Costume designer Donna Zakowska was totally unprepared for the time jumps in the fifth and final season of Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Stand-up comic Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) finally achieves stardom in 1961, yet we’re interrupted with glimpses of the future in wrapping up her story. This made Zakowska apprehensive and anxious when the scripts first came in from showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino and executive producer-writer Dan Palladino.
“I wondered how it was going to work, the idea of these flash forwards,” the two-time Emmy winner told IndieWire. “That was really rather drastic to suddenly project who was Midge and [manager] Susie [Alex Borstein] 30 or 40 years from when we knew them. It’s hard to know how to really portray that, and, luckily, we had a very good prosthetics team. I just tried to think what happened and what does that mean in terms of the clothes and the characters and adhering to different periods?”
Four of the first five episodes open with flash-forwards to the ’80s as a way to resolve many of the personal conflicts in Midge’s life, particularly a bitter falling out with Susie sometime in the future.
In Episode 1 (“Go Forward”), we learn that Esther (Alexandra Socha), Midge’s genius daughter at MIT, is in therapy to overcome her mother issues. In Episode 2 (“It’s a Man, Man, Man, Man World”), Midge recounts her successful career and unsuccessful love life on “60 Minutes.” In Episode 3 (“Typos and Torsos”), Midge bristles at the sight of Ethan (Ben Rosenfeld) living on an Israeli Kibbutz with a fiance she didn’t know about on her way to a benefit show in Tel Aviv. And, in Episode 5 (“The Pirate Queen”), Midge visits ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) in prison and complains about their poorly dressed daughter-in-law.
Not surprisingly, Midge’s wardrobe continues to convey a sense of style and theatricality that’s spot-on for each decade (including Brigitte Bardot-influenced French coats). But her favorite color remains red. In fact, Esther can’t help wearing a red MIT sweater over her rebellious Ramones T-shirt. In the other flash-forwards, Midge vividly captures the moment: She sports an upscale red sequin outfit for her “60 Minutes” interview, a peach Bedouin-inspired outfit and turban (looking like “Lawrence of Arabia”) in Israel, and a dark blue dress for her visit with Joel in prison.
However, the standout is the eye-catching red outfit that Midge wears on her first day as a comedy writer on “The Gordon Ford Show.” With its flowing plaid skirt, cute tie, and sailor cap, it’s indicative of her ambition to break the glass ceiling on the talk show hosted by Reid Scott.
“Red in general is a very powerful color for Midge, and I refer to that as the red sailor outfit,” Zakowska said. “That’s why the whole image of the sailor cap is built in. I really had this feeling of her starting a new journey. It started with the shape of the hat and what would work here. There was something very right about the costume. But it had to have a great whimsical, adventuresome aspect to it.”
Befitting its importance, the red sailor outfit has quite a buildup: First, Midge fondly pulls it out during the “60 Minutes” segment and explains its significance; then, in flashback, we learn that the inspiration for Midge to wear it came from Susie. And, finally, in a bravura subway train chase, Midge runs into an old hookup from Season 4 (Milo Ventimiglia’s Sylvio) and darts from car to car in a hectic attempt to escape the past. She’s awash in the spectacle of colorful passengers, but nobody else dares wear red.
“In a way, the subway cars were like little theater pieces, and really a bit like a dance, what she does,” added Zakowska. “And the way she moves from car to car, there’s also a circus quality to it. And that was the other thing about the sailor hat. Sometimes I thought of it as a circus train.”
As for the dazzling array of outfits in the sequence, it was all part of the spectacle. But it started with the description in the script of a woman wearing a Chanel suit, which became powder blue in the episode. “So the idea is that both of them recognize — oh wow, that’s quite an expensive thing you have on,” she said. “That was a stop moment for them, ’cause it’s rare that you see people in Chanel suits on the subway.”
For Episode 4 (“Susan”), Zakowska was pressed into Broadway musical mode for the elaborate “Waste Management” skit at the industrial show, where Midge awkwardly performs the role of narrator, dressed in floppy green coveralls and cap with orange trim, to repay a debt to Susie’s mob connection.
“I went back to original sanitation research, but made it quite oversized for her so it was very clown-like and musical,” said Zakowska.”And it was important to have each character and color be very specific because the town is very happy, very colorful, very pleasant, especially when contrasted with the garbage girls. How do you build a garbage dress? So I found all sorts of plastic and weird papers, and I practically built that myself because it’s hard to describe to someone. And my assistants found different versions of bubble wrap and tin foil, which was much more reflective and much more interesting to see under lights.”
The musical sequence turned out to be ironic, because, after completing “Maisel,” Zakowska designed costumes for her first Broadway musical: An adaptation of “New York, New York,” based on the Martin Scorsese film starring Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli.
“Who knew at the time that I was actually prepping to do a bigger version of it in the Broadway musical? So it worked out well,” she added.
The first five episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season 5 are now streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes every Friday.