Written by Claire Stern with Photography Courtesy of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Ahead of the Season 3 premiere of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Emmy-winning costume designer Donna Zakowska discusses capturing the fashion of 1950s New York City and her exclusive partnership with Bergdorf Goodman.
When you think of the ’50s, your mind likely conjures up an image of ponytails, poodle skirts and floral appliqué cardigans. But that’s a far cry from costume designer Donna Zakowska’s sartorial vision on the set of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the hit Amazon series starring Rachel Brosnahan. For the uninitiated, the show follows the titular character, Midge Maisel, a housewife-turned-comedian hailing from (where else?) Manhattan’s Upper West Side as she navigates challenging cultural norms. “New York had a more sophisticated sense of style at the time,” says Zakowska. “I wanted to capture an urban reality with a cross-section of influences. I wasn’t interested in portraying the classic American girl.”
Indeed, Midge’s on-screen outfits are emblematic of her strong female character and speak to the elegance of a bygone era. Inspired by style icons like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, her looks include chic suit sets, bold and vibrant coats, pillbox hats and opera-length gloves. This upcoming season, Midge will take her stand-up act to Miami, where we can expect more “theatrical, showy, glitzy pieces,” according to Zakowska.
Here, more from Zakowska about Midge’s style, her favorite ’50s trends and designing an exclusive coat for Bergdorf Goodman.
Bergdorf Goodman: Which staple pieces in Midge’s wardrobe help boost her confidence?
Donna Zakowska: The coat is a suit of armor that empowers Midge. There’s a superhero quality to the movement of the silhouette, and the colors echo how her character is feeling, whether times are good or bad.
BG: What’s been your favorite on-screen outfit to date?
DZ: Probably Midge’s first costume—a romantic nightgown with a pink coat—because it sets the tone for her character. The pink represents looking through rose-colored glasses—Midge’s life was perfect. Mixing it with the nightgown nods to her vulnerability. I want all the outfits to be funny but tell a strong story and look beautiful at the same time.
BG: Where do you find inspiration for your looks?
DZ: Vintage issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar are incredible, as are photographs from the period. I was trained as a painter at the [École nationale supérieure des] Beaux-Arts in Paris, so my mind loves to wander through art, whether it’s a Renaissance-style landscape or a portrait by Francis Bacon.
BG: What designers do you look to most often?
DZ: The ’50s is a source of couture genius: Charles James with his impeccable tailoring and use of color, Dior’s sculptural shapes, Givenchy’s incredible draping. Everything was so well constructed and emphasized the female body.
BG: What are your favorite and least favorite trends from the ’50s?
DZ: I adore the suits—they were structured yet loose and drapey. Poodle skirts are absolutely forbidden. They should be excommunicated.
BG: How can we incorporate Mrs. Maisel styles into a modern wardrobe?
DZ: Combine colors and shapes that aren’t necessarily predictable, like a dramatic swing coat with a glove in a contrasting hue. When you’re less predictable, you develop a more poetic sense of who you are and who you can be. You enter a realm of minimalist extravagance.
BG: Why do you think the clothes on the show resonate with viewers so much?
DZ: I think the wardrobe defies expectations—it’s different than what most people are used to from that point in time. Clothes are always connected to cultural trends. Right now, I think people are embracing exuberance and power through fashion.
BG: Rachel has an amazing sense of style herself. Does she have strong ideas about what her character should look like?
DZ: Rachel definitely understands the power of the costume. All of her clothes are custom-made, so we spend hours making sure everything fits to a tee. The accessories mean a lot to her. She told me that she really finds Midge when she puts her hats on.
BG: Tell us about the exclusive piece you designed for BG that will be auctioned off this month to support the Garment District.
DZ: Taking inspiration from the show, I designed a pink coat with a floral-print silk lining. As a New Yorker myself, I’m delighted that proceeds support the Garment District because the workers have tremendous skills and practically supplied clothing for the entire country, receiving very little in return. It’s important to honor that.
TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT, PLEASE VISIT EVENTBRITE.COM, SET THE LOCATION AS “NEW YORK” AND SEARCH “BERGDORF GOODMAN x THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL.”
Visit paddle8.com to enter for a chance to win this one-of-a-kind design. All proceeds will benefit the CFDA’s Fashion Manufacturing Initiative to support the Garment District in New York City.