After a stint as an initially reluctant team player on The Defenders, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is back to protect Harlem from villains old and new. Season 1 saw him battling the impeccably dressed Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and half-brother Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey), and Season 2 will see him facing up against a number of super stylish foes.
SYFY FANGRRLS spoke to costume designer Stephanie Maslansky about transitioning from The Defenders back to Luke Cage, character evolution through costume, new characters, and Luke Cage’s “authentic grounding in reality.”Maslansky has been the costume designer on the first season of each individual Netflix Marvel superhero show, as well as their big team-up, which debuted last year. The color palette of each Defenders character was emphasized, according to Maslansky, to “give each superhero their due” rather than trying to blend them together. For Luke this meant gold, orange, and rust were dialed up. Now that he is back in Harlem, the color palette rules are looser. And while Maslansky wouldn’t say that Luke Cage is her favorite of the Netflix Marvel heroes — because that feels mean to the other shows — she did note that “I have a big feeling in my heart for Luke Cage. I just love the cast. I love what [creator] Cheo [Hodari Coker] is doing with the story.”
Unlike the Avengers, the Netflix superheroes eschew costumes to do their fighting in — with the exception of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), who switches out his lawyer suits for custom Daredevil attire. The everyday attire of these characters while in fighting mode is one way the Netflix Marvel shows stay grounded. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) has a steady rotation of leather jackets, jeans, and boots; Danny Rand (Finn Jones) pairs sneakers with suits; and Luke Cage loves a T-shirt and Carhartt hoodie. Matt Murdock may want his identity to remain a secret so he can still practice the law, but Luke Cage is coming to terms with his local celebrity status in Season 2.This doesn’t impact the way he dresses, but Maslansky says that it alters him in other notable ways. “You can see changes in his attitude. He’s very self-aware now, he’s aware women are looking at him; the kids want selfies with him. He’s getting sucked into the celebrity life.” Instead of shying away from his hero status, Luke leans into it. With the help of D.W. (Jeremiah Craft), he embraces the superhero brand. Maslansky explains that the reason Luke is embracing the notion of monetizing his powers: “He needs to make a living. He’s not born rich. He’s not like Danny Rand.” Could Luke be the first social media influencer superhero?
Unfortunately for Luke, his brand is called into question when a new threat comes to town. This is one of the aspects Maslansky is referring to when she talks about how Luke Cage has an “authentic grounding in reality.” Luke has taken on the role of protecting Harlem, but he is exposed when he loses a fight. “That's the kind of stuff that happens,” notes Maslansky. “Not necessarily because a villain beats the crap out of you.”Cottonmouth and Diamondback wore the hell out of some really good suits last season—they, Killgrave (David Tennant) from Jessica Jones, had an eye for the sartorial flair. John “Bushmaster” McIver (Mustafa Shakir) keeps up this tradition, and Maslansky uses the original comic illustrations as a point of entry for each character. “The first time he [Bushmaster] is introduced into the series he is wearing a beige suit, a yellow shirt, and a tie that is a little less beige, more toward the white. This is my homage to the illustration.”
Sometimes this leads to a theme that is repeated throughout the span of a character’s arc, as it did with Killgrave in shades of purple and navy. Maslansky knew she didn’t want to dress Bushmaster in only beige, yellow, and white because “that would have got really boring, really quick.”
Revenge is once again a big motivator this season. Bushmaster has come for Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), and Luke is put in a position in which he will have to protect a foe. Mariah is the self-proclaimed Queen of Harlem, but she's really more like the devil. So far she has gotten away with murder; now she reigns over Cottonmouth’s club, Harlem’s Paradise.Polished, grounded politician attire has been swapped out for sexier dresses. Maslansky reveals that this is partly due to her relationship with Shades (Theo Rossi). “You dress differently when you are involved in a hot relationship," Maslansky says. Ninety percent of Mariah’s costumes were custom-made and custom-designed by Maslansky: “Even when we bought clothes for her we wanted to tailor the crap out of them, so they really, really fit her.”
Mariah’s clothes are a visual reminder of her villainess status. At one event in Episode 3, “Wig Out,” Mariah wears what Maslansky refers to as a very Cruella de Vil look. This is also one of Maslansky’s favorite costumes that they designed and built for Mariah. “I don’t know if you get to see the entire dress, but it is a very Chanel moment, where the bottom of the dress is very fringed,” she says. “We didn’t hem the bottom of the dress, and it looks like roots. I like to think this woman is rooted in evil and so are her clothes.”In this scene, Mariah is talking to estranged daughter Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis), a new character for Season 2 and another person with an alter ego in the source material. Tilda is also known as Dr. Nightshade, and while Maslansky wouldn’t go into specifics she did say, “We do tend to hue pretty close to the comics.” Maslansky refers to Tilda as “this very earthy healer — she is a doctor,” and she is less than thrilled about who her mother is.
Sometimes a script will include a brief description of a garment; in this scene between mother and daughter in “Wig Out,” Tilda is described as wearing an orange dress. Maslansky found the perfect frock while driving through the West Village in New York City. Luckily she was a passenger, as when the car passed Sandro on Bleecker Street, Maslansky pretty much jumped out of a moving vehicle after seeing this orange dress in the window. “I said, 'I gotta have that dress. I need it in a size 2.' They had it and I bought it. I knew it was the dress for that moment. It fit her to the T. I didn’t have to do one thing to it. And I think it is such an amazing, special dress.”Costume can also be used to conceal. This show might be called Luke Cage, but there are a number of incredible, nuanced female characters in this ensemble. One of them is Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick).
At the end of The Defenders, Misty received an injury that led to the amputation of her arm. Not only does she have to deal with the fallout of her partner being a corrupt cop, but she is also coming to terms with the loss of her arm. Based on promo photos for the new season of Luke Cage, she will definitely be getting a replacement of sorts.
African American College Alliance Clothing is a brand recently resurrected by a 2016 Kickstarter campaign, and creator Cheo Hodari Coker wrote this specific hoodie choice into the script. Starting in 1991, AACA is a streetwear label that celebrates Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); the mission statement is “Independence. Tradition. Pride. A relentlessness born of necessity. Excellence. Fearlessness. The AACA brand is a visual manifestation of this tradition.” In other words: sounds a lot like Luke Cage.