There’s a scene in the third episode of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the new TV adaptation of the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movie, where, without giving anything away, Mr. Smith reveals to his wife that, despite having recently outfitted himself in brand new ski gear, he doesn’t actually know how to ski. She tries calling him on the bluff, telling him he must be joking, to which he replies “I would never joke about fashion.”
It’s one of many moments in the new series, all eight episodes of which are now out on Amazon Prime, that are both perfectly comedic and extremely chic.
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The new version of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” stars Donald Glover and Maya Erskine as a pair of spies who are matched together on a mission — and in a marriage. While remaking the 2005 movie seems like quite the risky undertaking, the show is better than it has any business being — consider it a must-watch. It’s also subtly one of the most well-dressed series around, thanks to the work of Madeline Weeks.
Weeks, who was the fashion director at GQ for nearly 20 years, has in recent years shifted to costume design, and credits much of her approach to successful costume design to her years styling talent for the magazine.
“I think narratively, I learned how to do that working for GQ because we worked with so many actors, and especially with actors, they’re sometimes uncomfortable being in their own skin and so much more comfortable playing a part,” Weeks says. “So I kind of learned that if you could give an actor a part and he [or she] could be part of the story and really get behind it, that it would make the portfolio even better.”
Her first big costume project was the James Gray movie “Armageddon Time,” which she had done some early mood boards for before the project halted due to the pandemic. By the time it resumed another costume designer had been hired — for a time being. Weeks says that designer had a falling out with the film’s star Anne Hathway, and she ended up getting the call to officially sign on.
A producer on that movie would go on to produce “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and Weeks had experience working with Glover from GQ, so her name came up during costume discussions, despite the fact that she’d never done TV before.
She had a “huge budget” to work with, and set about creating the style of John and Jane Smith. Inspiration came from Robert Redford, specifically his 1969 film “Downhill Racer,” when she read the ski scene in the series. It turned out Glover was a big Redford fan as well, and the vibe started to form around a Sixties and Seventies style inspiration.
“We wanted it to have this kind of lo-fi feel, like TV spy shows where it was like, ‘Oh, they’re married, but they’re spies,’ like ‘Remington Steele’ or ‘McMillan & Wife,’” Weeks says. “And of course, I love the old James Bonds where there are funny moments, but of course then two seconds later, it’s dangerous and they’re in some scary situation. So I, that’s what I was kind of thinking about.”
Glover’s John Smith is the fashion lover of the two and is seen both dressed up — in a Gucci tux, in the second episode — and casually, often in 1970s Levis 517s that Weeks pulled off eBay, Etsy and with the help of Levis, and then retailored to Glover’s body.
“I’d say a lot of things that Donald wore, even his T-shirts, everything was really, really carefully considered. The jeans were a little tight and maybe a little short, so you saw that cream-colored cotton sock, and then we went with a heavier lace up shoe. We went with a classic undershirt, but I was like, ‘wait, my favorite undershirts are Rick Owens and Margiela,’ because I wanted the thinness,” Weeks says. “I wanted his body to really show through his clothes. The idea of wearing two gold chains, we did that throughout, one is Lisa Eisner and one is David Yurman, and then we used a lot of vintage watches. So it was a mix of vintage things, all really based on ’60s and ’70s silhouettes.”
Weeks recalls the show’s co-creator Francesa Sloane explaining to her that John Smith loved to shop, and so as they’d get paid for each mission, he might buy himself a new watch or new pieces online, so his clothes got nicer as the episodes went on. It was similar with Jane, although she’s much less of a shopper than her husband. Weeks styled Erskine in understanded luxury staples like a Cartier Tank watch, a handbag from The Row and a tweed coat from Celine, never anything flashy or label-driven.
“She likes to wear things. Maybe if she had something special, she would wear something maybe more than once,” Weeks says. In that vein, Jane is sort of IYKYK [if you know, you know] in her style: APC sneakers, Alaia pants, Saint Laurent top.
“I think one of the interesting points is that they arrive at their house separately, Jane and John, and they’re hired to become this married couple, but they were other people before, and they had not been so successful on their own,” Weeks says. “So she was practical, and she shows up and she’s got her very practical, well-made trenchcoat and her very practical shoulder bag. But when they look at their house and they walk in and they kind of look around and they see everything, it’s almost like somebody had gone shopping and the agency put together a wardrobe in their dreams. It’s almost like a heightened version of them, what they kind of step into. And then they become those people. And that’s what we wanted the clothes to feel like in the beginning. And then I think as they get more comfortable with it and this life and this lifestyle, and they’re lying to everyone about what they do, I think then they really feel good.”
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