'Defenders' Costume Designer Explains Eerie Inspiration For The Hand

And why Jessica Jones' leather jacket may be endangered.

Netflix’s “The Defenders” united Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the irritatingly immortal Iron Fist, somewhat against their will, for one reason: to stop The Hand from choking the life out of New York City.

But while The Hand exists in the Marvel comics, its “Defenders” leader, a centuries-old woman named Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver), does not. Which made Stephanie Maslansky’s job as the series’ costume designer a little trickier. Maslansky had plenty of source material to use as inspiration for the series’ other outfits, leaning on reds for Matt Murdock and his alter ego, purples for Jessica, golds and blacks for Luke and olives for Danny Rand and his alter ego. For Alexandra, however, the “Defenders” team had to come up with their own inspiration ― and they found it in a hair-raising place. 

“We initially talked about using the color white for The Hand, because as our executive producer described, when you die, you see white. Or this is what’s talked about,” Maslansky told HuffPost. It’s a sort of repurposing of “the light at the end of the tunnel” for a group of immortal supervillains who’ve transcended death. And to add drama to Alexandra’s outfits, the costumer also folded in metallics. 

“I felt that the metallics reflected maybe different past lives for her where she was more of a soldier or a warrior herself. I wanted the metallics to reflect a fierceness or a power within her,” she said.

Maslansky has worked on five seasons of Netflix’s Marvel shows thus far, and is currently at work on Season 2 of “Luke Cage.” We spoke to her about the challenges of keeping enough hoodies in stock for Luke, where she found Jessica’s now-discontinued leather jacket, and how she’s updated each character’s look for the 21st century:

Like any comics adaption, so much of these characters’ identities are based on their clothing. Does that put more pressure on you as a costume designer because fans have specific expectations?

People for the most part have accepted that we’re taking historical comic book illustrations and paying homage to them, but carrying them into the 21st century, and creating live-action characters who need to feel authentic and real in New York City in 2016, 2017. And, for the most part, people don’t walk around New York City wearing superhero costumes. I mean, there is Daredevil, but even he does it subversively, and there were very practical reasons for him to come to that costume. He’s not bulletproof and knife-proof ― and neither is Jessica Jones, but that’s another case. She doesn’t give a shit. [Daredevil] felt the need for some extra protection, and the suit is pretty badass. 

Iron Fist evolved still to something that was akin to real-life clothing, the colors were very specific. There was one moment in the comics where Iron Fist was dressed in a tracksuit, and we didn’t want to go full-on tracksuit because that felt very ’70s, a little too wise-guy, Italian mafia. I designed a track jacket with the colors that have become associated with the Iron Fist, and we paired that with a really awesome pair of slim cargo pants. We maintain the colors, the olives and the deep, deep golds that become associated with and that we carried over from the comics.

We’ve seen each of these characters in their own standalone series — did you change anything up when they all came together?

We really tried to keep the characters as consistent and as near to last we saw them as we could. Of course, they don’t know each other and they don’t want to know each other ― they’re all the kind of people who work better alone. 

Where Daredevil has his classic “superhero” bodysuit, and we get a glimpse of Iron Fist’s tracksuit, Jessica and Luke are always in street clothes. How hard was it to come up with just the right leather jacket, and just the right hoodie? Let’s start with Jessica.

She is one of the newer characters ― I think she was created in the early ’90s. The earlier illustrations of Jessica Jones are of her wearing blue jeans and sort of a leather blazer, and she still drank too much and still had some trauma she was dealing with. But we wanted to update her look. We looked at a variety of jackets, and a variety of looks, but the one that felt most right was the Acne jacket. It fit her to a T. We had to remove a lot of the bells and whistles ― there were a lot of belts and snaps and things that you just have to get rid of because it’s too much. And we had to hire our aging people ― our wardrobe people who know how to age things ― and they just beat the crap out of the jackets. We did buy quite a few. 

I imagine there had to be a lot of them ― and same thing with the hoodies.

Oh, you have to have a bunch. Number one, she has a stunt double. Sometimes she has a photo double, she often flies and you have to harness her and put holes in the jackets. And the way Jessica Jones is ― she got shot up, she got knifed, she keeps on wearing the jacket. Who cares? But you still have to repair it. I think by the end of the first season, we had about 16 of them. And then when it came to doing “The Defenders,” I went online wanted to pick up a few more, and they weren’t making that particular jacket anymore. So that was like, Oh, no! What am I going to do? I wound up being fine with the amount that I had, to get through “The Defenders,” so there was no problem there. But I am not doing “Jessica Jones” Season 2, I’m doing “Luke Cage” Season 2, so I’m not sure how they are handling their need for more jackets.

When you fall in love with something and suddenly they don’t make it anymore, it gets a little crazy, because that’s the kind of thing it would be difficult to recreate. You could do it, though.

How did you land on Luke Cage’s specific outfit?

First of all, I created a backstory for this hoodie, because he’s always showing up in a new hoodie. One hoodie gets shot up, and then a few days later he has another hoodie. But the backstory I made up after Season 1 [...] that the deceased wife, Reva, purchased that for him. Then, you know, they escape, they move to New York, they open the bar, she dies at Jessica Jones’ hand, but he continues to have that sweatshirt until that moment ― I think at the end of Episode 2 or 3 [of “Luke Cage”] ― when Cottonmouth blows up the Chinese restaurant where he’s eating with his landlord, and they wind up stories down below where they have to dig them out. He’s wearing that sweatshirt, but it got destroyed. So that was the end of the black sweatshirt with the gold [lining]. But toward the end, he had another one, and I think the story continues that he found, online, a source for those black sweatshirts with the gold hoodie [lining] and he bought a bunch of them. Then the story changes again in Season 2, but I can’t tell you that part! 

And you have to have dozens of those on set, too, probably.

Oh, we have dozens and dozens and dozens. They’re by Carhartt, the black hoodies. In Season 1, we found the gold fabric and we stitched the gold hoodies in ourselves. So there’s many of them, and when he gets shot up, there’s a special effect called “squibbing,” and that’s when they put a little [explosive] packet on the back of the jacket. It’s a many-step process to make it happen. We have many, many, many of them. 

And soon, they’ll be full of bullet holes. “The Defenders” is now streaming on Netflix. Premiere dates for “Luke Cage” Season 2, “Jessica Jones” Season 2 and “Daredevil” Season 3 have not been set. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.



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