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Interview: Costume Designer Nicky Smith Talks Working on the Third Season of ‘Ramy’

*Warning: the following article contains spoilers for season three of Ramy.*

Ramy‘s third season has finally returned. And it was well worth the two-year wait (read my review here). Not only is the writing impeccable and the acting from its main leads (Ramy Youssef, Hiam Abbass, Amr Waked, May Calamawy & Laith Nakli) spectacular, but its costumes are also important to how the characters have progressed from the last season to now. And for costume designer Nicky Smith, who joined the show for its third season, while the previous two seasons were designed by Dana Covarrubias, one of the most essential elements for designing costumes for season three was collaborating with its actors:

“It’s really important as a costume designer that I collaborate with the actors who have been playing these characters for two seasons in a way that allows them to have their own input on where they see their character going and what they’re trying to convey this season versus the past two seasons. As a costume designer, it’s not about what I want. It’s about what we want, what best serves the script, and what best serves the story.”

On the challenges that season three presented in designing costumes that would look at the generational differences, Smith explained over Zoom that she wanted to create a dichotomy between the characters:

“For example, for May and Hiam, how do you create a difference between Dena and Maysa? I wondered how we can solidify the character silhouettes and how they present themselves so that you can see a difference every time they’re in the scene. Or when Ramy [Hassan] starts to veer a little bit more toward American culture, and when he starts to change his perception of what it means to get money, there’s an influence of higher-end designers. He starts wearing better sweaters and more expensive-looking jewelry. And we can show a transition away from who he was in previous seasons to who he wants to be.”

On crafting culturally appropriate costumes, Smith talked about how she was able to research ideas over Pinterest and Instagram:

“We’re so lucky that we live in an age with so much access to digital imagery from other cultures. You can go on Pinterest and find boards of people who live in the culture and express themselves. And a lot of that was on Instagram, especially regarding some of the other female Muslim characters you see through the episodes. I wanted to ensure that I was tapping into silhouettes that felt like a modern Muslim woman.”

Smith also explained that she had lots of creative input on the show, working with actors “who trust me and are interested in trying different things. For example, with Laith, we decided that we wanted to change Uncle Naseem in a little bit of a different direction this season. In the previous seasons, Dana created a really good silhouette with a great shirt and leather jacket. And we wanted to push that further this season now that he’s coming to terms with his sexuality. So we tailor things differently and made the shirts a little flashy, but at a different temperature so that it would create a visually beautiful and interesting color story.”

Ramy‘s third season not only contains the acting debut of Bella Hadid but surprise guest stars, which include Christopher Abbott as Silvak, and the ever-great James Badge Dale as Sheikh Abu Bakar Miller (the best guest appearance of any TV series I’ve seen this year), alongside Majid Jordan who perform the catchiest spoof song of the year as the Halal Brothers. In creating all of these costumes, Smith explained her process by creating an image board that would reference what the characters could wear:

“For example, there were medieval references for Christopher Abbott’s character because that helps everyone see where I want the character to go. I then present those boards to Ramy to discuss what we like on the board and what we can skip. From there, I present that to my shopper and assistant. And we begin sourcing the costumes. For example, like the fitting with James Badge Dale, just because of COVID, it happened to be the day of the shooting. So I had to rack up wild, cool, hipster-type stuff. There were many interesting brands, and we just worked together to put a look that we both liked and were excited to see on camera.”

One of the best sequences of the entire show is the Sharp Bank scene, where Farouk (Waked) imagines himself in a Shark Tank-like show, where he pitches to his family (and “real-life Shark” Robert Herjavec) an idea involving stickers. In designing costumes that are markedly different from what the characters wear in real life, Smith explained that she worked with Amr Waked to showcase “how he dreams he would look like and what is his ideal suit would be.

He wants this perfect, beautiful silk tie–the best tie, and that was where we got his idea for his dream suit. And then we started to imagine what Ramy would be like in his father’s eyes. He’s still not perfectly tailored, with a purple shirt that’s a little bit brighter than what his father would have wanted to see. For Maysa’s character, it’s what her husband sees as her ideal business self. It’s the same thing with Dena. It’s still a little modern. There’s no shirt underneath. It’s a little bit what her father would know she would wear, but maybe not the thing he’s the happiest seeing. It was a lot of fun to take the characters and do a business edge spin to their look.”

All episodes of Ramy’s third season are available to stream on Hulu.

[Some quotes were edited for length and clarity]


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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