On Palm Royale’s Season Finale, 1960s Couture Takes Center Stage

Palm Royale has been teasing Norma Dellacorte’s famed Palm Beach Beach Ball since episode one of Apple TV+’s new bubblegum-pink, late ’60s-set comedy. Planning snafus left and right had the audience rooting for the party’s eventual success—as well as that of Maxine Dellacorte Simmons’s (Kristen Wiig). Luckily, gumption and some unrivaled luck allowed Maxine to pull through, and after nine episodes of wooden platforms, pleated caftans, and the most deliciously bright patterns we’ve seen on TV in years, it’s finally time for the Beach Ball.

On the season finale of Palm Royale, which aired May 8, Palm Beach society gathered at the Dellacorte mansion for the event of the season (both the social and television variety), pulling out their best looks from Grayman’s Palm Beach couture house so as not to be upstaged by other haughty socialites in attendance. Of course, these beautiful vintage gowns don’t just appear out of thin air—they require research, sourcing, and oftentimes full recreations to transform them from figures of fashion’s past to wearable gowns for the small screen. Below, we talked with Alix Friedberg, costume designer of Palm Royale, about stepping into the world of Palm Beach circa 1969, turning Allison Janney into a showgirl, and the Givenchy dress that inspired Kristen Wiig’s best look of the whole show.

You said in an interview that Palm Royale was “the most exciting, joyful project” you’d ever worked on. What about the show specifically brought you so much delight?

I think it was the color, the ’60s of it all, the rarefied air, the ability to call on vintage couture, the comedy, and the group of actors involved. They are people I have admired for such a long time. It checked every single box for me creatively and emotionally.

You’ve mostly worked on contemporary projects. How are those different compared to working on a period piece?

I do research no matter what project I’m working on—contemporary, period, sci-fi. You need to find your inspiration somewhere. But when you’re working in period, you do have constraints because you want to be as correct as you possibly can to what happened in that particular time and place. So there are limitations on what you can do. At the same time, in the late ’60s, the shackles were off for fashion designers. It was just an explosion of creativity and color and pattern. The introduction of synthetic fibers opened up a whole new world.

Where did that research begin for Palm Royale?

We started boots on the ground at Western Costume Research Library. They have an unbelievable archive of fashion magazines from all periods. We were looking at Vogue and McCall’s and Town & Country, trying to be specific for Palm Beach, Florida, and that demographic. We also looked at a lot of photography from that era. Slim Aarons is obviously a huge influence on the whole show. So we took some of the socialites he photographed and dove deeper into their lives.

Which socialites, specifically, were your inspirations?

Each woman had their own North Star. Betsy Bloomingdale was a big one for Evelyn (Janney). We also looked at Marjorie Merriweather for Norma (Carol Burnett), as well as Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck. For Linda (Laura Dern), a character that represented a more realistic version of what was really happening in 1969—the hippie, macramé kind of feminist girl, who was more Jane Fonda and Jane Birkin.

The year 1969 in Palm Beach is such a specific setting. How did you cement the show in that place through the wardrobe?

Setting ourselves firmly in a palette was so important. There was no wiggle room there during the scenes at the Palm Royale. It was very rigid: every background person, every waiter, everybody was in pastels, whites, oranges, yellows. There were no earth tones at all, definitely no black. Navy was used sparingly, but the brighter colors were important. Getting that tan skin and bright, fresh prints was important drop us right into Palm Beach. When we got outside of Palm Beach, and went to West Palm, the palette changed. It was dirtier, it was sweatier. It had more of a patina to it. There was avocado green and that paler orange and salmon.

Dressing in the style of 1960s fashion can quickly become camp. How did you ensure that didn’t happen? Or did you play into that?

The whole series has a camp vibe to it. So yeah, we came out swinging, certainly. The first time you meet Evelyn, she’s in those big Pucci sunglasses, a very Iris Apfel silhouette. But that was the popular shape back then. That was what the designers were doing at the time. It felt important for characters like Evelyn and Dinah (Leslie Bibb) to be on trend.

Let’s talk a little about Maxine. She goes through such a transformation throughout the series. How did you make that apparent through her wardrobe?

When you first meet Maxine, she’s stealing clothes that are a decade old from Norma’s closet. At the same time, her own, innate style is quite doll-like. She dresses like a little girl with her little minis and bows and matching bags and shoes. It’s all very cookie cutter—the way you might dress your Barbie. Maxine is a very optimistic, innocent character. You think there’s something else going on, but she is truly that genuine. So there’s a sweet quality about the way she dresses. But she really aspires to Evelyn’s chic elegance. That’s the transition we see, which begins when she starts writing bad checks at Grayman’s couture house so she can afford the fashions of the moment. But you never get the sense that she’s comfortable in those clothes. Her comfort zone is definitely those little yellow dresses and cotton sheaths.

And then, of course, there’s the Beach Ball, the pinnacle of the show. Were you anxious to find looks appropriate for such a big event?

We were shooting episode seven and we still didn’t have the script for episode ten, so we were just waiting anxiously. Finally, the production designer hinted towards an “Under the Sea” theme for the ball, so we started to play with the showgirls and we landed on the starfish, jellyfish, and mermaids swinging from the ceiling. In terms of the guests, though, we paid less attention to the theme. We figured they would all just save their best gowns for the Beach Ball. Evelyn’s dress was custom made, obviously, and hers did have that sort of mermaid-queen feel. Dinah’s dress was vintage Balmain, which we found, we did not make.

Maxine’s gown was inspired by a dress from a Givenchy 1967 runway show. [Hubert de Givenchy] did a fuchsia version of the dress that Maxine ends up wearing with that tiny little ridiculous capelet, which gave us a funny, small reveal. We made that in white because we felt like it was her coronation. We also knew Norma would be in white and it would be kind of funny to have this “b stole my look” moment.

Evelyn also has that amazing showgirl moment.

The look was built around a 1940s showgirl, and Evelyn has a bit of a bird fetish so we used that as a starting point. We found an old emblem from the 1940s of a peacock and transferred it onto fabric and cut them out and put them on her leotard. We actually needed a token of Evelyn’s past earlier in the season, when she’s moving out of her house, so we made the headpiece for that scene, before we made the rest of the outfit. It really started with the feathers. We used Mother Pluckers in Los Angeles to make the fans, which were so beautiful. They’re individually dyed in a beautiful ombré. Allison [Janney] rocks it so well.

Do you have a favorite look from the episode?

I love Maxine’s final gown. I also loved getting to make multiple sets of showgirls. Making the jellyfish and starfish, as a costume designer, was just so much fun.

There’s basically a gala in every episode, so I’m sure by the time you got to the Beach Bowl you were a pro. But how do you make the main characters stand out when there are showgirls and dancers and everything going on around them?

We had to carefully curate the gowns. For the background players, we had a core of 150 people who were the members of the club. We gave them whole wardrobes—they had lunch outfits, multiple gala outfits, tennis or golf looks. So we could drop them in a scene and make them feel like they were a part of our story. When choosing the gowns for the background actors, we didn’t use as much embellishment, so the principles stood out.

Were there any pieces you loved that didn’t make it into the show?

We changed clothes constantly so there was a place for everything. They did build a whole beauty shop inside of the Palm Royale for one scene that got cut. We made some really delightful little uniforms for all the aestheticians—but maybe there’ll be a season two and we’ll get to use them.

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