Facebook can be a wonderful thing sometimes, especially when it helps me find events I wouldn’t otherwise know about. So when the opportunity for a free talk with Donna Zakowska, the costume designer for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, came up I jumped on it!
In a word, the event was amazing. I went straight from work in the hopes of getting a good seat and I ended up in the fourth row! Sadly there were no pictures or videos allowed during the talk, but I took some notes to remember everything I learned!
First up, I want to be Donna Zakowska when I grow up. She is extremely knowledgeable and interesting, and obviously amazing at what she does. In general, it was fascinating to hear a costume design talk in detail about her process and her specific designs. The talk was organized with the moderator projecting images from Maisel and asking various questions, but for the most part, Zakowska discussed them and this led into tangents with even more tidbits of information.
1. Midge wears green when she needs to be heroic. As a person who also designs in colors (sometimes for visual reasons and other times for symbolic reasons), I loved this detail. Though it was not the dress on display at the time, it immediately made me think of the scene when Midge had to move out of the apartment but when I went back to look at it the dress may actually be more blue? So may not fit into this theme but I’m sharing the picture anyway because it’s fabulous.
However, later in that same episode she is wearing a bright green coat when she ends up speaking in Washington Square Park and then meeting Joel at his new apartment, where she discovers he now lives with Penny Pan.
I also really enjoyed that she said that ninety percent of the time color symbolism dictates, and the other ten percent the color is used simply because it’s a nice color! I have had this happen within my own costume designs, so I completely understand it.
2. Midge wears white at the end of every season as a way of “cleansing” from the season and prepping for the next one. This is not something I have ever noticed so I had to go back and see for myself (not that I didn’t take Zakowska’s word for it but I like examples!).
While looking back at the episodes, her final outfit in season one was her black performance dress, so this policy seems to have been adopted from season two onward:
3. Brown was a color associated with the 40’s, so Abe represents this by wearing lots of shades of brown which connects him to the past. On the other side of that, Joel represents moving forward and would never wear brown (his main color is blue).
4. Zakowska takes a lot of inspiration from French films such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Being a big fan of those movies myself, this made total and complete sense to me. I love all the colors in old French movies and this definitely carries over into Maisel (these examples are from two of my personal favorites, the aforementioned The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort):
5. Midge has an imagination when it comes to her activities. For example when she goes to Paris and flies for the first time, she wears an outfit that resembles a flight attendant.
6. A lot of fabrics are sourced from England because the color choices are better. She also said that they make beautiful blends, and she mentioned that one of Midge’s work dresses (below) is a wool silk. I’ll take all the wool silk you have now, please.
7. The pink swing coat was made in Paris. It also came up that it matched the carpet almost exactly, which was actually a coincidence. Zakowska mentioned that this actually happens quite often as everyone tends to be on the same page when it comes to color schemes and moods, and they don’t always have time to coordinate.
8. Susie’s darker, more neutral color palette is broken up with her sweaters as well as her various stripes. Her pants are modeled after a pair of Zakowska’s own pants that just happened to be a good cut for the character (and Alex Borstein). This made total sense to me as Zakowska made me think of Susie while I was watching her speak.
9. The Catskills outfit was made using a piece of vintage fabric (generally very hard to find). The outfit was intended to make Midge seem over the top, as though she was saying to Benjamin “this is me in all my crazy, take it or leave it!”
And those were my main takeaways, though she spoke for about an hour and then took audience questions. As I mentioned before, no pictures were allowed during the event itself but I did manage to sneak one in at the end as people were starting to leave!
Afterwards, I even went and shook hands with her but completely chickened out with taking a picture with her! Moving forward, I definitely need to take more advantage of costume design events!