×

Small-Screen Outfits Burst at Seams With Big Ambition

It isn’t often that costumes get a direct shout-out in a TV show title. But then there’s Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” a singing competition series in which contestants all wore mascot-sized creature costumes, including full headpieces, to disguise themselves in front of a panel of judges.
“Singer” became broadcast’s biggest mid-season hit.

So all due credit to costume designer Marina Toybina, who translated the Korean concept series for American audiences — turning her costumes into the real stars of the show, at least until their occupants were revealed. “It’s go big or go home,” Toybina says. “Everyone’s trying to experiment with different ways of building costumes, going back to big pictures, big fabrics.”

Character outfits on TV have begun taking on bigger roles as costume designers let loose with assertive looks that not only dress actors, but enhance the overall show.

On Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” costume designer Donna Zakowska is clearly having a lot of fun with her mid-century retro looks for star Rachel Brosnahan and cohorts, fashioning colorful outfits for Season 2 visits to Paris and the Catskills of New York.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. “Everything’s a challenge, because we have so little time and so much of it is custom-built,” she says. “The challenge is really being able to keep up the standard of custom clothing in the time we’re in. Time is always of the essence for us.”

Zakowska also keeps in mind a broad plan for how the costumes will show Midge’s evolution. “It’s about the acceptance of her professional commitment, still in struggle with her personal life,” Zakowska says. “She has momentum, so the clothes have to have the momentum of a person who’s made a clear decision.”

Contemporary outfits may seem more mundane, but “Black-ish” (ABC) designer Michelle Cole finds ways to spice things up: In the annual Halloween episode this year, several characters emulated Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter’s “Black Panther” look. But the real standout for her was being able to dress everyone in classic Prince outfits, which the Purple One tended to have custom-made.

“It took us about two months, because we had to start early in looking for fabrics,” she says. “It was exciting, watching the process from the shoes to the printing to getting it right.”

She agrees that overall, TV is going bigger and bringing that home to audiences. “I was brought up on Cher, ‘Laugh-In’ and ‘Batman’ and I see colors getting bolder again like that,” she says. “[Zakowska] and I come from theater, so that’s part of your process. It stays with you.”

Zakowska takes credit for some of the trend, adding that a little magical realism in TV costumes is allowable these days. “Nobody wants to continue seeing all police dramas,” she says. “Film has done this to a degree, and in TV it’s still a little early in the evolution. But TV’s getting there. We’re more stylized now.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    Production Growth Stretches Crafts Talent Pool, but Experience Is Still Needed

    The growing number of outlets for movies and television means that demand for qualified artisans is at an all-time high. But while job opportunities have multiplied, the path to success — and potential elite status — is still a difficult one that requires on-the-job training, experience and skill development to deliver top-notch results. Some of [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content