I am crazy about Donna Zakowska- she is a costume designer extraordinaire- reminds me of the golden age of Hollywood talents- Orry Kelly, Edith Head…Helen Rose…I could keep going here- Donna designed the costumes for the John Adams mini-series (my friend Kirk Ellis wrote and produced- and it was magnificent in the telling and in the dramatization- costumes free actors to do their work with magnificence)- but it is her work on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that lead the elegant Abrams Publishing house to create the quintessential costume guide to the series. Donna takes you through mood, palette, fabric, thread, buttons, hats, handbags- each a curated choice to tell a story set in time like one of the pearls in Maisel’s clip-on earrings-
I could’ve talked to her all night. I wish the great Andre Leon Talley would have been on earth to share the stage with Donna- as they are peas in the fashion pod. I sense something deeper about her connection to design- and so, I asked about it. A great interview with a brilliant talent.
Donna: In New York, at the time [the late sixties], there were milliners. Stores where a woman would come in and have a hat designed for her. It was a tremendous avenue for individuality. Designing a hat for yourself is a very romantic, poetic, activity. And I think people were able to indulge in that. You know, it had that American optimism.
Adriana: My mom made hats. It’s such a glorious talent to have- and imagine having to put on a hat to leave the house- one of the ways you made Mrs. Maisel set in time were the hats. What is it about fashion- particularly American fashion that made the series such a hit?
Donna: It [fashion] really captures the character of the person and there's something quite beautiful about that.
Donna: For me, doing a costume is a discovery process. And it begins with the color on the page and from there it evolves, it unfolds. I always call it costume calligraphy because it's a mental landscape. I grew up really loving detail and loving the sense of the decorative and adornment. And I felt this played a really big role in women’s psyche.
Adriana: Your sketches are works of art- every element of your design has deep roots in the art of painting- in the fine arts- fibers, paint, sculpting- sculpture especially in the hats…the gloves- the shape of a woman through fashion.
Adriana: When I write historical fiction, I’ve got to get the hat just right. I’m going to say this name, Mr. John.
Donna: Classic. That's a sixties classic, a sixties hat. You know, I remember my mother had quite a few of them…with lots of flowers and butterflies, nets swirling around…it was really quite optimistic and festive in a really good way.
Adriana: I'm curious to see if you agree, after the death of John Kennedy, that's when hats went out.
Donna: I think there's a definite shift in '63. What I'm trying to deal with now [in the series] is the shift from fifties to sixties. Because it's when you still have Dior and all of these very feminist shapes but are becoming minimalized a little bit. And somehow, when that happened, the hats became very big. It wasn't for a long time, but for a few years, there are these very emblematic shapes that became part of hats. It's sort of amazing, when you look at a Vogue from 1961, it's incredible how theatrical the clothing was, and people were very creative in that way.
I can’t wait to see what Donna cooks up for the final season of Mrs. Maisel. I have a feeling her costumes will help us celebrate this great show and not mourn it- after all, when we want to go back in time- just start over again with the pilot- five years is a nice run- and we have the shows!
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