Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Designer on the Show’s Second Season

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Since premiering last year, Amazon Studios‘ Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has transformed from a critically acclaimed darling to a bonafide hit, becoming the first streaming show to nab the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s show about Midge Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan) a fast-talking 1950s housewife who discovers she has a latent talent for stand-up comedy after she’s left by her philandering husband premiered just two months after the Harvey Weinstein expose made headlines last year, providing a much needed outlet for female empowerment in the era of #MeToo. For the second season, premiering today, the show’s creators had a brand new challenge this time around: how do you follow up a nearly universally revered first season? Well, with a change of scenery, of course.

Season two takes Midge out of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, first to Paris and then the Catskills in upstate New York, giving costume designer Donna Zakowska an entirely new style and color palette with which to experiment. And unlike the first season, which had Midge mostly outfitted in pastel-hued cloaks and cardigans, season two will partially take place in the summertime. „There’s a big use of patterns in a way we haven’t done before,“ Zakowska says. „It’s a very different look for Midge, to have very light clothes, shorts instead of pants, and just to get out of the urban environment. There are more casual silhouettes in a Midge kind of way. There is nothing typical about her.“

Very early on in season one, the show already established that Midge is no ordinary hum-drum ’50s housewife, brimming with sharp wit (and not to mention, a penchant for vulgarity and curse words) that at first, only comes out when she stumbles inebriated on-stage at a comedy show after her husband, Joel, leaves her for his secretary. When Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), the bartender at the Gaslight Cafe, realizes that Midge is actually a talented comic, she offers to become her manage and convinces Midge to pursue the career full-time. It seemed only fitting then, that Midge’s nonconformity was reflected in her clothing. Most of the experimentation came through Midge’s brightly colored frocks, despite Brosnahan having to don corsets in order to adhere to the ’50s period of the show.

„[Brosnahan]’s a very good person to costume because she is what I call an animator of clothes,“ Zakowska says. „Some people don’t really know how to work with it but she’s incredible. There are lots of stuff to deal with in the ’50s, including hats, gloves, and handbags. I bring her along the journey in terms of the palette and she’s a great person to collaborate with, because she’s very into clothes. It’s reality and art coming together.“

To prepare for season two, Zakowska also looked to the 1967 French film Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, which outfitted the leads Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac in an array of buttery canary yellows, shocking pinks, and ruby reds. The vivid jewel tones of the film inspired Zakowska’s take on Midge’s clothing, utilizing bright colors to break up the sleek black dresses she usually wears onstage during her routines.

And then there’s Rose Weissman, Midge’s mother, played by the effervescently funny Marin Hinkle, who gets her own plot line in Paris this season. The audience gets to explore Rose’s backstory before she became the prim and proper housewife she is today and to match the character arc, Zakowska designed more playful, bohemian-inspired clothing to capture Rose’s yesteryears. „We will see her returning psychologically to the earlier part of life when she was in Paris and her wardrobe will suddenly become a little more artsy and different,“ she says. „Amy has allowed her as a woman to evolve into some different looks and we’ll also see Midge’s father in a way we never did before.“

The season will also grapple with the aftermath of season one’s cliffhanger, in which Joel, an aspiring comedian himself, uncovered Midge’s secret past-time and witnessed her performance firsthand, leaving just before she introduced herself to the crowd as Mrs. Maisel. The status of their relationship is intentionally left ambiguous (they reconciled earlier in the episode, only for Joel to storm out after Midge mocked their relationship during her performance.) The tones of the show manage to touch on themes that still feel very pertinent today: that despite all of Midge’s obvious natural talent and gusto as a comic, she will still be underestimated and jeered at by the mostly male crowd, and that it’s difficult for people to accept that an attractive woman could also be witty and smart. It’s something Zakowska thought about as she designed Midge’s clothes and ultimately, what sets Midge apart from her real-life 20th century comedic counterparts. Unlike them, Midge performs as herself and never had to wear any outlandish, unflattering costumes in order to get laughs.

„When you look at history, you will see the early female comics made a point to make themselves unattractive because no one believed an attractive woman could also be funny,“ Zakowska says. „That’s the whole point in what we are doing there: Midge is introducing the idea that she can be a real person and be a woman and deal with her life and still be funny. That’s never been seen. It’s a real growth of the concept of the female comic that we’re embracing.“

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