Everyone in ‘Palm Royale’ wears high fashion, except Kaia Gerber

You can tell when a creative person has had fun with their work — just look at Palm Royale, the frothy and delightfully twee comedy new mini series on Apple TV+.

Costume designer Alix Friedberg – who worked on Big Little Lies – jumped at the chance to work on the show when Laura Dern reached out about the period comedy she was producing about the Slim Aarons–esque world of Palm Beach in 1969. “I didn’t even need to read the script,” Friedberg tells Harper’s Bazaar. “It was like, ‘Oh my God — yes, yes, yes!’ ”

Friedberg found herself immersed in sun-drenched 1960s south Florida, as created by directors Abe Sylvia, Stephanie Laing, and Tate Taylor — a world that was colourful, intoxicating, and filled with joy. Ricky Martin playing a pool boy? Yes, please! Carol Burnett as a grande-dame socialite who wakes up from a years-long coma? You bet! And Kristen Wiig starring as main character Maxine, living out of a motel on the wrong side of the Lake Worth Lagoon, trying to scheme her way into the glitziest club in town? Sign us up!

preview for Palm Royale — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

The fashion is no less delightful. As Friedberg notes, Palm Royale is set in the era of Lily Pulitzer, cashmere twin sets, and ladies “bothered by nothing other than their martinis and their golf game.”

Much of the show — based on Juliet McDaniel’s 2018 novel Mr. & Mrs. American Pie — was costumed in actual vintage pieces from the period. And perhaps the comedy’s best punch line of all is that literal top model Kaia Gerber’s character, manicurist Mitzi, spends much of the 10 episodes in a dowdy nail-tech smock — yet somehow makes it work. And that, as we learn, is what Palm Royale is all about: taking what you have, and making it work.

Below, we quiz Friedberg about the series, whose first three episodes are streaming now.


palm royale

Erica Parise

What made this specific late-Sixties moment interesting to work with?

It was exciting, because there is so much documentation of that time in fashion, and the 1960s in general — but Palm Beach was kind of this bubble. We had the feminine uprising and counterculture and antiwar movements happening in LA and New York, whereas Palm Beach was this untouched bubble of people bothered by nothing other than their martinis and their golf game. They’re a fun and plastic society.

What was the research process like?

My go-to is always the Western Costume Co. Research Library & Archive, where they have every magazine from the 1940s on. We took our research right from the pages of magazines from the 1960s. We went to the society pages to see these real galas that were really happening.

I often think about tabloids from the 2000s and 2010s, and the “Who wore it best?” articles. Do you think costume designers 50 years from now will be looking back at those as references?

I think so. Those who-wore-it-bests throw you right into the exact moment in fashion. And I think it’s even getting more and more encyclopedic, with social media documenting everything that’s happening in fashion.

Were there any real society ladies from the 1960s who inspired your costumes?

Betsy Bloomingdale was a big one. There was also this society woman Deeda Blair, who actually just recently published a lifestyle book before she passed about how to set a table and throw a proper dinner party — her whole life was about entertaining. We also looked to Marjorie Merriweather Post, who built the mansion Mar-a-Lago. We based Carol Burnett’s character, Norma, on a lot of those types of figures.

Did you source a lot of vintage for Palm Royale?

We got pretty lucky in that there is a lot of designer vintage in pretty great shape still around from the 1960s. I would say 50 per cent of our principal cast is in sourced designer vintage pieces, and the other 50 per cent we built. The background characters are probably 90 per cent in vintage.

Where did you find all this vintage?

Etsy is an enormously great source — I don’t know what the heck we did without it before! It gets all the vintage stores across the U.S. on one platform. We got a lot from L.A. and Palm Springs.

alison janney palm royale

Erica Parise

Any vintage highlights you were especially happy to find?

We had so many gowns — so many. We had a gala or a party in almost every episode, and each one had to feel different. Each woman has her own theme, too. Kristin Wiig’s character, Maxine, is living out of a suitcase in a motel in West Palm Beach, trying to get an invitation to the exclusive Palm Royale club, so she visits her great-aunt Norma and steals gowns from her — but all those gowns are a little outdated, because Norma has been in a coma for a few years. There is this one scene in particular where Maxine walks into a pool in this vintage Malcolm Starr canary-yellow chiffon gown. We needed three of them, and ended up finding the exact gown online on Etsy. This Malcolm Starr canary-yellow gown from the 1960s —and we had multiple originals.

Etsy came through!

Etsy came through in a major way. There are a lot of standout costumes. There’s this one that Maxine wears in episode 10 that we made based on a Balenciaga pattern from 1967 — we saw a clip on YouTube of this runway show, where the model comes down some stairs and takes off her cape — only it’s not really a cape, it’s a little bow at the neck, and it just reveals almost the same dress underneath. It was perfect for Maxine’s character — it captured that silliness and over-the-top-ness.

You have such an incredible cast on this show. But I need to ask: What was it like working with Kaia Gerber, an actual high-fashion model?

Her character is sort of on the fringe — she’s a manicurist in West Palm Beach who is kind of a therapist. She wears a nail-tech smock almost the whole time. It’s quite funny! [The character] doesn’t realise how beautiful she is, and it’s so obvious to everyone else. She was great. Obviously it’s a breeze to dress a model that can work anything you put on them.

You put Kaia Gerber in a smock?!

Of all the women in the show, her costumes have the least fashion. It’s ridiculous.

kristen wiig palm royale

Erica Parise

What is it like to costume Kristen Wiig?

Kristen was phenomenal. She goes in hook, line, and sinker — she doesn’t do anything halfway, and that’s why she’s so good. All of the choices we made for Maxine were incredibly collaborative. She starts out very doll-like, with a lot of miniskirts, a spray tan, and very blonde hair. Sometimes you worry about clothes that have so much pattern and colour taking over a scene. But each costume we did — and we did hundreds for her — each time was purposeful and makes so much sense for the scene and the character. Kristen loves clothes, colour, she loves a strange and asymmetrical cut, but she also knows her character. She uses costumes and make-up as a real conduit to get into her characters.

What was the hardest costume to get right?

There is a scene with some underwater shots of Maxine in a gown, so we made her a gown that was empire waist in shocking pink with lots of flowers. We used about 20 yards of chiffon for each skirt, and it was a lot of fabric, a lot of layers, and we knew it wasn’t going to be the most comfortable to be filming underwater in 20 yards of chiffon — but we knew how important it was to see that skirt underwater moving around. Kristen was able to understand that her comfort came second to how good that skirt looked underwater, and I love her for that.

Was there anything your actors tried to steal from the costume department?

We had some Gucci shoes we made for Allison Janney’s character that she kept wanting to “borrow.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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