In September, the third season of Ramy, created by and starring Ramy Youssef, premiered on Hulu! In this season, Ramy finds himself trying to moving past his spiritual journey and instead focuses on his uncle’s diamond business. But before the character finds the meaning of life, the production was joined by costume designer Nicky Smith. I spoke with Nicky about the Ramy costume design, joining the show in its third season, designing costumes for Ramy Youssef, research, representation, and sustainability in costume design.
(Image: Costume Designer, Nicky Smith)
Spencer: Hello Nicky! Congratulations on Season 3 of Ramy. This season is fantastic! You took over as costume designer this season. Overall, what was your experience like working on this show, and what did this role mean to you?
Nicky Smith: Hi Spencer! I am really excited to chat about the work my team and I did on season 3 of Ramy. It was a unique and special experience. Coming into any show that is already established can be a daunting task. Thankfully Ramy (Ramy Youssef) was really great about communication. I used design boards for character discussion, so we were always on the same page! Being a costume designer means so much! You have the job of creating character and celebrating nuances in a cohesive way that tells the story they want people to see and the story that is.
Spencer: You’ve described costume design so beautifully! Ramy is a story that follows a first-generation American Muslim caught between an Egyptian community and a constantly evolving world. Approaching this project, what research were you doing to understand these characters?
Nicky: As a first-generation American myself, I take research on marginalized, minority, and immigrant communities very seriously. It is important that you go to the community for the visual research and the language of the costumes. I always start with Instagram, Pinterest, and google images. From there, I moved on to the picture collection at the NYPL.
Spencer: Well, all of your preparation was certainly worth it. The main character of this story is Ramy (played by Ramy Youssef) who is currently on a journey of struggle and hustle. What was your concept behind Ramy’s costumes, and how has his look evolved since the first two seasons?
Nicky: Dana Covarrubias (the costume designer from seasons 1 and 2) created a really wonderful base for me to build on this season. Since Ramy has had such a casual wardrobe established in previous seasons, it was a clear transition to move him into more elevated sweaters, coats, and overall styling to match where the character now was based on the season’s story. We leaned in hard to styling that felt very east coast and had a bit of the Hypebeast aesthetic thrown in.
Spencer: A big piece to this show is representation and portraying characters’ faith and personalities in a relatable, respectful manner. How did you approach this matter through costume design?
Nicky: Ramy is unique because the people playing the characters are the main resource helping to create the characters’ costumes in a way that portrays their faith and culture respectfully. The actors and I talked about how to approach not only the ways to tie hijabs but also what style of abaya they would have in their closet. Growing up in NYC and living in Queens, I am surrounded by mosques and Muslim culture; shout out to Steinway Astoria! So it is a really unique aspect to use your daily observations of your neighborhood community to enhance your design.
Spencer: At The Art of Costume we have been talking a lot about sustainability lately and how it connects to costume design. I’ve read that you prioritized sustainability in costume while working on this production. What did this priority look like, and what do you recommend to other costume teams to ensure their production is aligned with a sustainable, efficient future?
Nicky: To be honest, sustainability has always been a part of costume culture. In school, we have the moniker that you can get costumes outside the regular channel by rental, thrift, or borrow. This season, we did all three!
My team started by breaking down closets from characters who won’t be returning in the new season so we can reuse the pieces. Breaking down is shorthand for disassembling. For this show specifically, we bought a lot of things secondhand—some modern and some vintage. Vintage pieces add unique elements to the wardrobe that tell a story and add texture. For example, we used a vintage brooch on Maysa’s (Hiam Abbass) sweater this season. Hiam and I discussed that Maysa may have had this in her life before marrying Farouk (Amr Waked) and having it on is a reminder of that life.
Secondhand thrifting gives you out-of-season and one-of-a-kind alternatives to shopping in stores. There were times when my assistant costume designer, Stephanie Levin, and I would find clothes with the tags still on them from the store they were purchased originally.
Rentals and borrowing are another way to lean into sustainability in costume design. I am really lucky to have a network of costume design peers who let us borrow everything from prison scrubs to cop uniforms.
Spencer: I am so inspired. Thank you for saying all of that. Nicky, I am so happy I got to speak with you. I loved hearing your thoughts behind the costume design of Ramy.
Nicky: Thank you!