One of the greatest joys of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events has been Count Olaf’s disguises. It’s the first time we’ve seen the nefarious actor’s extensive array of costumes brought to life on screen, and some serious attention to detail has made them a standout part of the series. Alongside Neil Patrick Harris’s sublime performance as the evil guardian intent on getting his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, of course.
Season 1 brought us the bearded Stephano and fishy Captain Sham but in Season 2, Olaf’s costumes have stepped up a gear. They’re dirtier, more degraded and infinitely more inventive. FANDOM spoke to series costume designer Cynthia Summers, who filled us in on what it took to bring Olaf’s legendary looks to the screen, and helped us compile this definitive ranking of Olaf’s S2 disguises.
5. Doctor Medicalschool
Doctor Mattathias Medicalschool might have the most ridiculously transparent name of all of Count Olaf’s personas – but his costume is the most practically convincing. Adopting the guise for episodes 7 and 8, which adapts the eighth book in Daniel Handler — aka Lemony Snicket’s — series of novels, The Hostile Hospital, Medicalschool marks Olaf’s latest attempt to dupe anyone who matters, and get his hands on the Baudelaire children, heirs to their parents’ fortune. Here, Olaf is attempting to pass himself off as the doctor in charge of the hospital.
Summers: “We used a faux leather strapping around his neck and his wrists to evoke a straightjacket, or something that’s very binding and a little bit maniacal. [It’s] just dark, because what doctor wears leather into the operating room? The front of his white outfit is obviously dirty; it’s never been cleaned. Our idea was that when they first drive up, there is this laundry truck outside the hospital and the idea is that they got all their disguises from the dirty laundry truck.
“A lot of the yellow that’s on it is pus. We didn’t want to have a lot of blood because we didn’t want to be super obvious and gory. So there’s no real blood. There’s some brown spots but we didn’t want red. So we went for yellow — the pussy, crusty sort of thing, which is more disgusting, as opposed to red-blood gory.
“We had a headpiece, the giant period magnifying glass on the front. That is partially to hide the unibrow and also to give a period vibe to it. You’ll notice too with him and his henchpeople, with some costumes and in particular this one, if you look farther down, Olaf has a base layer that doesn’t always come off. It’s that terrible, awful suit he wears all the time with that really disgustingly dirty and hole-ridden Henley he wears underneath. So if you look further down past the bottom of his operating gown you’ll see those trousers and his really funny pointy shoes with his too-short trousers underneath.”
Olaf becomes Gunther, an auctioneer who teams up with Lucy Punch’s well-to-do Esmé Squalor, in The Ersatz Elevator. It’s the sixth book and is told across Episodes 3 and 4 of Season 2. Set in a New York-inspired city, Olaf needs to fit in with the upscale, fashion-obsessed world that Esmé inhabits and so Gunther is Olaf’s cleanest, most pulled-together look of the entire series.
Summers: “Gunther comes in [wearing] a paisley smoking jacket with jeans and crazy over-the-knee boots. Then Esmé gets her hands on him and we see him next in a pinstripe tailcoat suit. Neil’s hand on that was definitely the glasses. He wears a lot of glasses this season — it’s one way Olaf can disguise that eyebrow and that giant forehead he has.
“The gloves I had for Gunther originally were much more bejeweled; they were more like a Michael Jackson glove. But Neil totally toned that down. You’ll notice his nails are terrible all the time, so he asked for fingerless gloves. The over-the-knee boots were actually thigh high boots cut down. But that was mostly because of all the action and the dancing he had to do in that costume.
“There’s a nod to Karl Lagerfeld, obviously. As Season 2 goes along, it becomes more evident that Olaf and the troupe carry a trunk full of disguises. A lot of the reason that the disguises are so filthy and awful is because he’s a filthy awful person. All his disguises he’s stolen from theatres, or along the way, and just shoved everything into this Pandora’s box of costumes and disguises. So that speaks to why the costumes come out looking really shabby to begin with. And then just get worse.”
3. Coach Genghis
Coach Genghis is the first disguise Olaf takes on in Season 2, in The Austere Academy, and it’s his attempt to become the replacement gym teacher at the school, following the previous coach’s disappearance.
Summers: “He steals his costume from the coach, who is a woman and a much different size than Olaf. That spoke to the fit of the tracksuit. It’s too small: the sleeves are too small, the pant legs are too short. All because it wasn’t meant for him.
“The first idea was a nylon tracksuit, something maybe more typical. But because Olaf is such a slimy guy and a creepy character it just seemed so right that he would have a velour tracksuit. And of course, he stole it off a woman that he, in essence, knocked out and perhaps killed. And the turban just becomes a part of his disguise. He sees one of the fabric pendants of the Academy and he wraps his head and makes it a turban. He’s got to cover up that eyebrow and that was the best he could come up with.
“[Neil] fashioned himself after [motivational speaker Tony Robbins], as far as he’s always got his microphone on over his ear. His sneakers have wings on them and that sort of went with the 1980s velour hip-hop tracksuit vibe that we brought into it. We did have some gold chains on him for a heartbeat but then that went away because he got that really terrible whistle.
“[His costume] is also filthy. He’s always filthy and the Academy is decrepit, the adults in it are decrepit because they’re a fixture in the Academy. They’ve been there forever — except for the librarian who is new.”
The closing episodes of Season 2 cover the ninth book in the series, The Carniverous Carnival. In it, Olaf becomes a ringmaster.
Summers: “The ringmaster was difficult only in that American Horror Story had featured a carnival and The Greatest Showman was shooting at the same time that we were getting ready to do this book. So I really wanted to do something that wasn’t a traditional red carnival outfit.
“So we went with white [for the carnival suit], a little more traditional pinstripe blue, light blue, almost a seersucker pant and his white top hat. His striped vest matches the tenting at the circus.
“He’s not wearing glasses in this episode, but a hat to cover that monobrow. And white boots instead of black boots. They lace up at the front, they’re patterned and very pointy – they’re a little different in style for the era. Which fit really well with our timeless era. The inside of Olaf’s great coat is a starburst of yellow and red. Which ties in with our tenting, which also ties in with the vest. It was an incredibly labour-intensive costume but I think it was a really wonderful, dramatic way to end Season 2.”
1. Detective Dupin
In The Vile Village – tackled in Episodes 5 and 6 of the series – Olaf takes on the guise of a scatting detective. And it takes the number one spot on our list.
Summers: “It was not my favourite disguise for all of the month leading up to four days before camera. Detective Dupin is a scat-singing jazz detective in Vile Village which is a western-style, creepy kind of cultish town, with no kids. And Esmé, of course, who is posing as a detective as well. It was really hard to marry all of that with a look. And to have him look unique but not like he didn’t belong.
“That outfit had three renditions before we finally settled on what you see. We decided to lean on the late 1960s and early ‘70s really hard, and that sort of BeeGees [look], and even a little bit of The Beatles. His pants are really 1970s, above the waist, too tight in the crotch with a bell bottom and a white belt, although you can hardly tell because it’s so filthy. And then a super low-cut satin shirt with a really cropped purple leather jacket and inappropriate gold necklace. Then the jazz pork pie hat. He also had some really great 1970s Easy Rider-style sunglasses.
“It was a nail-biting experience for me. But when he stepped onto set in the morning – with the way he speaks and his toothpick, and his cocked hip and his way-too-tight pants — I was just like: ‘Detective Dupin in the flesh!’ It was a cheering and clapping moment because everyone knew we were down to the twelfth hour on this costume. Then we had to hurry up and make five more of them for the photo doubles and stunt doubles. That may be my favourite [of all the disguises].”
A Series of Unfortunate Events is available now on Netflix.