SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the second season of “The Umbrella Academy,” streaming now on Netflix.
The second season of “The Umbrella Academy” snaps its characters back in time to the 1960s — and yes, that includes Kate Walsh as the Handler, despite being shot and presumed dead in the first season of the Netflix adaptation of Gerard Way’s graphic novels. To put together the Handler’s colorful and often grand looks for the season, costume designer Christopher Hargadon relied on magazines and other photo references from the 1950s and ’60s, but he also found collaborating with Walsh herself was key.
Walsh says the role of the Handler was originally written for a man, so when she was cast instead, creator and showrunner Steve Blackman told her and Hargadon that they could “do whatever you want to do with hair, makeup and costume.”
“Chris and I worked very closely and we’d shop for fabrics,” Walsh tells Variety of their collaboration that began back in season one and carried through to season 2.
Silhouettes in the ’60s featured classic lines and were often markedly more free than the fitted bodices, nipped waists and wide skirts of the previous decade. Arguably the era’s most iconic female was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was one source of silhouette inspiration for the sharply-dressed Handler.
“She heralded the fresh new look of the ’60s into households of the nation more than any other celebrity. She was widely imitated,” says Hargadon.
Hargadon made sure to have “a lot of accessories” on the Handler because he “wanted to have a little element of kink.”
One such kink were the head coverings the Handler was never without. Those were made by costume builder Milena Radeva. “Those hats are works of art,” says Walsh.
Here, Hargadon and Walsh take Variety through some of the early key looks of The Handler from the second season of “The Umbrella Academy.”
Audrey Hepburn Meets Marge Simpson
Christopher Hargadon: “We wanted to play against type with this look for her. Kate saw herself being in sky blue. I came up with the silhouette, which she loved. We had to dye that silk to get that blue color. I had this old necklace that I had built with the big pearls, which Kate loved right away because of the way the necklace follows the neckline. The hat and purse were made from white vinyl, but I put a blood-red and gold spider on the purse to give it a creepy element. And we weave spiders throughout her design throughout the rest of the season. My way of characterizing this outfit is Audrey Hepburn meets Marge Simpson.”
Kate Walsh: “This was the first scene back where she was walking down the street. Christopher had cut out all these photos from magazines, but I wanted that sculpted Nefertiti shape with the hat. I had really wanted that hat and that look. I love color and this is a show where the Handler can wear a lot of colors and pop it out. This is an example of that.”
Another Grand Entrance
Hargadon: “The persimmon look was again another entrance look. She starts with a black coat. And this is something I love about Kate: she loves wearing hats and veils, which are things that directors and cinematographers often hate and will nix because they don’t work for lighting. But Kate insisted on them because they finished the outfit. I’m so grateful that she fought for them.
That hat was off the charts. I said, ‘I want to go big.’ And the first one [Milena] made wasn’t big enough so I made her go bigger here.
When I was sketching that outfit, as I got to the back, I wanted it to look like a wasp. I took the tails and brought them back into points with a slit up the middle to get that effect. Again, adding in the kinky element, I used black vinyl on the trim instead of fabric. With her outfits, there’s always something off-kilter which reflects her character.”
Walsh: “This might be one of my favorites. I’m cinched in at the waist and it’s almost like armor. It fit like a fabric. I love that she dressed up for her demotion.”
The Gold Coat
Hargadon: “During my discussions with Kate, we decided to have an outer layer. With Jackie Kennedy entering the White House — to me, she was the standard-bearer for the New Age out of the ’50s with the wide skirt and nipped waist into these much less structured silhouettes but made with beautiful fabrics. It was exactly the time for that. So that’s what we used here.
Kate said she was OK wearing the larger outerwear. Underneath, she wanted to feel like a cockroach — nipped and slim. Within her persona and acting, she wanted this feeling of something very cringe-worthy and not easy to look at. She wanted something creepy and psychotic lurking beneath. That was the beginning of that discussion. The beginning of any design is fabric. I’ll amass any fabric, will run to a fabric store, and throw them on a desk and something will jump out at me.
The coat originally had a poofy, wide collar, but I didn’t have enough fabric. So, I did something with another fabric and layered it with tuille and it had a volume. When we did the fitting, we decided we liked the simplicity of the collarless look and we went with that for the final look.”
Walsh: “For me, that coat was a few things: one it was all about the fabric, and then the shape. Christopher has impeccable taste in fabrics. It’s super sensual — this heavy, luminous silk satin, brocade. He has a gift of picking out the tapestries of any fabric and it’s a delicious experience to see it and then have him cut it.
The scene was going to start on the Handler’s iconic red pump, which was critical. But again, it was all about working in concert — the hair, makeup — and it was all super-specific.”