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

Sixties fashion reigns supreme at Palm RoyaleApple

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 miniseries 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 inquired in 1969 about the period comedy she was producing about the Slim Aarons-esque world of Palm Beach. You don’t even have to read the script,” Friedberg tells Harper’s Bazaar. “It was like, ‘Oh my God – yes, yes, yes!’ ”

Friedberg was immersed in the sun-drenched South Florida of the 1960s, as created by directors Abe Sylvia, Stephanie Laing and Tate Taylor – a world that was colorful, intoxicating and full of joy. Ricky Martin plays a pool boy? Yes please! Carol Burnett as a grande dame socialite who wakes up from a years-long coma? Sure! And Kristen Wiig starring as main character Maxine, living in a motel on the wrong side of the Lake Worth Lagoon, trying to talk her way into the city’s swankiest club? Sign us up!

The fashion is no less delightful. As Friedberg notes, Palm Royale is set in the era of Lily Pulitzer, cashmere twinsets, and ladies “who didn’t care about anything but their martinis and their golf games.”

Much of the show – based on the novel Mr. & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel from 2018 – was costumed in true designer vintage from the period. And perhaps the best punchline of all is that literal top model Kaia Gerber’s character, manicurist Mitzi, spends much of the ten episodes in a dowdy nail-tech smock — but somehow manages to works. And that, as we know, is what Palm Royale is all about: taking what you’ve got, and making it work.

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

palm royalepalm royale

Erica Paris

What made this particular moment from the late 1960s interesting to work with?

It was exciting because there’s so much documentation about that time in fashion, and about the 1960s in general – but Palm Beach was kind of a bubble. We had the female uprising, counterculture and anti-war movements in LA and New York, while Palm Beach was a pristine bubble of people who cared about nothing but their martinis and their golf games. It is a fun and plastic society.

How did the research process go?

My favorite destination is always the Western Costume Co. Research Library & Archive, where they have every magazine from the 1940s. We took our research directly from the pages of 1960s magazines. We went to the association pages to see these real galas that were actually happening.

I often think about tabloids from the 2000s and 2010s, and the question “Who wore it best?” Article. Do you think costume designers will look back at that as a reference in fifty years?

I think so. Those who wore it best take you straight to the exact moment in fashion. And I think it’s even becoming more and more encyclopedic, with social media documenting everything that happens in fashion.

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

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

Have you sourced a lot of vintage for Palm Royale?

We have been fortunate that a lot of designer vintage still exists in quite good condition from the 1960s. I would say 50 percent of our main cast is vintage designer pieces, and the other 50 percent we built ourselves. The background characters are probably 90 percent vintage.

Where did you find all this vintage?

Etsy is a great resource – I don’t know what we would have done without it! It brings all vintage shops in the US on one platform. We got a lot from LA and Palm Springs.

Alison Janney Palm RoyaleAlison Janney Palm Royale

Erica Paris

Are there any vintage highlights you were particularly happy with?

We had so many dresses, so many. In almost every episode we had a gala or party, and every episode had to feel different. Each woman also has her own theme. Kristin Wiig’s character, Maxine, lives out of a suitcase in a West Palm Beach motel and tries to get an invite to the exclusive Palm Royale club, so she visits her great-aunt Norma and steals dresses from her – but all those dresses are a bit outdated, because Norma has been in a coma for a few years. There’s one scene in particular where Maxine walks into a swimming pool wearing this vintage canary yellow chiffon dress from Malcolm Starr. We needed three and ended up finding the exact dress online on Etsy. This canary yellow Malcolm Starr dress from the 1960s – and we had several originals.

Etsy came through!

Etsy came through in a big way. There are many striking costumes. There’s one that Maxine wears in episode 10 that we created based on a Balenciaga pattern from 1967. We saw a clip on YouTube of this runway show, where the model descends a flight of stairs and takes off her cape. Only it’s not really a cape. , it is a small bow at the neck, and almost the same dress is visible underneath. It fit Maxine’s character perfectly; it reflected that foolishness and exaggeration.

You have such an incredible cast on this show. But I have to ask: what was it like working with Kaia Gerber, a real fashion model?

Her character is a bit on the margins: she’s a manicurist in West Palm Beach who is a therapist of sorts. She wears a nail-tech smock almost all the time. It’s quite funny! [The character] doesn’t realize how beautiful she is, and it’s so obvious to everyone. She was great. Obviously, dressing a model that can handle whatever you throw at it is a breeze.

You put Kaia Gerber in a smock?!

Of all the women in the show, her costumes are the least fashionable. It is ridiculous.

Kristen Wiig Palm RoyaleKristen Wiig Palm Royale

Erica Paris

What’s it like to dress up Kristen Wiig?

Kristen was phenomenal. She goes hook, line and sinker – she doesn’t do anything halfway, and that’s why she’s so good. All the choices we made for Maxine were incredibly collaborative. She starts off very doll-like, with lots of miniskirts, a spray tan and very blonde hair. Sometimes you worry about clothes with so many patterns and colors taking over a scene. But every costume we made – and we made hundreds for her – was purposeful and made so much sense for the scene and the character every time. Kristen likes clothes, color, she likes a strange and asymmetrical cut, but she also knows her character. She uses costumes and makeup as a real channel 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 dress, so we made her a dress with an 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 wouldn’t be the most comfortable to film underwater in 20 yards of chiffon – but we knew how important it was to skirt moving under water. Kristen could 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 a pair of Gucci shoes that 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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