How 'Maniac' Costume Designer Jenny Eagan Made Multiple Universes Feel Like One Seamless Show
Cary Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville's fever dream-esque Maniac, released on Netflix last fall, distills several different universes into one dizzying mind-warp. Following Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill) as they take part in an experimental drug trial meant to "cure" their psychological trauma, it shifts from a retro-futuristic present to 1990s Long Island, a '40s dinner party-turned-séance, a Lord of the Rings-like fantasy, a mobster shoot-'em-up, and an alien apocalypse, then back to the present again. Creating the wardrobes for so many different storylines — and making them cohesive — was a tall order, but Maniac costume designer Jenny Eagan was up to the challenge. "It's really a costume designer's fantasy to be able to do all these different periods," she tells Bustle over the phone, "and happening in one season of a show!"
The Missourian first got her start as a production assistant on Any Given Sunday, the 1999 Oliver Stone film, and since then has steadily climbed the ranks of the costuming industry. Her recent credits include the 2018 hit Widows and the upcoming miniseries Catch-22, but her first big break was True Detective Season 1, she says, because of its popularity. It also served as the genesis of her ongoing partnership with Fukunaga, with whom she worked on 2015's Beasts of No Nation and now, of course, Maniac.
But, though ambitious projects in their own right, both True Detective and Beasts of No Nation are rooted in singular worlds. So how on earth did Eagan go about crafting Maniac's multiplicitous universe? She credits the show's writing as being an important guideline, saying she would segment all the timelines to keep them straight in her head while trying to maintain a few throughlines for each character. "There's little things that you wanted to keep with them to carry it through," Eagan explains, citing the modern earrings Annie wears in the elf sequence as a small nod to the character's true self.
And not only do the wardrobes help orient viewers in whichever reality they're currently watching, but they informed the actors' performances, too. "[I]t kind of gives them a feeling of who they're going to be, and it makes them walk a little bit different or stand a little bit different — gives them kind of a different gait or an attitude," Eagan says. Below, the designer breaks down how it all came together.
The Present: Annie's Trench Coat
Eagan went through an involved process to make sure Annie's mustard, Jesse Kamm-designed trench coat looked lived-in enough for her messy, on-the-go lifestyle. "I overdyed it and aged it a lot, so it got to that place where it felt like it was really worn and she'd had it for a while," she explains. "It was almost like a protective blanket — something that she could have with her that was part of her second skin."
The Test Subjects' Jumpsuits
The gray one-pieces that Annie, Owen, and the rest of the test subjects wear throughout the series were partially inspired by a Rachel Comey jumpsuit that Eagan owns, but the overall aesthetic was largely influenced by Asian culture. Eagan says she did research on Chinese companies, many of whom have color-coded outfits for employees in different departments.
"It was all set to be very concise and very organized," she explains. "We wanted them to be something that was laundered for each test. So they went through the laundry, and then maybe when the new group came in, they got the same jumpsuits... And then we got these little Japanese sneakers, and so everybody wore these little slipper sneakers that had a different color."
Azumi's Minimalistic Chic Wardrobe
Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) is agoraphobic, so her clothes needed to reflect her reclusive tendencies. "She might have gone to a store and got everything that was exactly the same," Eagan theorizes. "Like, 'Give me one, two, three, four of those colors, and I'll just repeat that. And that's my wardrobe.'"
1990s Long Island: JC's American Flag Pants
JC (Joseph Sikora) just wants to do two things: protect his dad's fur store from the Fish and Wildlife officers hot on his trail and practice his dance routine. Eagan knew she wanted Sikora in something he'd be able to move around in, and those patriotic Zubaz pants fit the bill. "I had intention of making them, but those just happened to exist in the world," she says. "And Cary... immediately [said], 'Oh, yes. That one, for sure. 100 percent.'"
Paired with the voluminous pants is an equally out-there mesh, V-neck tank top, which Eagan says is actually a women's shirt. And at the very last minute, they found a cassette tape necklace that worked perfectly with the walkman he wore on-screen. "[It was] just one of those times where you laugh so hard in the fitting room," she says fondly.
Linda Marino's Jeans
"You step one foot into Brooklyn, everybody was wearing that outfit!" Eagan says of Linda's get-up. "I was like, 'No wonder we can't find this stuff anywhere. Everybody has it on!'" In Episode 4, Stone plays Linda Marino, a sassy, lemur-stealing hospice nurse whose bleached hair and acid-wash jeans reach up to the high heavens. Her outrageous look is finished off with Reebok high tops, which Eagan theorizes Linda wore to jazzercise.
But the highlight of her ensemble are her vintage Guess jeans, which fit Stone like a glove. "We put those jeans on, and the way she cocks her hip in them — because they're very high-waisted, and they really form the backside," Eagan says. "And so it just kind of gives you this walk! Like, 'I'm gonna show these jeans off! I want to show you my new jeans!'"
1940s Dinner Party: The Twins' Feather Hats
"Listen, I want some birds," Eagan recalls telling a milliner at North Hollywood's Western Costume Company over the phone. "I want hats." It just so happened that he had two such headpieces, seen on two young twin girls at the séance in Episode 5. "So one was on one side of a twin, and one was on the other side of a twin," she recalls. "I always wanted them to have something really special in their hair." The end result is both elegant and unsettling, and from there, the entire dinner party took on a feather motif. Eagan's strategy was "keeping the dresses a little bit simpler but then having those explosions of hats."
So even though the clothes on Maniac are used in different time periods, realities, and even perspectives, they all contain a timelessness that both tethers viewers to the base reality while somehow transporting them to each dreamscape. "You see people on the street like that every day — somebody that’s wearing the same coat that they've probably had for 30 years," Eagen says. "Or somebody bought that from a thrift store because it looks cool now."
Crafting the world of Maniac was an ambitious undertaking, to be sure, but Eagan pulled it off seamlessly — pun intended.