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Meet the Brooklyn costume designer behind ‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

January 2, 2019 By Brooke Lefferts Associated Press
This image released by Amazon shows Rachel Brosnahan in a scene from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." The meticulous costumes of the 1950s-era show are crafted by designer Donna Zakowska. (Nicole Rivelli/Amazon via AP)

Fans of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” know that the show’s clothes deliver eye-popping color and to-die-for style, but they might not know the costumes represent more than 1950′s couture. They also meticulously reflect each character’s mood and development.

Costume designer Donna Zakowska said she thought about how each character changed from season one of the hit show to season two, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video earlier this month. Zakowska started out studying painting at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which instilled a “very strong response to color,” she said in a recent interview, and that influenced her approach in costume design. One of her first decisions was putting lead character Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, in a baby pink coat in the first season when she is married and seemingly happy.

“I do feel that color signals things to people and you know I don’t take it for granted,” Zakowska said. “I love doing it and I put a lot of effort into really working with the palette and working with the colors. It started with that pink coat, but that became sort of a characteristic of who Midge was when I first started.

This image released by Amazon shows costume designer Donna Zakowska, left, with actress Rachel Brosnahan on the set of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, Brosnahan was nominated for a Golden Globe award for lead actress in a comedy series for her role in the series. The 76th Golden Globe Awards will be held on Sunday, Jan. 6. (Nicole Rivelli/Amazon via AP)
This image released by Amazon shows costume designer Donna Zakowska, left, with actress Rachel Brosnahan on the set of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, Brosnahan was nominated for a Golden Globe award for lead actress in a comedy series for her role in the series. The 76th Golden Globe Awards will be held on Sunday, Jan. 6. (Nicole Rivelli/Amazon via AP)

 

But when Midge’s husband leaves her, her character puts on different, darker colors.

“I basically did this with most of the characters and it’s a little bit natural in a way because I do think that there is this emotional response that is inherent in color,” Zakowska said.

Brosnahan said while the second season is full of “exceptional clothes,” the outfits aren’t just eye candy. Zakowska helps shape the narrative with her designs.

“She’s a storyteller. And she dives just as deeply, if not more deeply in some ways, than we do into these characters, into their arcs, into the stories, into the settings, into everything that came before and is yet to come.”

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“She is a mad scientist,” ″Maisel” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino said in a recent interview. “She doesn’t believe a hat is a hat. You know, a hat is character. It’s a person. That hat needs to reflect where the person is internally. She started it last year with … the pink coat and the pink coat represented something and when Joel (Mr. Maisel) left, the pink coat left, because the pink coat represented who she was with Joel. And then pink went away for a while, and when pink started to come back, it was a different kind of pink because she was a different kind of woman. She’s (Zakowska) just a very fascinating, brilliant person.”

Zakowska said she leads a crew of at least 25 people on set to dress the principal players and the extras in hundreds of costume changes. She pays strict attention to detail, even for day players, who often wear 1950′s outfits found in vintage stores or on the internet. But most of the clothes worn by the principal characters are designed by Zakowska.

Not all the clothes are fun to wear. Zakowska said one of the most important accessories on the show is the underwear — which had to be tight and supportive, even for the extras.

“It’s like really the end of the era of the corset…that’s something you really can’t avoid. We can’t all have period bras but we worked with Playtex and they had a certain bra they created for us that we used. And so you do to a degree have to sort of pull women in, you know, bring the bust up….there’s no way around it, otherwise we couldn’t get people into those dresses.”

This image released by Amazon shows sketches for "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," by costume designer Donna Zakowska. (Amazon via AP)
This image released by Amazon shows sketches for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” by costume designer Donna Zakowska. (Amazon via AP)

 

The second season provides much deeper insight into the characters, like Midge’s mother, Rose, who leaves her uptight life in Manhattan and takes off to Paris, which Zakowska relays in color and style.

“In season one, I talked about the idea of her being like in a little Chanel suit or being the perfect mother on the Upper West Side. Now her power has really taken on… these deep purple and deep red tones, sort of very intense romantic palette. And so what she’s really doing is revisiting that bohemian student life when she begins season two. And so it was really important to heighten her palette and to work with those colors and I think they’re very Parisian,” Zakowska said.

Marin Hinkle, who plays Rose, said wearing the costumes helped her get into character.

“The first season Rose had a kind of muted quality,” Hinkle said. “And then by the second season they dressed me in these more vibrant colors and more youthful styles. And that dictates a kind of way you can be as a performer where you literally are putting something on and sort of 90 percent of the work is done.”

Tony Shalhoub, who plays Rose’s husband, said of Zakowska’s designs, “It’s almost like the clothes are a character themselves and … it’s like the clothes are speaking to us through us.

“I’m always sort of jazzed and energized by that,” he said.

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