Once a strictly behind-the-scenes role, the costume designer — from "Mad Men"'s Janie Bryant to "Scandal"'s Lyn Paolo — is emerging as a new genre of fashion star. And one of the brightest in the current TV crop is Salvador Perez from Hulu's "The Mindy Project."
His meticulously tailored, intricate, always colorful and often custom-made pieces for showrunner and star Mindy Kaling are as much a part of her alter-ego Dr. Mindy Lahiri as the character's pop-culture obsession, boy craziness and aspirational lifestyle. The show has inspired a fan blog that is painstakingly dedicated to finding Lahiri and Kaling's looks. And Perez, who also frequently styles Kaling for red carpet events, has followed Bryant’s lead with a slew of retail partnerships: a jewelry capsule collection for BaubleBar in 2014 and a coat collection for Gilt in 2015.
On Saturday, Kaling and Perez hosted a "The Mindy Project Style" fashion show and Q&A in Los Angeles. (It's Emmy-voting season in LA, and the event offered up the show, Kaling and Perez for the consideration of Emmy voters). I caught up with both of them to discuss the likelihood of a Mindy fashion line, the difference between Kaling and Lahiri's style, and the beauty of dressing a woman who doesn't wear a size zero.
It feels like a Mindy fashion line is inevitable. Is it coming?
Perez: TV is so quick. [Kaling] will send me an idea, and in five days I can turn around a dress for the show. Fashion takes nine months. So when I did the jewelry line, I did it over the summer break. When I did the coat line, I did it over the summer break. To do a proper Mindy line would be a full-year collaboration. So the time off to do that is a big issue.
I will say that anyone who wants to launch a fashion line is hoping people will respond to it. I haven't even done a line yet, but the question you just asked is the question I get asked every day by the fans. So I know there is support for it, but there's the matter of finding the partner to manufacture it. I'm a costume designer; I make her one-of-a-kinds in-house. Building a fashion line would take a lot more effort.
A lot of celebrities do fashion collaborations. Mindy, is that something you're interested in launching?
Kaling: I am very humbled and in awe of what Sal does, the fashion on the show, and the fashion world in general. Like the day after the Met Ball, I'll be looking at all the gowns online. But because I'm so busy writing, acting and hopefully directing more too, I just never want to be like a dilettante. I would want to be able to really do it well. So yes, to do a line would be fantastic, but Sal and I are both such perfectionists that it would really have to be perfect. You see so many people with half a platform, like "my line of T-shirts" or something, but if I did something, I would want it to be relevant and amazing.
Me too, actually. But what I'm getting is we snobs who love Mindy style shouldn't expect anything soon?
Perez: I'd say there have been conversations, but nothing official.
How different does Mindy Kaling dress from Mindy Lahiri?
Kaling: I wish I had her fashion taste. But you know, she has a professional costume designer clothing her and I'm a comedy writer. I wear darker colors, I wear jeans a lot.
Perez: Mindy Kaling is Helmut Lang and Mindy Lahiri is, you know, all color. They're different characters. But I have seen over the last five years a bit of blurring of the lines between the two.
Kaling: I actually like there to be a difference too. I don't know if anyone at the [Writers Guild of America] wears Oscar de la Renta to work. That's very much my character.
What I think is interesting about that is a lot of professional women I know are definitely inspired by Mindy style. I see a lot more lawyers in, say, bright pink A-line Kate Spade dresses now.
Perez: That makes me so happy. I think we have definitely made it okay to wear color in the workplace. When I think about [a fashion line], I've thought of evening or cocktail, but I really want to do work wear and color.
Kaling: Part of Sal's genius — besides being wonderful as a lead actress to have this — is it's also very touching to me as an artist and a feminist, is he puts me in clothes that you just don't see a woman on TV who's not a size zero wear. You know, I am wearing strapless dresses and things, because in any other show or movie, they would put me in a long-sleeve shift because they just don't want to deal with [my body]. On my show, I look fabulous, I have an incredible dating life so men are responding to it, and I look beautiful. I really want to inspire women who aren't sticks to wear bright colors, because often they don't like their bodies or they don't want to be looked at. The show is such a celebration of women who aren't waifs.
I read a great quote from you once where you kind of nicely took down the question "how do you have so much confidence?" Because why is there an implication that you shouldn't?
Kaling: It's about hiring people who also have the same feeling. So many shows I watch have beautiful costumes. But I'll just say it: it's easy to dress a woman who is a sample size. Fashion labels don't always make dressing me easy, but I still think I'm the best dressed character on TV. I just love that people can watch it and be inspired; I wish I had someone like my character to watch growing up.