Count Olaf, the infamous villain in A Series Of Unfortunate Events, is notorious for taking on disguises that only the Baudelaire orphans seem to see through. However, the clues in the A Series Of Unfortunate Events costumes don't end there. According to costume designer Cynthia Summers, sneaky sleuths can gather some important details from the garments in Season 2. Mild spoilers ahead.
"I can't really give them away but absolutely for sure" Summers says about potential plot hints worked into the costumes. "Like in any movie or TV show, the clothes [...] are the first thing you see on a character when they step in front of the camera. This is an opportunity for us to add subtly. That's the great thing about this show. There's so many clues and there's so many hints."
While A Series Of Unfortunate Events takes the audience to a boarding school, a trendy city, a country village, a sterile hospital, and a colorful carnival in Season 2, the show's aesthetic is consistent whether the characters are dressed as for a trial, as fish, or as beat poet detectives. And it feels timeless as well.
"It's like a fantasy period show," says Summers. "The books are very period, they're very Edwardian. The show is clearly not, and that's on purpose." It reaches a broader audience, she says, and allows the creative team to reference more modern eras.
When she joined the series as costume designer in Season 2, she asked executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld what the reasoning was behind the chosen time period. "He said that basically the show is seen through the eyes of children, the Baudelaires," she recalls. "As children we remember, especially adults, kind of in pictures and in certain ways and they don't always fit a time or a place."
Having the show on Netflix allows the series to be as complex and nuanced as it is. You can watch the episodes over and over while searching for new details. "If you keep going back you'll see hints of things to come," Summers teases, "or 'that's why she was wearing that' or 'I see what that tattoo was.' Esme, she's got these fingernails all the time and if you look closely at her fingernails, there's clues on her fingernails."
OK — so watch the fingernails on Esme Squalor, played by Lucy Punch. Noted. But what do these clues mean? Maybe they'll reveal something about Allison Williams' mysterious character, or Beatrice, or the true meaning of V.F.D.? There's only one way to find out, and that's to fully appreciate Summers' work.
There's also just the fact that part of the Baudelaires' journey this season includes doing some things that mirror the actions of the villains pursuing them — like, for example, putting on disguises. The costumes tell that story as well. "They're sort of, as they're going along, becoming more sophisticated in their ways of getting away from Olaf," Summers says. "Instead of just going into a situation as themselves, taking disguises, which makes them part of the group."
Both the Baudelaire orphans and Esme Squalor find themselves having to make the most of Olaf's disguise trunk in Season 2, and the way they do that is particularly interesting. While Violet and Klaus grab items quickly, and put a lot of effort in disguising their faces and making themselves truly unrecognizable, Esme is still concerned with looking fashionable and making Olaf's riffraff work for her own sense of style.
As for Season 3, the crew is only beginning work on The Penultimate Peril at this time, but Summers — who's continuing to work on the series for its final season — says that fans should look forward in particular to the underwater adventures in The Grim Grotto.
"Slippery Slope was really fun and a totally different landscape of course, because it's all ice and snow," she says. "But Grim Grotto, what we're shooting right now, is pretty amazing. The submarines are so fanciful and Carmelita's so evil and the costumes are really great." Olaf, she adds, is at his "ultimate evil level" at that point in the story.
The world of A Series Of Unfortunate Events is as incredibly detailed, and it shows in the costumes. Whether they're representing a character's fall from grace or giving us clues as to a secret identity or loyalty, it's all part of what makes this series come to life — and the fact that there are clues woven into the visual fabric of the show means that fans can scrutinize these costumes for months to come.