*Caution: This article contains spoilers for Luke Cage season 2*
Stephanie Maslansky is the costume designer extraordinaire for the Marvel’s Netflix shows. We spoke to Maslansky about creating the costumes for Luke Cage season 2. She spoke at length about what went into creating the looks for the different powerful women this season. Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis), and Misty Knight (Simone Missick) all have very different styles, but come across strong and confident on screen thanks in part to Maslansky’s wardrobe.
TMR: I love how Mariah’s outfits feel so powerful without her wearing a pantsuit-because that’s usually what you associate with a powerful character. I love that she was able to be so powerful and so sexy while wearing these beautiful dresses.
Stephanie Maslansky: I love women’s wear. I think that women are so complex. I think it’s interesting because we started the season in understanding the world in one way and by the end of the season we had #MeToo and #TimesUp. The world had changed. I don’t know that that is necessarily reflected in her clothing, but certainly going forward…it plays a big role. It kind of changes the dynamic of how women want to dress on a day to day basis.
In terms of a woman representing herself as strong and powerful and confident and authoritative, there’s a way of doing it that doesn’t necessarily invite the male gaze. What it is that you’re dressing for yourself. You want to look sexy for yourself, not necessarily for a man. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely different.
(Mariah is) in charge. So she’s dressing for herself. She wants to feel and look strong and powerful and confident. And part of that look includes feeling and looking very provocative and like a sensuous human being. And I like when women own that. I really think it’s important, both before #MeToo and now that we’re in the midst of it.
TMR: I like how all the women dress so differently and so powerfully.
SM: We had fun with Misty. We decided that Misty would embrace the Harlem aspect of who she is. We wanted to bling her out a little. Part of her uniform were her jeans and her high over the knee boots, she had those great leather jackets that fit her to the T and a leather coat. And then her tops, they were tight and they maybe were a little bit blinged with gold zippers and whatnot. We embraced that. It’s part of a Harlem vibe in a way. We didn’t turn away from it.
The first season she was more down to Earth detective with her blazers and her blouses and her t-shirts. We didn’t care about that this season. We wanted her to be on her own terms. She would wear what she wanted to wear. She didn’t need to prove that she was the appropriate type of detective anymore. She knows exactly who she is and she’s absolutely fine with that.
SM: So then there was Rosario’s character, Claire. Very different than the first season or any season- she’s been in so many. Very different from the first season of Luke Cage, of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. She’s now in this very hot relationship with Luke Cage and they’re having oodles of sex and that changes the way a woman represents herself. In this case, of course she wants to look great for her man. She feels great about herself and she embraced that.
And then of course things kind of went to sh*t and she got very worried and she made the decision to leave. There was something Rosario wanted to do the last time we saw her. She dressed in a certain way when she went to see Luke for the last time. She wanted to wear what she wore the very first time we met her on Daredevil. She wanted to go back to that root when she was more of a no nonsense and took care of people. It was more of tomboyish, not sexual. Cute, sassy, comfortable, not looking for a boyfriend just being who she was…Rosario and I discussed this and she wanted to go back to that look. She spent the first few episodes looking great and being with Luke and all that great stuff and she wanted to go back and turn it around and become that other person again before she left. I think that was a really great idea. I attribute that idea to her.
SM: And then of course there was Tilda. We had so much fun with her. First of all, it’s not a challenge to dress somebody young and gorgeous and perfectly figured. She just walks into clothes. We had so much fun finding the right costume, the right look for each one of her scenes. That included a lot of really great dresses. We wanted to represent someone who was into her neighborhood and helping people. At the same time had a strong Afrocentric sensibility, beautiful, sensual, ready to help, comfortable in her own skin. Definitely sexy, but again not in a way that she specifically thought, ‘Let me attract male attention’. She wanted to be attractive to everybody. She wanted everyone to love her and trust her and go to her for help.
And then of course her life changed incredibly…The outfit that she wore in the club at the very end was something I found in the very beginning of the season when I was shopping. I saw that outfit and I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh my God I need to buy this now. This is going to be perfect for when Tilda becomes Nightshade. I don’t know what the scene is going to be, but we have to have this.’ The clothing was designed by Dries Van Noten, a Belgium designer. It was absolutely beautiful, black lace and beading and velvet and just really stunning. We had to resign it and rebuild it to a great degree to fit her.
TMR: What do you draw inspiration from when you’re looking for costumes for these characters?
SM: When I have a scene in mind and I’m trying to think about what it could be, I think really hard about what designers out there might address that particular situation and that character. At an event Mariah was wearing one of my favorite dresses we designed and built. It was a navy blue dress, it was slightly square necked and a cap sleeve, very sexy fitted dress with a fringy bottom which I thought were like roots-her being rooted in evil. And Tilda was wearing a gorgeous bright peach colored dress in that same event from a store called Sando…Literally one day I was driving down Bleecker Street in New York and I was kind of window shopping from the car as I often do and I saw that dress in the window of the store and I literally tucked and rolled out of the car. I was like, ‘Stop the car’, I opened the door and jumped out and ran into the store and bought that dress. I just knew it was the perfect dress for that scene. And it was.
Luke Cage seasons 1 & 2 are currently available to stream on Netflix.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.