How ‘Ramy’ Costume Designer Nicky Smith Helped Bella Hadid Prepare For Her Acting Debut

In the show’s third season, clothes play an important role.

Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu
Lena (Bella Hadid) and Ramy (Ramy Youssef) in 'Ramy' season 3.

The long-awaited third season of Ramy returns today, with another messy, introspective, and illuminating run. Facing the aftermath of his decision-making last time around, the confused millennial and first-generation Egyptian American — played by creator, writer, and director Ramy Youssef — is still on his well-intentioned but destructively wayward path to being a good Muslim (and person). He finds himself questioning his faith, while straying into unexpectedly fortuitous, dubious financial opportunities (and some pivotal interactions with Bella Hadid in her first acting role; more on that in a moment). But that also means Ramy has a sartorial reset at least, with a new expressive (and bling-y) wardrobe to help chart his upcoming journey. Costume designer Nicky Smith, who joins Ramy for Season 3, helped transition the protagonist’s established signature of almost-metaphorically too-relaxed buffalo plaids and slouchy hoodies into refined checks on fine knits from contemporary cool brands like Nanushka, Flagstaff, Sandro, and Kapital.

“Even if the audience can't pinpoint like, ‘Oh, that sweater looks high-end,’ they know what elevated quality is,” says Smith, over Zoom, about her subliminal messaging of Ramy’s fresh status in the new season. (Dana Covarrubias, who crossed the Hudson from Ramy’s New Jersey to Manhattan’s Upper West Side for Only Murders in the Building, costume-designed Seasons 1 and 2, while Elle Fanning’s go-to Mirren Gordon-Crozier handled the pilot.)

Smith enjoyed closely collaborating with the very busy show-runner and lead extraordinaire, Youssef. “I really want to maximize my time with him,” she says. “So I would make boards of, ‘This is what I think this character would wear,’ and do a stylized little collage for him.” Youssef would then give his final sign-off for each character, from his own to friends and family to new ones played by some familiar faces — including, yes, the aforementioned Bella Hadid. The supermodel makes her television debut with an aesthetic that’s, let’s just say, more character-driven than runway-influenced.

Ahead, Smith, whose upcoming work also includes FX’s adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel Kindred and Hulu’s musical Up Here, shares how working with The M Jewelers helped her depict the new “Money Ramy,” what inspired Hadid’s sartorial transformation into an endearing normie, and why authentic representation through costume is so important.

Ramy (Ramy Youssef) in a Cos coat and collared shirt, and fellow Diamond District jeweler Yuval (Julian Sergi) take a business trip.Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu)

Ramy Has A New Job — And New Drip

In debt and in breach of a marriage contract for a cool $100K, Ramy needs to increase his earning potential, stat. He finds a diamond supplier partner — with somewhat shady connections, because, well, Ramy — to set up his own shop and his wardrobe reflects his newfound fortunes. Now a successful young entrepreneur in the Diamond District, Ramy’s own jewelry evolution also tells a story — from the silver pendant he carries over from earlier seasons (and that Youssef wears in his personal life) to the ice-encrusted chain link collar he casually wears with sweaters and T-shirts in later episodes.

“Like with his signet ring, things that are evocative of where he is as a character, but still pay homage to the culture in subtle ways,” says Smith, who collaborated with The M Jewelers, owned by Mark Shami, Youssef’s longtime friend. (Although, Ramy’s new dazzling diamond studs are actually faux magnet earrings for practicality’s sake.)

Ramy and his new diamond necklace.Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu

Smith and Youssef met with Diamond District-based The M team, including General Manager Justin Stallard, to land on the ideal pieces to realistically chart Ramy’s Season 3 arc. “Just to make sure that even the links of the necklace weren't too ostentatious,” says Smith, who learned that high-end jewelers tend to avoid flashy displays of wealth.

“At the end of the day, as costume designers, we're collaborators to work with people who know jewelry firsthand and who are literally making beautiful, real authentic diamond pieces,” Smith continues. “So, it was really great to talk to the guys just to hear their point of view on character and what jewelry expresses.”

Lena (Bella Hadid) meets Ramy for the first time.Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu

Bella Hadid Transforms Into A Nerdy The Office Fan

International supermodel Bella Hadid first appears in Episode 4 as Lena, whom Ramy’s best friend Steve (Steve Way) met on the dating app Muslim Match. Youssef, who’s friends with Hadid’s brother Anwar, cold-emailed her earlier this year and then Zoomed to discuss the role. “I was like, this is perfect,” she told GQ in August. The Palestinian American has been outspoken, especially on social media, as an advocate for the Palestinian cause and embracing her cultural identity.

While in prep — and on opposite coasts at the time — Smith also presented mood boards to Hadid over Zoom. “We just had a really great conversation about the importance of character and she was really committed to any choices that myself and Ramy thought were right for the character,” says Smith. “She was like, ‘Just put me in whatever. I'm here to play this role. I don't want to be myself. It's more important that when people see me, they see the character.’”

Lena, in a Cinzia Rocca coat, tries to hide from Ramy.Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu

Hadid fully committed to the role of a confident yet oddball personality and full-on The Office stan — Lena just can’t stop talking about the Steve Carell comedy. Behind the scenes, the scripted quirk helped inform Smith’s costume design. “When I think of The Office, I think of normcore and a really simple, clean silhouette, like turtlenecks under sweaters,” says Smith, who also faced the challenge of not making Lena look “too fashionable.” (This is a tall order when you’re dressing one of the world’s most notable supermodels.)

So Lena’s “pared-down” Pam Beesly-esque outfits include a dark teal turtleneck under a mauve blouse, from Uniqlo, with a navy cardigan and camel skirt from J. Crew. At one point, she uses her black Dagne Dover front-flap black bag as an impromptu disguise in the hopes of avoiding Ramy. “A lot of corduroy, a lot of wool skirts, some sad flats, and pantyhose,” says Smith, pointing out the word “sad” refers to the character aspect of flats and not Lena’s actual Clarks shoes and Wolford hosiery. “There was a nice homage to The Office costumes, of course.”

Steve (Steve Way) has something to say to Ramy.Jon Pack/Courtesy of Hulu

Steve Highlights Adaptable Fashion & Costume Design

Like Ramy and Steve in the series, Youssef and standup comedian and disabilities awareness advocate Steve Way have been friends since their New Jersey grade school days. So the authenticity comes through in the depiction of Ramy’s and Steve’s friendship, as well as the honest, funny, and relatable portrayal of an also-horny millennial with muscular dystrophy. Steve’s love life challenges run from mundane logistics, like needing Ramy — a rare Tri-State Area friend who can drive — for a ride to watch wrestling to that one time last season when he convinced his bestie into giving him a much-needed, erm, release.

Smith, who created “a space of trust and honesty” in the fitting room, also underscored adaptive fashion and costume design, while progressing the formerly single Steve into a devoted boyfriend to Lena. “We wanted to make sure that we made choices that were very clear about that,” says Smith, who elevated his layering, like a green puffer vest from Zara over a bold marigold Uniqlo fleece for an important decision (and comedic tension-filled run-in with Ramy).

To introduce Ramy to Lena, Steve ups his game in a red plaid shirt by Weatherproof Vintage under a sleek leather jacket from Zara (above), while Smith also helped capture Way’s close-ups, as Steve grows increasingly frustrated with Ramy’s self-absorption. “We covered Steve’s neck pillow in faux leather to match his leather jacket,” says Smith. “There were little things like that that I really tried to incorporate to make people feel seen and to feel understood.”

Ramy’s friends Yasmina (Rana Roy), Ahmed (Dave Merheje), and Mo (Mohammad Amer) attend the conference keynote, “The Quran is the original blockchain.”Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu

Costume That Also Celebrates The Diversity Of Muslim American Communities

“For me, as a first-generation American, it's really important that whenever you portray any culture, that you look for the subtleties,” says Smith, whose father hails from Antigua and mother from Saint Kitts.

In an attempt to catch the attention (and Instagram views) of a Rick Owens sneakers-wearing — and influencer pastor-referential — keynote speaker, Ramy attends a Muslim American conference. As the camera pans over the energized, jubilant audience, you just see the diversity of the Muslim diaspora: age, ethnicity, heritage, and how clothing expresses one’s relationship with faith. This feels especially poignant in a TV landscape in which Muslims are egregiously underrepresented and usually stereotypically, if that. A recent USC study found that only 1% of speaking characters, in a study of 200 shows from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand were Muslim, while Muslims comprise 25% of the world’s population.

Youssef and Muslim American writers and crew also helped provide insight into the costume composite, while casting called for a diverse group of background actors for inclusive representation. “We also asked people to bring in things of their own personal heritage, as well,” says Smith. “Because at the end of the day, we may have access to so much, but there's nothing more beautiful than people bringing themselves and their culture [through their own clothing and accessories].”

For hijabi characters, Youssef also emphasized accuracy in how the hijabs are tied. So Smith connected with Seattle-based and women-run modest fashion brand Nuura Collection, which offers a one-piece “instant” hijab. “It was really important incorporating people in the community in fashion and bringing them into what the design was,” says Smith. “It adds an extra layer of authenticity and it’s important to reach out to communities, as you're creating a visual language that involves their community.”

Ramy (center) tends to wear a brown palette when he’s with his family, mom Maysa (Hiam Abbass, left), sister Dena (May Calamawy, second from left), dad Farouk (Amr Waked, far right).Jon Pack, Courtesy of Hulu

Wardrobe Repeats & Vintage Styles Speak To Sustainability

Ramy experiences a fashion glow-up, thanks to his growing bank account, but he still repeats favorites, like his black cropped pants by French label Officine Generale. Copious lingering close-ups of shocked and flummoxed facial expressions allowed Smith to focus on waist-up looks, while also buying less. “That was one of the ways that we focused on keeping it sustainable, and still making sure that we were accurate with the storytelling,” she says. Smith also repeated pieces, like the tailored dark gray Cos coat, which Ramy wears throughout the season.

She also thrifted and sourced vintage from NYC staples, like Housing Works, L Train Vintage, Beacon’s Closet, and “hidden gem in plain sight” Le Point Value. She points to “cool sweaters” for Ramy’s sister Dena (May Calamawy), who’s balancing her own faith with challenging the patriarchy and pursuing her law degree, and vibrantly patterned blouses for world-weary mom Maysa (Hiam Abbass), who’s making it work in the gig economy. “It’s better than using fast fashion and also it gives a little bit of interest and variety to what [the audience] sees,” says Smith.

Smith and veteran Palestinian actor Abbass (who also plays Marcia Roy in Succession) held deep discussions about Maysa’s costumes. Also a producer in Season 3, Abbass had the privilege of her own final approval for Maysa’s looks.

“We did a lot of thinking, like, if Maysa lived in Paris, would this be something that she would bring over?” says Smith, about the fluent French-speaking Maysa, who is similar to Abbass in that regard. “How does that affect the prints? What are the colors that she uses? And that was one of the things that was really fun to do.”

Incorporating vintage also helps informs the actors, while creating an unspoken backstory that's subliminal to the viewers — like the rest of Smith’s costume design.