The Brothers Sun
Costume Designer Vera Chow

The Brothers Sun is good popcorn. The confident and colorful action, the sunny streets and suburbs of LA, and, without question, all the slick suits and costumes on display. Most of them are handmade courtesy of costume designer Vera Chow and her team. When you talk to The Brothers Sun costume designer, she’s a natural storyteller, to the point where you see how she got into the storytelling business.

The costume designer told us it was The Fifth Element that originally inspired her career path. “It was actually what made me realize that costume designing was a job,” she said, “Nobody thinks it was a job when we were children. And then I realized that Jean Paul Gaultier did it, and that’s when I connected that movies is a job that also needs designers. “

Chow went on to costume design for The Walking Dead, Marco Polo, and most recently, collaborated with the legendary Michelle Yeoh on The Brothers Sun. The artist spoke to Immersive about her experience as a costume designer, portraying the mob, and working with imposter syndrome.

What’s usually an expected challenge on a job?


How do you cut corners? How do you stretch every dollar you get for a show like The Brothers Sun?

That’s a good way to put it. I can say that I’m the type of costume designer that is not very in tune with the fashion side of things and more with the resource and research side. My team and I like doing thrift or dollar store situations, and that’s how we save a lot of money. I like to say that I am really cheap on the things that I buy, but heavy on manual labor. 

I like to take everything apart and rebuild it instead of getting something. I’ve had a bunch of fans asking, “Where did I get this? Where did I get that?” It is completely untraceable, so it’s a little hard to track. If there is any clothing that was store bought, it’s mostly API designers. 

What about the suits? 

Almost all of them are made because they are very stunt heavy. I have customized all the lining and embroideries inside of it. 

For you, what were maybe the smallest of details or nuances with the costumes that helped the actors create the characters?

There is a lot, for sure. Part of it is cultural. I grew up in Hong Kong, not in Taiwan, but I grew up in Hong Kong and there’s a lot of overlap in our culture. One thing I know is that a wealthy Hong Kong person or wealthy Taiwan person from business, if you send them into the same store, they’re going to walk out with entirely different things. Or even just an American person who is triad over here in LA, they’re going to walk out in entirely different things, and people from Asia would probably be able to look at what they pick and be like, “They’re American, or they’re Taiwan or they’re China.” 

It’s kind of like how we know someone is Southern, someone is East Coast, someone is West Coast, but a lot of it is very subtle. A lot of them have the specific embroidery that is very popular or just a little bit of customization with aesthetics that’s more popular back in our motherland. I do send the pictures to my parents a lot, the fitting photos to be like, “What do you think?” My parents are still there, so my parents are my secret consultants. 

Alice Hewkin in The Brothers Sun (Credit: Netflix)

Like you said, you’re not so much in tune with the fashion world, but when you portray an LA club, what’s modern or popular now that you think is accurate to that nightlife? 

It has to be modern and current, but it also kind of has to be a little timeless, because I don’t want people to be like, “Oh, that is totally 2024.” I did that with Madison Hu‘s character. I was pretty Gen Z with what I did there. But with the club, I just don’t want anyone to stick out too much.

To make a good costume designer, we like to watch people. We’re total creeps when it comes to staring at people. As much as I’m not in tune with fashion labels or fashion week, I am completely acutely aware of, how do I phrase it? A good costume designer is a master of stereotypes, and I feel like to be a good one, you need to know all the rules before you can break them. I think it’s just a keen sense of observing people. And then if you don’t want to fall into the stereotype, so who’s blue collar, who’s a white collar, who’s a Gen Z and who’s not, you need to know it before you can mess with it. Maybe a good costume designer knows, not that I’m saying I’m a good costume designer…

You are. You’re proud of your work, right?

It’s such a weird thing because… okay, there comes a myriad of things. I don’t want to be a cocky asshole. Also, there’s the imposter syndrome that comes with being an artist, being a woman and being a person of color. It’s a triple whammy for me when it comes to imposter syndrome. 

The Brothers Sun (Credit: Netflix)

We’re going to circle back to imposters later. A part of your research for The Brothers Sun was a lot of gangster movies from Hong Kong and Taiwan. How’d they influence you? 

[Executive producers] Kevin [Tancharoen] and Byron [Wu] wanted something very Kill Bill, almost a super realistic aesthetic, which I love. I grew up on manga and anime. That was my love growing up. Most of my research was not movies. I think I watched a total of two or three gangster movies and only the ones from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. I didn’t watch any western triad Yakuza movies because that’s not why I’m here. 

The interesting thing about triads in Taiwan is that there’s such an institution that if you can type Chinese, their shit’s all over YouTube. No one’s hiding anything. Their funeral processions are supervised by the local police. If you type in the right search terms, you don’t even need to research movies, you will see the real thing, their banquets, how they bow and how they do funerals, how they do initiations is completely open information. 

That’s very cool. Where were the three movies or so you watched? 

Gato is a huge Taiwan gangster trilogy. I did learn a lot watching that. I think every part of the trilogy is a couple years apart, and then they started going to rom-com land. It got really weird, like the same characters, but then it became some romance story. No througline in on any of it, but fine, whatever makes ’em happy. 

But there was one I found by accident, and I still think I need to reach out to this director at some point and introduce myself, because there is a famous comedy from Taiwan that is about a Triad boss who is obsessed with The Walking Dead. Therefore, he uses Triad money to make his own zombie movie. 

[Laughs] I hope you reach out.

I owe it to the universe to talk to him [Laughs]. I haven’t reached out to this director yet. We should have lunch or something, because before I even did The Walking Dead or The Brothers Sun, he kind of just predicted my career for me. 

Patton Oswalt in Big Fan (Credit: First Independent Pictures)

What was your first gig? 

This is actually kind of a fun story, but I did this thing…. I wanted to be a costume designer so bad. I am very sorry to New York Women in Film & Television, but I interned for them in 2005 or something, and I don’t care that it’s out right now, but I actually copied all the emails of every costume designer they have in their database.

I still work very hard at the internship, but I didn’t make time to copy all those emails. This is 2005. There’s no Instagram or whatever. I actually sent every single one of them a little gift package. Nowadays it’s considered bribery, maybe. Maybe it’s not even legal that I did that, but I did a little booklet of my portfolio from Parsons [School of Design] and a little resume and a little candy and then not email. 

Literal sugar to make go down. 

Exactly. I went hard. I got a print shop to print it out and everything, and I sent out a hundred of them and amazingly, quite a few wrote back. I remember I heard back from Sandy Powell (Far From Heaven), I heard back from quite a few, but I was like, Sandy Powell wrote me. It was crazy. I had a couple of conversations with designers that are just stunned that I would go that far. 

Amy Westcott (Fallout) gave me my first job. She just did The Wrestler at that time and she actually talked to me on the phone for an hour. That was 2008 or something like that. And then she called me back again and was like, “You sound like you really want this.” I was like, “No shit. I really want this. I sent you fucking candy.” She told me the writer for The Wrestler is shooting a tiny indie called Big Fan… She was just like, “They’re paying less than a hundred dollars a day. You’re on your own girl. It’s like a dollar store purchase kind of thing.” And I said, “What the fuck?” Massive break. I am completely aware of how lucky I am with that. Then I went to Sundance and everything. What a break. I owe Amy a lot.

That’s a good movie to kick things off, too.

Hershey’s kisses, everyone. It’s the way to do this. 

I heard you say, “I’m a used car salesman.” You have to sell yourself as creative as you are, right? 

I don’t know… I feel like you’re only as good as the chain of command. It is built in a way where you speak to people that don’t know art. Your approval is coming from people that don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. I don’t mean directors. I love you, Kevin, I love you. I’m talking about studio heads. Whatever, they don’t remember who I am. I’m one of the 10 costume designers that are Asian that they’re like, “I have to hire her.”

See, this is how I get into trouble. I have been told I don’t have a filter and my publicist is like, “This is what’s fun about me,” but that’s also how I get into fucking trouble. I don’t care. I mean, 2024 is where these things are, if it were ever to not bite back as hard, it would be now, and I feel somebody needs to say that stuff. 

So, you send these things to studios. That’s why we say the bigger the show, the more the approval process, because ultimately, the person that says yes to this are people that don’t know anything you’re talking about. It is such a strange concept to me.

The director gets what I’m talking about. We have a great collaboration. We send it to the EP who starts knowing less about art and the EP goes, “”kay, cool.” They distilled it by 20%. The EP that has to send it to the studio head, who knows? That dilutes it back to 50%. Ultimately, isn’t it me and the director and the writer that knows best? But our approval is coming from within this group of approvals.

The final approval is coming from the person who knows the absolute least about this. I think if you give costume designers free reign and producers just work with directors and writers, I can’t even imagine how good things would be on camera if we actually don’t have to answer to that level. 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan in The Walking Dead (Credit: AMC)

Do higher-ups usually have bad taste when it comes to costumes?

Safe taste mostly. I mean, I won’t go as far as to tell them they have bad taste. Some of them do, but yeah, maybe a little dated — Disney — but safe, I get it. They’re looking at the numbers. In a way, I understand. I understand you’re talking business, but I just cannot imagine how wonderful some of our work would be if we were just given more free reign. I was very lucky with The Walking Dead and Brothers Sun, I got so much trust from the showrunners and producers that they backed me. So even when the studios go, “Oh, those crazy pants,” they’d go, “We trust her.” Very often I think I got very, very lucky. 

Let’s end with imposter syndrome. As successful as you are, how do you deal with it these days? 

Oh, that’s a tough one. I still have it. I feel like people that don’t have it will probably fall very quickly. I don’t know. Imposter syndrome and humility are a very blurry line. I hope I’m shredding the line, right? I am aware that Hollywood is a fickle beast, and I could not have opportunities like that all the time. 

I still have those opportunities, and I don’t want to ever lose it because, especially when it comes to now, I’m given the opportunity to speak for my particular culture. If I don’t have just a bit of inkling of that, like, I don’t represent the whole of China or Taiwan or Hong Kong. If I think my answer is the ultimate answer, then I’ll never learn. I’ll never learn shit, but I don’t feel like an imposter most of the time. 

Good. It’s also healthy to recognize yourself for doing something well too, right? 

Well, there’s always Asian parents. With my mom, I said, “I sent you the trailer for The Brothers Sun. Did you see it?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, sorry. I was traveling.” And I’m like, “Well, what the fuck?” There’s nothing like an Asian parent to remind you.

Oh, and the last thing was I went back to Hong Kong a year or two ago, because all of this is coming from Hong Kong, the imposter syndrome and all that. Anyway, I saw a massive subway wrapped with [ads of] my season of The Walking Dead, and I was like, “Suck at that, Hong Kong.” I remember thinking that, and I go, “Mom, look.” And she’s like, “Hurry, we got to go to the dentist.” So, thank you to my parents for reminding me.

The Brothers Sun is available to stream on Netflix.

Jack Giroux

In high school, Jack would skip classes to interview filmmakers. With 15 years in film journalism, he's contributed to outlets such as Thrillist, Music Connection Magazine, and High Times Magazine. He's witnessed explosions, attended satanic rituals, and scaled volcanoes in his career, but Jack's true passion is interviewing artists.