For Ramy season three costume designer Nicky Smith, crafting a world that speaks to the cultural authenticity of a show’s characters takes equal parts research, vision boarding, and open communication with the actors wearing the wardrobe. The Golden Globe-winning Hulu series (which has also nabbed three Emmy nominations) revolves around first-generation Egyptian-American Ramy Youssef’s personal journey to Islam and how it unfolds amid his Millennial lifestyle in New Jersey. His complex set of family and friends—including Amr Waked as Ramy’s father, Farouk; Hiam Abbas as his mother, Maysa; May Calamawy in the role of his sister, Dena, and newcomer Bella Hadid as Lena in her first acting role—is always there to witness (or stir up) drama. After a two-year production gap, the dramedy has now returned with a suitcase of isms, phobias, lessons, and loving moments to unpack. Smith—who joined this season after former costumer Dana Covarrubias moved to the Only Murders in the Building crew—has laid out the looks that reflect Ramy's cast along their journeys, giving as much attention to background characters as the main.
Smith tells W her favorite moments on the show include the Muslim Conference in episode eight: “From the Halal Bros performing to Abu Bakar Miller with his showy version of Islam to just seeing this beautiful array of different type of Muslim bodies,” she says.
“We had Afro-Muslims, we had older people, and we asked these wonderful background actors in the notes, ‘Please bring things that are identifiable of your culture.’ As much as we have access to things at the costume shop, we do not have access to such a beautiful, authentic array of Muslim attire.”
Below, the costume designer discusses ensuring the cast felt like they were a genuine part of the collaborative process and The Office character who inspired Hadid’s look.
Ramy’s spiritual journey this season isn’t much more untangled than the last, as he continues battling his demons—a central point Smith kept in mind while dressing him this go-round. “How do you showcase a silhouette that looks good on him as a person but doesn't overpower who he is as a character?” she explains. “I presented boards that had a lot of street swagger, oversized sweaters, baggy pants—sometimes rolled up, sometimes not—a cool all-white sneaker. That to me is very Tri-State, very New York, East Coast money.”
In a breakaway moment from his usual muted outerwear, Smith dials up the softness as the awestruck Ramy meets his daughter for the first time. “I'm really proud of the ways that the colors worked … It's such a soft and tender scene. I wanted it to feel cohesive, even though what's happening is kind of disconcerting,” she said. “This guy is asking these improper questions about a kid that he really just met. And it's kind of awkward and unnerving, but I wanted it to feel and look idyllic at the same time.”
Ramy’s father, Farouk Hassan, seems “kind of stuck in the past,” as Smith explains, inspiring the costuming team to pull older items from some of the character’s previous closets. “His sweaters, his jeans … We [also] wanted to have a limited suit closet for him because he is fired; and how does that present in the clothes? We did a lot of dark-colored ties and shirts with the suits,” she says. “Moving later in the season, we pulled out this vintage puffer coat from the late 1970s, early 1980s. He's digging through his closet and pulling out these dated things that he's then incorporating into his present life.”
Waked, Smith notes, was particularly hands-on when it came to crafting his look for the Sharp Bank TV spoof scene in episode three, utilizing his finance background to offer input for the “super stylized, tailored business” look. “He had his own ideas based on the suits that he wore. So we went through the rack and literally the first suit that we agreed on and tried is the one you see on camera. It feels very European financier, which is what we wanted.”
For Ramy’s mother Maysa, played by Abbas, Smith took a subtle approach, keeping conservatism at the forefront. Select vintage jewelry plays up Maysa's elevated sensibility as she goes through her own life transitions. “She has a job working as an Instacart delivery person and she's taking it seriously. We wanted to pick subtle details, like her earrings and ‘work jewelry’ that she put on whenever she was going out on a run,” Smith says, noting that they found pieces from Natalie Joy Jewelry.
Statement prints also made appearances, with Smith explaining that Maysa’s style is based on a French-Tunisian woman that the costume designer once worked with. “There's always a sense of elegance in the way that she puts things together. Even if it's a casual shirt and pants, there's still this elevated sense of self, and we really try to create that with Maysa,” she says. “We have Nanette Lepore shirts; we have different prints and fabrications that still feel soft and feminine, but paired with her business pants, it feels like a woman that’s on a mission.”
Ramy’s sister Dena (Calamawy) also finds moments of sophistication this season as her wardrobe choices reflect her tumultuous journey in law school. “What does that look like? Being a first-generation young woman presenting to your parents and your family, meanwhile, your whole world is falling apart,” Smith says. For season three, it looked like sourcing thrift wares that still felt relevant.
“The thing that’s really good about adding thrifting, especially with a character like Dena, is that you end up putting things together that feel like she’s still shopping modern stuff,” Smith explains. “We ended up putting her in a great vintage vest in a couple of scenes. Her jeans, some were vintage, some were modern. I’m a thrift rock star. Because my background is in historical costume design, specifically period costume, I tend to gravitate toward secondhand sourcing.”
Bella Hadid joins this season as Lena, girlfriend-turned-fiancée of Steve (Ramy’s best friend, played by Steve Way), and Smith notes that the model made one thing clear: “Put me in whatever you want to. I am not here to voice any opinions.” While Lena’s character doesn’t directly identify as Muslim in the show, there was still an element of conservativeness to all of Hadid’s looks, which featured layered pieces like turtlenecks, sweaters, and button-downs.
“That is the character’s edge. She loves The Office. She’s always referencing it, so there was a lot of Pam Beasley-esque imagery on her board, that sort of conservative office attire,” Smith says. “For me, I really love the Cinzia Rocca coat that we put on her. And truth be told, there was a lot of Uniqlo. The turtleneck, and one of the sweaters is thrifted. [There’s] a Dagne Dover leather purse. There’s a lot of high-end, low-end stuff put together to create the look.”