It’s Jean Smart’s world and we’re all just living in it. Though the actress has been working since the 1980s, she is undoubtedly having moment this year. On Sunday, she is a double nominee at the 2021 Emmy Awards — all thanks to her critically-acclaimed and concurrent performances in HBO’s limited series “Mare of Easttown” and comedy series “Hacks.”
The latter of which is why we’re here.
Smart plays Deborah Vance, a legendary Joan Rivers-esque comedian, who is getting pushed out of her iconic Las Vegas residency and needs a refresh. She forms an unlikely — and hilariously dark — partnership with a young, entitled writer, who is desperate for a job.
And if you think a 70-something stand-up comedian, QVC constant, antique collector can’t have style — think again. This is a low-key fashion show for the ages. Vance’s looks are filled with Vegas glamour, diva energy, elegance and wealth. The best part? Smart tapped her own closet for some of her character’s looks.
Our first encounter with the snarky and quick-witted Deborah comes in a backside view of the comedian onstage, wearing a glittering, multicolored-sequin duster and slacks. She walks off stage and slips off her high heels like a queen.
Here, costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager discussed the ensembles behind Smart’s Deborah Vance.
While many have likened Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance to Joan Rivers, what was your inspiration?
“Jean had just finished ‘Mare of Easttown’ when she started and it was such a different character. Jean really just dove headfirst into being a sort of very glamorous person. We wanted her to have her own entity. There was a lot of thought and discussion between Jean and myself. For example, a lot of female comedians of that generation wore skirts or dresses. And for the most part, she was always wore pants on stage, which was a conscious choice. She has a lot of money and she has very good taste. She skewed towards slightly over the top, but we, hopefully, walked the line of believable as opposed to being a caricature of a woman of a certain age in Las Vegas.”
Speaking of Las Vegas, how did you honor the campy, kitschy atmosphere while not going overboard?
“It was challenging in the beginning. The minute you put sequins on your body it sends a certain signal, right? So even though she wore sequins her silhouettes were still pretty classic and streamlined. To me, it was a good balance because I didn’t want to make her cartoonish or a cliché.”
In one the final scenes of the Season 1 finale, Deborah has to chose between a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos or a comfort shoe. When it came to her footwear, what did you lean towards?
“That was written in the script, but she does love a high heel. Jean actually has an aversion to a kitten heel. For some reason, she just thinks it’s not a pretty heel. So we would do about a 3-inch heel with a peep-toe or some sort of cut-out. We had a great collection and a lot the shoes were Jean’s.”
What was your favorite look of the season?
“The black cocktail dress she wore to her daughter DJ’s birthday party. Even though it was DJ’s party, there’s a part of Deborah that still wants the attention. She doesn’t really want to share the spotlight too much. I took a Maggie London dress, re-cut the top part of it and added that high chiffon neck detail. And then we changed the back of it a little bit. So I took a dress that had just a beautiful shape and embellished it to make it special. A lot of people have really responded to that dress, and it’s the magic of a good tailor.”