The Costume Designer Of ‘The Defenders’ Explains How To Bring Street Style To Superheroes

When you think superheroes, capes, high-tech armor, and spandex usually come to mind. For Marvel, the costumes their heroes wear are sometimes just as important as their superhuman abilities. Tony Stark’s got the Iron Man suit, Captain America is decked out in stars and stripes, Black Panther is sleek in his tricked-out vibranium get-up. They’re beautiful to look at, but there’s a reason fans only don DIY copycats as cosplay. That fantasy element that accompanies these defining superhero looks just doesn’t translate to the real world.

Unless you happen to be one of The Defenders.

Marvel’s TV superhero gang is finally uniting to fight crime (and each other) on Netflix and with their new group status comes a change in style, at least according to Stephanie Maslansky, the costume designer for the upcoming Defenders season.

Maslansky has dressed the first season of each Marvel superhero series on Netflix. You can thank her for Daredevil’s vigilante evolution, Jessica Jones’ motorcycle boots, Danny Rand’s monk frocks, and Luke Cage’s hooded rebellion. Besides putting her stamp on a team of street heroes, Maslansky has been able to give Marvel’s television universe on Netflix an authentic feel. There are no flashy outfits, impenetrable shields, or Asguardian armor. Instead, each of the Defenders operates in their own New York neighborhood – and the clothes they wear reflect that.

We talked to Maslansky about the style evolution of The Defenders, whether she prefers dressing heroes or villains, and how to get that edgy, New York superhero style.

You’ve worked on the first seasons of all of the hero’s standalone shows. How do their individual looks represent where they are when we see them in The Defenders?

We pick them up as we left them, which I think is really important because these are the characters that the fans remember. It’s very important for that identification. And then they can also feel and sense and almost become involved with any type of evolution that occurs throughout the series. [There’s not a change] in their wardrobe, at least, not right away.

How do you go about meshing these four characters, all of whom have a distinct style?

S.J. Clarkson, our first and second episode director, came up with this idea: whenever we shoot any particular superhero within their environment, let’s stick to their palette. Let’s stick to their very specific palette. For example, Daredevil’s palette is in the deep reds and then of course blacks and grays. Jessica Jones is in navies and veering into deep purples. You will recognize the palettes in the lighting and the clothes, in the background, in how the extras are dressed. It’s just a really cool way of differentiating each character and figuring out whose world we’re in.

These characters are so grounded in everyday life, how do you create “superhero costumes” for them?

The whole premise of the show is rooted in a really gritty, authentic New York City. They’re called street-level superheroes, so they do really reflect the street and to a certain degree, the clothes that they wear every day become their superhero costumes. It’s not necessarily protecting them physically, but certainly on an emotional level they identify to what they’re wearing and they become identified by what they’re wearing. But I like creating uniforms, because when you think about comic book illustrations, especially the early ones, they always wear the same thing. We vary this a little bit because we’re creating characters that are in the real world and in 2017, people do change their clothes.

Except for Jessica Jones …

Her style embraces a tough, badass look. We knew that we wanted to go with a leather jacket and jeans and motorcycle boots, but what we didn’t realize until we got into it was that we really wanted her look to look exactly the same pretty much throughout the series. This is a woman with PTSD. She drinks too much. She doesn’t give a shit. She wants to keep people away from her. What would somebody do in this case? Well, they would get up in the morning and just put on whatever was closest or whatever smelled least bad.

New York is so influential in these series, especially in terms of style. What does New York style mean to you?

I pride myself on being a New York costume designer. I strayed from New York for a few years and went to L.A., but that was like, ‘Okay, can I leave now?’ One of the reasons people come to New York is to kind of stand out and be unique and distinct. New York sexy is a lot different than Los Angeles sexy. Los Angeles sexy, there’s a lot more flesh, there’s tanner skin, there’s more leg shown. To me the New York sensibility is a bit more polished. There’s a more sophisticated sexiness to it. It’s not necessarily more mature looking, it’s just a more complex sexiness, which I love. I love dressing sexy New York women.

Speaking of, Sigourney Weaver’s character – she’s kind of shrouded in mystery. Does her wardrobe give any clues as to who she is to our heroes this season?

She’s an enigma. We wanted to give her a strong sense of history rooted in sort of an ancient notion of knowledge, if you will, of philosophy. We were really attracted to metallics and things that felt like an armor and things that had historical reference, the way they were made, maybe there was fabrics or embroidery or stitching that referenced a variety of clothing in history.

Is it more fun to dress the villains?

Well, something that’s been talked a lot about and that’s almost kind of funny at this point is what drives these villains to dress well? And that’s very simple: it’s money. What does a villain want more than anything: money and power. I love them all for individual reasons. For Kilgrave, I thought that I was going have to build everything, but as it turned out, David Tennant is a perfect size 38 and just absolutely waltzed into everything that [designer] Paul Smith makes. That season, there was a ton of fabulous suiting out that Paul Smith had done that was in the purple-y shades; purples and navy blues and magentas and just colors that I could combine well to indicate that purple vibe that he definitely had going on, without being over the top and silly and distracting. We had a lot of fun with his wardrobe.

What designers are your go-tos in terms of New York style for these superhero shows?

Derek Lam, to me, is classic New York woman. For men, I love Zegna. I love John Varvatos. I love Paul Smith. Sometimes Zara does the great odd shirt or jacket. When I shop for ties for men, depending again on the character if it’s a more conservative man that wears a wider tie, I go straight to Bergdorf Goodman. If it’s a narrower tie, I go to Barneys. Brooks Brothers is great. It has its place in the world. It all depends upon the character. It really does. We love all the beautiful designers that are available to us in New York, like Celine, Marni, Dries Van Noten. I know that these clothes are worn all over the planet, but to me they somehow embody a New York sensibility, sophistication.

Is Matt Murdock rocking Brooks Brothers?

Season one of Daredevil, he did rock a couple of Brooks Brothers suits. We were really careful to not do anything too stylish or design-y for him because that’s not who he is.

Are there any secondary characters you’d like to see get their own standalone so that you could dress them?

I would love to see Colleen Wing and Misty Knight. I mean, I fantasize about those two going off and doing their own show. Who knows if it’ll happen. I know I’m not the first person to fantasize about it. I’ve seen it in print. But as long as you’re asking me, I’ll tell you: I would love that opportunity.