Costume Designer Salvador Perez on Dressing Mindy Kaling and Hailee Steinfeld

Plus, he explains the difference between a stylist and a costume designer (never call him the former).
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Plus, he explains the difference between a stylist and a costume designer (never call him the former).
Salvador Perez and Mindy Kaling in his custom gown at the 2014 Costume Designers Guild Awards. Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Salvador Perez and Mindy Kaling in his custom gown at the 2014 Costume Designers Guild Awards. Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Fresh off gracing our costume designer panel at the Fashionista conference in Los Angeles, the always-awesome Salvador Perez held an intimate chat sesh about his work in New York on Friday. Now, "The Mindy Project" costume designer -- who also created the looks for the upcoming "Pitch Perfect 2" -- might be the busiest guy in the biz. He oversees (and sometimes custom creates) the bajillion outfits that Mindy Kaling wears as Mindy Lahiri on her weekly sitcom, serves as the president of the Costume Designers Guild and finds time for collaborations, including his recent Baublebar capsule collection. Oh and he's also the brand ambassador for Casio Baby-G watches. 

But, hey, Perez is used to working his butt off 14 hours a day, so what's some extra bonding time with a room full of Mindy fan-girling editors dying for the backstage scoop on the show? Perez also dished on his experience outfitting Hailee Steinfeld for "Pitch Perfect 2," explained why one should never mistake a costume designer for a stylist, and revealed how dating Danny is seriously affecting Mindy's shoe collection. Here's what we learned.

Mindy Lahiri wears a lot of clothes. 

"I probably put Mindy in close to 1,000 outfits over three years." And 20 percent of the clothes are custom created by Perez and his team. "[Kaling] changes 10 to 15 times in an episode. In one she had 23 changes. I just sent her to San Francisco because -- spoiler alert -- she’s in San Francisco on the show. So we sent 11 outfits out so she could do the whole montage thing." 

Oh, and we knew about San Francisco because Kaling 'grammed like 200 pics of the outfits from the shoot. She tends to do that a lot. 

"On most shows you wouldn’t see the dress until the episode airs. 'Mindy' -- I have to hold her hand -- 'stop Instagramming that!' But it’s also kind of great because I want to talk about it. So once it’s on social media, I can do anything I want with it."

The outfit montage -- originally seen in last season finale in faux-New York -- will be a regular thing now.

"The New York montage came when we had a great fitting and she was like, 'What about all these clothes we’re not going to use?' Well, you should do a montage! And then she did. So now we’re going to get a montage about twice a year." (YES!)

Dr. Lahiri also has a ridiculous amount of shoes. And there are Danny heels vs. Pastor Casey/Cliff/Josh heels.

"She probably has 100 pairs of shoes in the trailer and another 150 in lockup. But she’ll reuse shoes, so I can invest in them. All last season it was about the Ferragamo, all Ferragamo. Now, there are Danny’s shoes and everybody else’s shoes because Danny [Chris Messina] is actor 5'9" -- so take two inches off. And Mindy’s 5'4", so I have to be very conscious of that. When she wasn’t dating Danny, I could put her in four inches, six inches, no big deal, and now she’s dating Danny and it’s changed the shoes completely." (OMG, remember that triathlon episode and the joke about Danny's tiny feet?)

Dr. Lahiri's upcoming Christmas dress is actually symbolic of the episode's plot line, which Perez nearly divulged, but didn't. (No spoilers here.)

"She’s been wearing a lot of green this season -- it’s her favorite color -- and I wanted to make the dress Christmas-y without being obvious, so I did green and silver. I knew the storyline was that... I can’t tell you... Let’s just say she’s a little wounded in that episode. So she’s a Christmas angel and the beading is feathers, wings, like she tucked her wings back like she’s a wounded angel. And it’s a subtle thing. Unless I told you about it you wouldn’t get it."

Custom-designing red carpet dresses for Mindy Kaling has its rewards. 

"It’s been great as a full-time TV costume designer. My dress is up there with Chanel and all of the other big designers that were dressing the actors that night [of the Glamour Women of the Year Awards] so it was a big coup for me."

Do not mistake Perez for a stylist. Ever.

"A lot of times we’re called stylists and I sort of hate that word. It’s insulting -- nothing against stylists -- but a stylist's job is literally to pick clothes for a photo [shoot] or an event and it’s for a moment. As opposed to a costume designer, you’re dressing a character and it's not just what the dress is, but all the pieces that go into it -- from the underwear to what they’re wearing to the fit of the clothes to the accessories. A lot of styling is for print or for walking the red carpet and this is what you see and a lot of times [celebrities] turn around and it’s like, 'Did you see the fit of that dress or the hem on that?' It’s like they don’t put the effort into that because it’s meant for a moment, as opposed to what we do on television. It’s going to be there for 20, 30 years. I mean, people are still watching reruns of 'I Love Lucy' and did you think that costume designer realized that that dress that she put on [the character] was going to be looked at in 50 years?"

Seventeen-year-old designer favorite Hailee Steinfeld had some ideas for her "Pitch Perfect 2" costumes.

"They didn't cast Hailee Steinfeld until we were shooting and I had to create a whole character different than all the rest of the girls that was unique to her. And we did it in three days in Baton Rouge, which was a lot of Internet shopping. You also have Hailee Steinfeld, who’s an Academy Award-nominated actress, fashion darling. She came in with a lot of ideas and it’s funny how an actor will be, 'I’ll never wear that.' Well you’re not, Emily is wearing that. Your character is wearing that and trying to separate that. Hailee Steinfeld’s been to the Met Ball, but [she's] a young girl who’s playing [her] age, which never happens. [She's] actually playing older that her age because [her character] is in college."

The costume designer and accessories collaborator would like to have his own fashion line one day.

"I love doing the coats for Mindy and I would love to do a coat line. Bring color to the masses." (He wishes people would wear more color, especially after walking around in dark and moody New York City.) "It’s the one thing that the fans are always asking about so I need to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s just if I’m going to do it and I’m putting my name on it, I have to come out of the gate doing it really well and I haven’t had the time off. I need time off to develop it, sample it, you know."

Hear that, Mindy Kaling? The man needs a day off.