In the first episode of Season 3 of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Tony Shalhoub’s Abe Weissman tosses a lot of his daughter’s clothes out onto the hallway floor. It’s like a clown car of dresses–it seems to never end. Midge Maisel has a lot of clothes, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have bigger, grander outfits for her first time going on tour with Shy Baldwin. Costume designer Donna Zakowska gives Rachel Brosnahan some stunning clothes to wear this time around, and every piece was created with the arc of the character in mind.
I could’ve had Zakowska on the phone for days talking about every single piece of clothing featured in Maisel. You could watch the show on mute and see every single color of fabric and pattern under the sun. While in Season 2 Zakowska got to create a lot of summer-y, fluffy dresses for the family’s venture to the Catskills, there’s something very elegant about everything Midge wears this time. Everything feels elevated and expensive. Midge is performing for a lot of wealthy people on vacation in Vegas and Miami, so she needs to make sure she looks the part.
The scale of Maisel’s third season is broadened just like Midge’s worldview. Thousands of costumes were created for everyone in the hotels and theaters in addition to the staggering amount of young men who stood in as soldiers in the first episode of the season. Everyone always comments on how smart, instinctual Midge is in her comedy, but a lot of credit needs to go to Zakowska and her designs. They are as gorgeous and thought out as Midge’s act.
Awards Daily: Is this the biggest season for you?
Donna Zakowska: Not in terms of principals. In terms of principal actors, it’s somewhat aligned to what I’ve done before. In terms of extras and in terms of the scope, it is. We did costume 9,000 extras.
DZ: In that sense, it was a pretty hectic schedule.
AD: Just in that first episode alone with all the young men and the audience watching Shy Baldwin and Midge perform.
DZ: On movies, you have 2,000 for the whole time, but that episode was an enormous episode.
AD: How did you want to differentiate Midge on the road versus her at home in New York? I imagine she would go on a spending spree to buy more clothes.
DZ: I think they are a bit more presentational. When you see her in New York with her coat and her hat, she’s functioning. This was more about performance and theatricality. She’s seeing herself as a performer and this is the beginning of the big time on some level, you know?
DZ: I also was wanting to put it to the 1960s. Well, I shouldn’t say ‘60s, because I like to distinguish 1960 from something like 1963. The hats had a wider brim and because we were in Las Vegas and Miami, it could be a bigger, theatrical summer look. A lightweight look. This is really different than anything else we’ve done so far. Her sense of being a performer has become much stronger. One of the only times she’s in a little pink dress is when she’s making the brisket for everyone on the tour. We can echo back to Midge the housewife image. I didn’t do that very much in Season 3.
AD: You brought up specifically 1960. What can you tell me is specific about that year that you wanted to include?
DZ: In a way, it’s a little looser and freer. What’s good about 1960 to 1962—I wouldn’t go beyond that—there is still the structure of the ‘50s which is more of a flowing structure. It hasn’t become, what I call, the space-agey costumes. It’s geometric, so it’s a very good transitional period. You have the end of the ‘50s with the structure flow with the theatricality. The hats start to really go crazy. It’s practically unbelievable how, when you hit that date, they become so much wilder than they’ve ever been.
AD: I wanted to talk about a few specific pieces. When Susie and Midge get to Miami, she is wearing this dress with a big hat with some pieces of fabric flowing behind her.
DZ: That was a little bit of a superhero outfit with the cape flowing. I’ve always felt that way about her coats, and I wanted to capture that spirit. That particular outfit there was a lot of craftsmanship. I found a fabric that I liked but I didn’t like all of the tones so we hand-painted more into it. The hat was made and I had all the silk made and hand-painted. It had to have a big impact because that lobby is massive and theatrical. There was a lot of manipulation of the fabric and decorative elements added that were more than what we usually do.
AD: Since that lobby is so big and grand, she does have the potential to get swallowed up but she just stands out.
AD: Rose goes to Oklahoma, she really stands out when goes to see her family. What can you tell me about her arc through her wardrobe this year?
DZ: I think what was important about that outfit is that when she arrived that she looked like she was from a different world. The geometrics and the avant-garde quality to it is very important so that when she’s in that homey environment, we know that she’s not going to fit in with this family reunion. I wanted it to be a little bit hyper. It did come from research, but it was pushed for that avant-garde quality. Since Paris, that’s something I try to go back into that world. She’s not just the housewife and she’s making artistic choices. We spoke about including that into her looks from that point on.
AD: Rose really knows how to wear clothes. She’s so stylish. Marin Hinkle always looks so great whenever she’s on screen.
DZ: She’s a great person to fit because she’s go great with clothes.
AD: When Midge is at The Apollo, she wears this pink and white dress that I love. It’s very clean and feminine with that huge bow. Do you think Midge just wanted to make a splash in such an iconic place?
DZ: I would say that it was important that this dress had a big impact. The thing you notice in Season 3 is that Midge uses a bit of color in her black dresses. When we got to The Apollo, I had done the sketch of the dress and then I went through a lot of palette ideas and asked Amy. Should we go back to black with a little color or maybe we should just go full-blown pink? Just go for it. It’s unlike anything she’s performed in. It’s very strong and it’s very Midge. It was a very conscious choice to make something that was theatrical because it’s a great contrast to her awkwardness. It’s difficult to be bold and awkward at the same moment so that dress allowed her to do that. It’s more dramatically interesting.
AD: Especially because she has to overcome her nervousness when she’s standing in front of a crowd who is questioning why she is even there.
DZ: Exactly. Totally awkward.
AD: I love the costumes that Shy Baldwin wears this season. You get to do something different with him since we get so much of him this year. I love how everything is shimmering and shiny. What were the inspirations for his clothes?
DZ: I looked a lot at Johnny Mathis. There was something about the casualness and elegance of Johnny with how he wore those sweaters or he’d put a white or off-white tie with a white shirt. It was kind of avant-garde in a way for the period. The suits themselves, the fabrics, were from England. I wanted to get something that shimmered but was elegant and tasteful. Occasionally, Johnny would perform in a tuxedo, and we built everything for him. He’s sort of a slight person, so the tailoring becomes very important to not overpower him but make him elegant at the same moment.
AD: I think the costumes really enhance his talent.
DZ: That’s very nice to hear. (Laughs)
AD: I always ask what costume designers would steal for themselves, but I feel like I have to ask what you would specifically wear to walk down that staircase to nowhere in Miami?
DZ: That’s very hard. The coats are something I could see incorporating into my own clothes. I love them. When she gets on the plane in that pale blue coat, you can’t see it that much, but the interior is this amazing floral print. I love the subtlety. It seems simple and hidden like it has its own hidden story. Certainly that pale blue coat. When she runs into The Apollo, that red silk coat with the pink lining is an incredible garment. I would definitely wear that tomorrow, you know, if we ever get to go to an event again. (Laughs)
The third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon.