hills to put together a last-minute outfit for legendary guest stars like Patti LaBelle. Others, it was fishing out one of the Flashy Girl from Flushing’s promotional outfits in a junk store. The extravagance was intentional — mediocrity be damned because, as Cooper says, nothing about the show was mediocre. Her keen sartorial sense and commitment to that intention ensured two things. First, the outfits of every single person on the show never missed the mark. Second, viewers around the world ate it up every time.
And they still do. Today, The Nanny continues to sashay onto FYPs and social feeds globally, recently going viral for what Fran does best — sporting her deeply goofy laugh and pairing it with her and Cooper’s Loehmann’s sales rack sensibilities. The “#TheNanny” hashtag has more than 76.1 million views on TikTok and counting. A scroll through the videos under this and related hashtags — TikTokers dressing up in their version of Fran’s maximalist looks, tributes to Hot Girl Fran’s drip, and video love letters to the Lady in Red — makes it abundantly clear we’re living through the Fran Fine renaissance. On June 8, Cooper styled Fran Drescher in an updated version of Fran’s rainbow-colored vest from The Nanny’s first season, proving, indeed, Fran will forever remain fine. Naturally, the outfit quickly exploded on the internet. “As it should,” Cooper says.
It’s clear, by way of social media’s continued resurfacing of Fran’s outfits, that Cooper’s designs for the show have transcended time. But Cooper’s less concerned with influence or fame than she is with the intimate, personal transformations she affords her clients. Take actor Lauren Lane, who played C.C. in The Nanny and has frequently credited Cooper’s work as something that allowed her to confidently appreciate her body, particularly during a time when women were forcibly whittled down to size. Such an impact doesn’t just touch Cooper; it brings her to tears. To her, it’s ludicrous that anyone ignorantly insist there is any one rigid standard, shape, or size as a prerequisite for style. “Regardless of your size, your weight, your height, your ethnicity, every woman has the right to look beautiful. And my job is to help them find their beauty and bring that out,” Cooper says. “It's my purpose and passion and privilege to guide a woman to their magnificence through the way they present themselves to the world.”
With her upcoming book The Silhouette Solution, releasing Dec. 7, she’s taking her specialty mainstream. She patented a formula that hones, streamlines, and equips readers with the rules to revolutionize their wardrobes. The first step? Throw the fashion rulebook out the window. And while you’re at it, ditch any rigid adherence to trends, too. Understanding your body and what features you want to highlight will benefit you much more than any passing fad every will, according to Cooper. Above all, keep in mind that prioritizing how an outfit fits is key to feeling happy and confident in how you look.
“Having worked with so many women, automatically when you put the right clothes on, there's a shift. I see it; they shift immediately, and they feel more confident,” Cooper says. “When you have more confidence, you take more risks. When you take more risks, you have more opportunity to realize your dreams.”
For Cooper, “dressing up” can hardly be reduced to a simple, superficial act when it gives you the space to dress down your insecurities and to “accept, embrace, and celebrate who you are, exactly as you are.” Putting together the perfect look specifically for you and not giving a f*ck about the rules is one of the purest forms of that celebration. What else could be more quintessentially Fran Fine than that?
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