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EW Best of 2015: Jessica Jones costume designer on creating a signature look

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Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Jessica Jones has garnered rave reviews from fans and critics alike, most of whom have praised its faithful comic adaptation and expert handling of sensitive storylines such as rape and abuse. But fans also latched onto something else: the titular character’s choice of outfit, an unusual style that’s not at all like the superheroes we’ve come to know and love. For our year-end coverage, EW spoke with costume designer Stephanie Maslansky, who opened up about creating Jessica’s signature look… and what exactly you do when your script calls for putting your character in a giant sandwich costume.

Stephanie Maslansky is no stranger to superhero shows — she’s also the costume designer behind Marvel’s first Netflix series, Daredevil — but dressing a character who’s been dubbed a “short-fused, hard-drinking, mess of a woman” isn’t exactly the same thing as dressing a blind vigilante.

“She has so much to struggle with on a day-to-day basis that for her, it’s just a matter of survival,” explains Maslansky. “She struggles with PTSD and her memories, she closes herself off from relationships with most people, she really has this attitude of ‘Leave me alone, let me get my work done, don’t cross me,’ and the last thing that she really cares about is how she looks. That’s something she doesn’t ever want to have to think about.” That was where Maslansky started when she began to think about who Jessica Jones was, and how that personality could be translated from a wardrobe perspective. “For her, the easiest solution would have been, ‘I’m just going to wear the same thing every day,’” says Maslansky. “And that’s not necessarily the same pair of jeans or same t-shirt and same jacket, but when she went to buy her jeans, she bought four pairs. When she went to buy her tank top, she bought six of them. When she went to buy sweaters, she bought two of them. She probably has one pair of boots that she wears until they’re dead, and she buys another pair just like them.” Forget ruining a jacket by getting shot or falling into the garbage: none of that would make a difference to Jessica, who Maslansky says “has chosen not to think about that aspect of her life. It just makes things a little bit simpler for her, dealing with the rest of the pain and trauma she has to deal with.” 

While working with Marvel means research and source material come into play quite frequently, Maslansky explains that’s what helped her create her characters’ fashion choices. “You really have to study your history of the original characters and see how they dress, how they were originally drawn, how they evolved through the years in these comics,” she says. “And what you might discover is that, as illustrated, they kind of do wear the same thing all the time. They have a look. If you think about Daredevil, for example, Matt Murdock either ways his vigilante costume during the night, or his lawyer look during the day. Wilson Fisk always wore a three piece suit.” For characters that don’t have that same kind of statement costume, such as Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker, it comes down to the character’s style. “I would say that Trish Walker’s uniform was fashion,” says Maslansky. “She was a very stylish woman who was very connected, so even when she was hanging around the house, she was wearing a pair of Rag and Bone jeans with a Chloe top, and this was her version of a T-shirt and jeans. And so that’s kind of how I approached this group of series: everyone has a very specific look, and you can vary within that look, but it’s not over the top. It has to feel realistic and feel very grounded in this authentic reality we’ve created in Hell’s Kitchen.” 

One of the most hilarious (and memorable) moments of the series comes during the episode “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me,” in which Jessica dresses as a giant sub. “That was something we kind of created,” Maslansky reveals, when asked about how the costume came to be. “It started when I read the script that she had to be a sandwich, so we went online and ordered a variety of sandwiches you were able to wear. We took this one and we ended up changing it so much it was a mere shadow of its former sandwich self — it really wound up being more of a hoagie than a sandwich,” Maslansky says with a laugh. “It became sort of a bun with sesame seeds, and we distressed it and made it look dirty and old. It was hard to know how the joke would land, but it really did.” 

Another moment defined by the character’s wardrobe — more somber but just as memorable — comes during “AKA 10,000 Cuts,” a flashback in which Jessica envisions escaping from Kilgrave’s mind control. In her dream, she wears a bright yellow dress as she rides away on a white stallion, a look we’d probably never see the character wear no matter how “pre-Kilgrave” we devolved. “The yellow dress choice was something that was so beautiful and so free and so light, and seeing her ride away on that horse with this dress sort of billowing out the back and then going back to reality — which is, she’s stuck in this situation that she has absolutely no control over with this guy who is treating her like a marionette — it’s such a juxtaposition,” explains Maslansky.

Figuring out how to portray Kilgrave was another obstacle altogether: he was “The Purple Man,” but Maslansky knew she wasn’t going to be dressing a purple-skinned David Tennant. Her goal was to create a coordinated look, one that reflected the fact that Kilgrave was a well-put together man, but not a look that made him seem over-the-top. “I know they did use interesting lighting at times, for example, whenever [Jessica] was imagining he was around, but as far as his wardrobe was concerned, I definitely wanted to imbue him with shades of purple and eggplant,” she says. “And purple is kind of traditionally a fairly friendly color, and he’s anything but friendly. So I had to find ways to make him be ominous and frightening and terrifying. I found that I needed the right proportion of shades of purple to other shades that were similar: navy, black, maroon. Sometimes he wore his purple suit, but the shirt would be navy blue.” 

While most television shows have 22 episodes or multiple seasons to show the evolution of their characters, Jessica Jones operates within a much more limited window with a story told over a very short period of time. Given that Jessica’s look doesn’t change that much in the present day, Maslansky took advantage of flashbacks to show how the character had evolved — or, in Jessica’s case, devolved. “We had to think what would be different,” Maslanky says of creating Jessica’s “pre-trauma, pre-Kilgrave” look. “We didn’t want to change who she was, but we wanted to give her clothes that were a little more pulled together, but still kind of edgy. In one of the flashbacks, she’s in this crappy job and she’s just wasting her time and her boss comes along and hands it to her… we thought a long time about how she was dressed. She’s in a corporate environment, so is she wearing a skirt and her skirt is too short? How is she demonstrating her rebelliousness?”

Maslansky and her team eventually decided that it wasn’t Jessica’s style to don a suit the way most professionals would. “What she’ll do is still wear her jeans and find a really cool jacket, maybe a vintage thing, maybe something that she borrowed from Trish, just something that would look great with her jeans and her boots,” Maslansky says. “We devolved away from the light blue jeans and motorcycle boots, so we used the same designer — Citizens of Humanity — same model number, same style…but we went towards black instead of light blue. And instead of the motorcycle boots, we found lace-up military boots instead. We found a great funky jacket in a vintage designer store; it was a little big and a little bit beat up but [Krysten] embraced it…she was still her same tough person with that veneer that’s hard to penetrate.” 

The rich cast of characters in Jessica Jones — from a high powered lawyer to a junkie to a talk show host — afforded Maslansky the opportunity to dive into many fun and different styles. “It’s always fun for me to have a man or a woman wear beautiful, interestingly put together clothes,” she says. “And it’s not necessarily reflected on the money that’s spent — I mean, Trish has money and she had contacts in the fashion world, you can imagine, and therefore she can wear Stella McCartney and Chloe and all sorts of wonderful labels. But then there was also the character Robin, Ruben’s sister. She was a blast to dress because she was so quirky and didn’t have remotely the kind of money that Trish did, but she also put herself together aesthetically. And then Carrie-Anne Moss was just a delight: a high powered gay lawyer, she was also someone who wore clothes beautifully.” Maslansky has a soft spot when it comes to Jessica’s neighbor Malcom, who elicited the most radical change out of all the characters as he moved from clothing that was a little brighter and a little more hopeful…and then there’s Jessica herself.

“She’s such an unusual superhero because she’s consumed by these emotions that we don’t usually see, like yearning and regret,” she says. “She has so much of that. And I hope the costuming reflected that.” 

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