The fourth season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” premieres February 18, 2022. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the costume creation for the entire cast in this Q&A with Donna Zakowska.
Millions of viewers fell in love with “Midge”-Miriam Maisel-when The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel debuted on Prime Video in 2017. Played by actress Rachel Brosnahan, Mrs. Maisel captivated audiences for three seasons as she conquered the 1950s comedy scene, armed with a sharp wit, relentless optimism and a marvelous wardrobe, designed by two-time Emmy Award-winning designer Donna Zakowska.
“I used color to represent [Midge’s] emotional landscape and emphasize when she needed to be particularly comedic or heroic or even proactive,” Zakowska wrote in her book. Madly Marvelous: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Costumes.“I started referring to his coats as ‘multicolored’ armor. [them] to be the equivalent of a transfiguring superhero cape, protective, emotional armor that emboldens and empowers him as a character.”
Explore the inner workings of award-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska’s process, as well as the show’s many wardrobe inspirations.
In addition to creating Ms. Maisel’s signature wardrobe, Zakowska leads the costume design for every character on the show, and she meticulously plans each ensemble to fit in a color palette and style that captures the character. feeling, meaning and location of each scene.
“I tapped into my training as a painter to dive as deeply into colors as possible, and I think that had an impact on the whole show,” Zakowsa said.
As we eagerly await the fourth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Slated to premiere on Prime Video on February 18, we caught up with Zakowska to learn more about her experience working with Amazon Studios, get insight into her creative process, and chat about her new book. Keep reading to find out what goes into creating the costumes in the wonderful world of Mrs Maisel.
First, tell us about your book.
There is a lot of information online about what went into the creation of Mrs Maisel, and I wanted to distinguish the book from all that by adopting a more personal and intimate look. It shows all the swatches and many sketches we used to create different looks in the series, and shares information about my background and process. It also explores what I would call the “Maisel philosophy”, that is to say that there are never enough explosions of colors, accessories and details.
How has Midge’s style changed over the seasons?
I think Midge’s clothes reflect her transition from housewife to performer, and all the transitions that come with that. She’s always been a woman who loves clothes and always had that kind of optimism about her look, but you start to see less of the kind of clothes she might wear to cook the chest and more of the clothes that follow his trip. When she started her acting career, she did a bit of acting, because she was the uptown girl who went downtown. She carried her idea of what a beatnik or a downtown person would look like, but ultimately her style evolved with her relationship with [the] Gaslight and as she grew as a performer.
Photo by Nicole Rivelli
You won your second Emmy for the Catskills episode. What do you think sets this episode apart?
The Catskills episode really captured a world you don’t see very often. It was a very special moment when people were having fun. We had the opportunity to get out of the urban world and create playwear, which was very much what people wore when they visited the Catskills for a moment of release. There was a playful and theatrical orange-oriented aspect to the episode that viewers loved. I think it reminded a lot of people of their grandparents and the stories they heard about the world at that time.
What happens in the process of creating a “signature style” for a character?
I always start with research. For this show, I used a lot of magazines from the 50s, mainly vogue and Harper’s Bazaar-and I also got very involved in photography at the time. I developed each character as part of my research, exploring the character’s life and relating their clothing choices to the period. I like to say that costume designers live a lot of lifetimes, because you start living like each character in your mind to develop a strong instinct for what they would wear. For example, Susie was from the West Village and her style followed the beatnik generation, which was really starting to grow in New York in the 1950s. Her style evolved from the “downtown world” which was different from the “world uptown” where Midge was from.
Photo by Nicole Rivelli
How do the actors’ personalities influence each character’s costume design?
If they are good actors, not at all. What I mean by that is that everyone has personal preferences – they have things they don’t like about their bodies and colors they don’t like – but I find that good actors are much more interested in where the clothes take their character. This is the case of all the artists with whom I have worked Maisel. They were so professional and they all looked out for their characters during the process. I feel like Rachel and I connected on who Midge is every fitting. She always said that when she puts on a hat, she suddenly finds Midge. It’s those feelings that you can’t even describe in words that develop a strong instinct for who the character is.
Photo by Nicole Rivelli
Were there any moments or episodes that were particularly difficult to style?
I’m constantly thinking about how I’m going to capture Midge’s dresses and performance wear. It’s one of the biggest challenges because you don’t want to rehearse, but you don’t want it to deviate from his style. In season three, we started adding little pops of color to her performance outfits, like the pink feathers or the green sash as her style evolved. Creating his performance looks will always be a challenge, and in a way, that’s probably the hardest thing for me to keep it interesting and keep the style consistent at the same time.
What was different about working on this show compared to the others you’ve worked on?
I think what stood out to me was the level of ambition and what we are creating. It’s a streaming show, which means things move very quickly. We never have a lot of time, but all of Midge’s clothes and virtually all of the main cast’s clothes are designed and made from scratch. We basically do sewing work in a streaming timeframe. Once this train leaves the station at the start of the season, it’s non-stop and you have your foot on the accelerator from the start.
You mentioned that your dance background often inspires your creations. How did this inspiration show up in Midge’s wardrobe?
I have always loved movement and dance. I did modern and ballet, and even studied Balinese dance in Indonesia at one point in my life. I think that influenced my way of looking at fabric, because you get a heightened sensitivity to how a fabric moves when you’re someone who comes from a dance or theater background. Amy Sherman-Palladino [the creator of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel] also has a huge background in dancing, and that’s actually how the whole Midge coat thing developed. The first time we saw Rachel in the pilot, walking down the street with the big coat, Amy made her twirl and dance, and that opened up this idea of the coat, which is the superhero clothing code of Midge. It is her cape and reflects how she presents herself to the world.
Photo by Nicole Rivelli
Were there any items you were particularly excited to get for the show?
We are constantly on the lookout for beautiful handbags, shoes and other special accessories. Our hat collection is particularly large, and we found some very exciting ones, including some vintage Dior hats. We usually have to use the hats we find as prototypes rather than having the actors wear them in the scene, because the actors usually have some kind of wig or hairstyle that makes the hats difficult to fit.
Any clues as to how we can expect Midge’s style to change as she aims for the main stage this year?
I’ve sworn to secrecy, but I can say that I think the clothes will all make sense in terms of development. She’s going into the professional world and trying to define her performance, so there’s going to be a lot of performance wear and tear in there.
How do you expect fans to feel seeing the upcoming season’s costumes and reading your book?
I always hope that each season we found different visual looks and different ways of seeing Midge. Season four has some very special elements and there’s quite a bit of theatrics, and I hope people enjoy the new journey. With the book, I would like people to read it and connect with the inner soul of Mrs Maisel. We often see a costume and don’t understand how it all came together, and I hope readers will understand the deep level of thought that goes into designing every character in the series.