The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's costume designer, Donna Zakowska, has an exceptional command of color. Zakowska is classically trained as a painter, which explains why the colors in the show are so phenomenal. She approaches color like a musician approaches composition — elevating the multi-award-winning show in visually stunning harmony.
"I think that clothing can be like words. There is a sort of poetry to clothing," Zakowska shared with POPSUGAR. "I always connect my own interests and love of poetry to color, and that gets involved in the clothing."
When Zakowska designs a costume, she focuses on the story conveyed by the chosen colors. Midge Maisel's (Rachel Brosnahan) costume at the end of season two — where she wore a white, red, and green ensemble — is a prime example. Zakowska said to her assistant, "I think this costume is about innocence leaving," her assistant asked, "Oh god, what do you mean?" Zakowska explained that "the idea that green was heroic meant that Midge was heroic. There's always a subtext."
"I think that clothing can be like words. There is a sort of poetry to clothing." — Donna Zakowska
A vivid palette and a rich subtext are integral to excellent costume design, but every creative choice made by Zakowska must also reflect the authenticity of the era. Zakowska does massive research for each season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to accurately depict the style of the 1950s and '60s. "I have a lot of Vogues from the period," said Zakowska. "Books, photographs, there's a lot of research. I reference certain magazines, like Bloom, that deal with nature and flowers. And sometimes I might incorporate that into a picture next to Vogue, and then something historical."
An impressive 95 percent of the show's essential clothing was designed and created specifically for the show. The remaining five percent were rentals used for costuming extras, as well as a few vintage pieces. Zakowska never restyles a modern garment. "I don't think I would get the fabric and color that I want. That's so important to me because that's not something I usually do. But we really design and build all of her hats — so much of it is designed."
The shape of Midge's hats and outfits were crucial to showing a slight transition between the late '50s in season two and the early '60s in season three. "I think it's really interesting in dealing with the transition from '59 to '62 because I don't think it's done that often," says Zakowska. "I think people always jump. Like you're in the '50s and then suddenly you're in the '60s, whereas there's a lot more transition. The whole silhouette changes: it begins to clutch to the body, although there's still a little bit of fullness in certain details. And then, of course, there's all these crazy bucket hats. So it's about finding the fine line that makes it credible."
"You definitely have a lot of beautiful hats in London, and you definitely have hat culture there," Zakowska said, knowing I was based in the city. "I have assisted a lot of people in London, and I always love working in England." She added that she really loves the hats on the The Crown. "I might have to find that milliner eventually."
"Musically, we're creating a rhythm with the color. So the challenge is, keep coming up with the good tunes." — Donna Zakowska
The Crown, especially season three, is a source of inspiration for Zakowska. "I liked season three quite a bit," she said. "There are some beautiful ensembles in there; I really like the period pieces quite a lot." She also loved the costume design in Peaky Blinders. "I love Peaky Blinders, the whole show. I think when it works, then the whole thing works — when the sets, and the costumes, and everything has a sort of vision."
One of the most challenging things for Zakowska was getting the undergarments right, so that the clothes lay on the actor's body in a way that is authentic to the time. "I put a lot of effort into making their underclothes," she said. "[Midge's] bras only get made in Paris, because that was the only place I could find the bra. I have one bra, she only likes this one bra. Finally I was like, we have to find someone who could copy this. So the challenge is always the undergarments and getting that right and the actor being comfortable in it."
Zakowska also found "defining things through color" particularly challenging because she "uses it as an emotional aspect of the clothing." The palette of the costume design "sets the pace and rhythm" of the series, she explains. "It's like a song — you can't repeat the chorus again and again. So I always compare it a little bit to the musical. Musically, we're creating a rhythm with the color. So the challenge is, keep coming up with the good tunes."
Despite being so skilled at '50s and '60s costume design, Zakowska made clear that, "I'm not a very '50s sort of person." If she could pick one era of fashion to wear for the rest of her life, it would be the all-black, Japanese punk style of the early '80s. Who would have thought? "Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, these are favorite designers of mine," Zakowska said. "It was like the height of Japanese fashion."