“My go-to look is Japanese, Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto,” she said. “I love the simplicity, the craft, the tailoring of Japanese clothing. It has influenced everything I do — the formalism of a bow, the idea of a belt.” A rope necklace strung with several small wooden objects hung around her neck. “African weaving tools,” she explained, “they have very strong energy.”
Ms. Zakowska’s dedication to research was evident in the shelves lined with fashion history books and in the giant mood boards covered with vintage magazine clippings, fabric swatches and photographs. Some walls in the studio are papered to the ceiling with her costume sketches.
Her official profession is costume designer, but “world creator” may suit Ms. Zakowska better, given her talent for conjuring character, history, place and stories through vivid, meticulously imagined fashion. She herself seems to exist in a kind of liminal space, poised amid the present and the bygone eras she animates on stage and screen, amid the many characters she coaxes into existence, and amid the many art forms she has mastered. Her life has been steeped in nearly all aspects of performance and design.
After graduating from Barnard, she started her career as a professional dancer, having studied Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey technique in New York and Balinese dance in Indonesia. She went on to study painting and drawing at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and then, in the mid-1980s, attended the Yale School of Drama in costume, lighting and set design.
She was an assistant to Woody Allen. She costumed the Big Apple Circus for nine years. She has collaborated and toured with Roman Paska, the renowned puppet artist and director, whom she met in college and is her life partner. And she has worked steadily in theater and film, including many collaborations with John Turturro, her close friend and former Yale roommate. “Working with Donna always makes my performance better,” Mr. Turturro said.