Variety Artisans: Behind the Seams: How ‘The Gilded Age’ Costume Designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone Crafted the Old vs. New Money Styles of 1880s New York

For costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone, working on “The Gilded Age” was a “fantastic” history lesson on the beginnings of contemporary fashion. As she researched the styles of late 19th-century New York through paintings and photographs, she deeply appreciated the complex colors and modern design trends that defined high society during the 1880s.

“A lot of the times, I’m being asked if I modernized it too much. I was like, ‘It’s all there. You just have to pull it out and look for it,'” Maimone said. “[The designs come from] sketches and color palettes from that period with color combinations that are pretty shocking.”

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As part of Variety’s Behind the Seams, Maimone opened the doors to her costume studio in Greenpoint, N.Y. to discuss how she crafted the fiercely intricate wardrobe of “The Gilded Age.”

The HBO historical drama tells the classic story of old vs. new money set in a buzzing New York just before the turn of the century. Although Maimone wanted to exemplify the styles of the Gilded Age through the wardrobe, she was not afraid to take creative liberties to ensure an explosive and captivating lineup of costumes.

“We discovered that some of the historical pieces resonate with us and some of them don’t,” Maimone explains. “So if we were just faithful to the history, I think we would have a very different show. That created this lens of what is exciting and what is not exciting. What I was discovering in that period was that there was this incredible level of asymmetry, organic draping and extraordinary combinations of colors.”

Maimone says that comparing the competing styles of old and new money is like “comparing the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum. Both are alive at the same time, celebrations of art, but in completely different ways.” This distinction between the two worlds of “The Gilded Age” was the guiding principle of how Maimone dressed the series’ leading ladies.

After marrying into a railroad fortune, new money debutante Bertha Russell (played by Carry Coon) is desperate to enter New York high society at any cost. When designing her wardrobe, Maimone wanted to exemplify that Bertha did not “have the depth of the traditions that the old money has,” and instead, represents a “completely different language” of new age fashion.

“We have so many responses to color. Deep red actually does feel new, but deep burgundy doesn’t. Deep green does not feel new unless it’s combined with a very interesting juxtaposition of colors,” Maimone explains. “What I discovered in paintings last year was that combination of this vivid yellow, almost green-yellow combined with mustard, and I found that a fascinating combination…I felt like it became Bertha’s color.”

The old money side of “The Gilded Age” is represented by Agnes van Rhijn (Christine Baranski) and Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon). For their wardrobe, Maimone established ridged color palettes to represent the iron-clad family ties and years of tradition that placed them atop New York’s socialite scene.

“Agnes is the deep wine, deep burgundy and the deep jewel tones,” Maimone says. “Ada is mustard. We were calling her colors the colors of the fall, those beautiful burning colors of the fall.”

Watch the entire conversation above.

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