Wearing all black is a statement, a lifestyle, a uniform for the too-cool New York City crowd. Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia blends in perfectly in her East Village stomping ground wearing the black blazer, blouse, and pants that are her signature look in hit Netflix show Russian Doll.
But there’s also a more practical reason for her colorlessness. Throughout the series, created by Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, Nadia dies over and over again, and resets at her birthday party. Because of the many possible causes for death—some bloodier than others—the black outfit proved sturdiest against spills, falls, and crashes.
It’s not just Nadia’s cool birthday suit (a literal suit) that has garnered all the buzz. Party host Maxine’s (Greta Lee) sea-creature-meets-fashion-blogger look is an aspirational ensemble for the fashionably thrown-together type; their artist friend Lizzy wears fun but not fussy vintage overalls; and even the boringly dressed Alan (Charlie Barnett), who also repeatedly dies like Nadia, earns dimensionality through his very purposeful button-down shirts. Russian Doll‘s costume designer, Jenn Rogien, who’s previously worked on Orange Is the New Black and Girls, and Lee take us behind the seams on the show’s most memorable wardrobe moments.
The birthday suit
Lyonne wears a black H&M blazer and Gap pants in her repeated reset scene. “A big part of the shopping strategy was the number of multiples that we needed for the series,” Rogien says. “We needed at least 12 of everything, head to toe. The most important thing was the look, but there is also a budget constraint. And, so we wanted things that could walk both lines.”
The Helmut Lang coat
“The coat needed to be a really strong silhouette and also able to accommodate all the action that Nadia goes through, like repeatedly falling down the stairs and getting hit by cars,” Rogien says. And yes—they had 12 identical Helmut Lang coats on set for this very reason. “It was a very strong combination of character, coupled with the practical reality of shooting such a unique show. Natasha needed multiples for her own stunts, for the possibility of blood on the clothes, and extra, just in case something goes wrong. And then there was a stunt double, and there was a third double. Twelve to 14-hour days are very hard on clothes, and so there’s just a reality of wear and tear as well.”
Maxine’s life-of-the-party outfit
Though Maxine looks like she just stepped off the runway, her outfit is all fast-fashion finds: The blouse and pants are from H&M, while the chain vest she wears over the blouse is from Forever 21. “It does go to show that, with some really savvy shopping, sometimes you can pull off something pretty magical. Again, we needed some multiples, but our hard second runner-up was a head-to-toe Dries Van Noten look. So we really did mix and match high fashion and mainstream fashion. It just happened to be that the thing that we loved the most cost less.”
Lee, who plays Maxine, says Rogien’s instincts helped her better understand her character: “In my mind I feel like Maxine loves her body—she’s got a lot of issues in her life, but that’s not one of them, which I find refreshing and fun. She’s part of this art world, she’s part of this New York crowd. Where does she shop? What does she like to put on? If she’s hosting a party, does she like to wear shoes? Or is she a shoes-off kind of person? It reminds me of a time in my life where you’re throwing a party or going to a party, and just kind of grabbing something, not making it such a precious affair. It felt very real to me, like, ‘Oh, look at those annoying pants, I love those. I’m gonna wear those tonight.’ That’s a crazy outfit that someone would believably put together themselves.”
All that bling
Nadia wears a lot of chains and rings. The black onyx ring with snakes is by Erica Weiner. Rogien says, “They just seem very appropriate for her, given the dark stone and the meaning of onyx [a protective stone] and serpents [a symbol of rebirth]. Then there’s a stack from Madewell, and another by BCBG.”
Nadia also wears a coin pendant passed down from her mother. “I worked with Donna Sackowitz, who does a lot of collaborations with productions, to create something original to the show—as it turns out, you can’t copy existing coins, because that’s considered counterfeiting. I didn’t want to go to jail for counterfeiting actual money.”
The women’s friendship is also represented subtly in the jewelry. “You buy that they’re friends because of that weird thing that happens among friends,” Lee says, “not that you all start dressing the same, but there’s definitely some pieces that are stolen from each other.”
Lizzy’s artsy overalls
There’s something freeing and childlike about Lizzy’s spirit—she’s an artist, she dates younger, and she is unabashedly rocking overalls when everyone else is coiffed and layered to party perfection. Because Lizzy didn’t need as many outfit multiples as Nadia, Rogien was able to go vintage with her look. “The overalls are vintage, the coat is vintage, the boots are sturdy Frye boots,” she says.
Nadia the working girl
When Nadia makes it past her death day, she is seen in a red blouse that she wears to work as a video game programmer. “I used the red blouse to help differentiate between the two looks,” Rogien explains. “Nadia is not a fashion-based character—she’s more about her life, her job, all these other things. But she is a New York woman, and New Yorkers are very visual in what we wear. One of the things that we wanted to quickly convey with Nadia is that she has, over the years, honed her look to a very simple take on a uniform.”
Alan’s boring button-downs
Alan’s idea of a “party outfit,” which he wears to Nadia’s birthday party, is a plaid yellow button-down. His character is very dry and rigid, and his outfits reflect that. “The Lower East Side has this sort of new crowd, and an established crowd. Alan is very much the reflection of a new group that doesn’t have as deep ties to the neighborhood,” Rogien says. “But really, Alan’s look is about his character at heart—he’s literally very buttoned up and practically layered. His look is a lot of Banana Republic and Uniqlo and H&M. He’s the kind of guy that would find one store that works for him, and that’s where he buys everything.”
’90s Chloe Sevigny
In the 1990s, Chloe Sevigny became the fashion It Girl. In Russian Doll, she plays Nadia’s mom, Lenora, in a 1991 flashback. “Lenora’s look was really an effort to reflect the complicated character, who’s also very vulnerable,” Rogien says. “She’s so sensitive to people to talking about her as crazy, and you really want to keep that in mind when dressing a character like Lenora.”
The Borrowed Blouse
Towards the end of the season, Maxine splashes a drink on Nadia and offers her a change of clothes. Her all-black look is swapped for a swatch of cream. Even though Maxine is a maximalist and Nadia likes her minimal palettes, they found a shirt that equally embodies both characters. “We daydreamed that Maxine likely has a big closet, and [imagined] borrowing something from a friend that still suits your style. It’s a hybrid,” Rogien says.
The lighter shirt also signals the enlightened version of Nadia: “One of the reasons that blouse shows up is that in the split timelines of the end episode is because Nadia in the white blouse is aware of the loops and what’s happening, whereas Nadia in her black party look is not aware.” Alan’s wardrobe also changes up once he gets closer to the truth: “It’s the same thing with Alan and his scarf, which he gets from Lizzy. Alan without the scarf is not aware. It was a little costume element that was a visual signifier of who was where in the story.”
Russian Doll is streaming on Netflix now.