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Hannah Simone Loves Using Fashion to Reinvent Herself

With "New Girl" behind her and a new ABC sitcom based on her own childhood ahead, the actress takes a break to talk personal style, costumes and why she loved playing Cece.
Hannah Simone at The Art of Elysium Heaven gala honoring Stevie Wonder. Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for The Art of Elysium

Hannah Simone at The Art of Elysium Heaven gala honoring Stevie Wonder. Photo: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for The Art of Elysium

While most of the world knows Hannah Simone as "New Girl"'s Cece Parekh, a die-hard friend with wit to burn who constantly coaxes Jess (Zooey Deschanel) away from naive self-sabotage, Simone's real life experiences are far more cinematic than her most popular screen role.

Born in London, Simone grew up traveling the world with her feminist Indian father and English fashion designer mother, while they lived everywhere from Canada to Saudi Arabia. Her first foray into entertainment was at age 13, when she started working as a model in Cyprus. From there, she dipped her toes in many pools of the industry, working as a VJ and news presenter, eventually taking a year out of the spotlight to work as a human rights and refugees office for the United Nations in London. Now, firmly cemented in the world of acting, Simone's long run on "New Girl" has come to an end, and she is mining her own experiences for a new project: an ABC sitcom based on her own childhood.

While the possibilities of clothing play a part in everyone's lives, for Simone, the fashion world has been a constant presence since childhood. Whether through early bonding moments with her mother, or her work as a model and actress, Simone has seen how clothing can act as a medium for telling a wide array of stories.

Fashionista was lucky enough to catch up with Simone to talk about her experiences on "New Girl," her current fashion partnership with T.J. Maxx and storyboarding the brand new sitcom based on her life.

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Who was your style icon growing up?

My style icon growing up was my mom. My mom's a fashion designer, and we traveled all over the world, and she was constantly taking me to these amazing stores and markets to find beautiful pieces of clothing that were high-quality but didn't break the bank. She taught me everything I know about building a wardrobe. When T.J. Maxx approached me about a partnership it was the most organic partnership. I've been shopping there since I moved to the states because they do all the hard work for me.

What is the most important step to building a wardrobe?

For me, you have to know what makes you happy, what your own personal style is. It depends; when I'm in London visiting family, it's different than what I'm wearing in LA, and what I'm wearing in Venice Beach is different than a day of traveling. I love having the freedom to do that. That's the wonderful thing about fashion: You can really reinvent yourself. You can really have fun with fashion wherever you are. I always want to be comfortable. I never want to wear a piece of clothing that is wearing me because I'm so uncomfortable in it.

Hannah Simone at a T.J. Maxx shopping event in Venice, California. Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for T.J. Maxx

Hannah Simone at a T.J. Maxx shopping event in Venice, California. Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for T.J. Maxx

What was your favorite part of building East and West Coast wardrobes for the campaign with T.J. Maxx?

I picked all the things that I would want in my wardrobe, but also my best friend would want in her wardrobe — or if my mom came over, she could pick pieces from the wardrobe. What was so great about it, I also had a pod in New York City, which has different clothes because it's a different lifestyle in New York City. That was really exciting, to express different parts of my personality.

I'm super interested in your experience with fashion as an actress. When you read a script, do you immediately start imagining the costumes of your character?

Yeah! I'm so lucky I've worked with some of the best costume designers in this business, who are so open to collaboration. They also come with great ideas, and I have ideas, and it also depends on what works with your body. We have a lot of conversations about what a character would wear, and we create and then a lot of fittings. With "New Girl" it was so fun, because we got to really show Cece evolve. She started as a model, then she was working at the bar, then getting married, so we really got to explore fun fashion moments with her.

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Did playing Cece teach you anything about your own life?

Cece really grew up! It's funny, we all started that show never having met. Which is also the premise of the show, that none of them have met except for Cece and Jess. We all grew and fell in love with each other on and off camera. That was beautiful, to watch a long friendship develop, and have the world feel like they were part of that friendship. I realize that doesn't directly address your question, but it made me realize how much I love the medium of television. If you do a film, you work together a couple months, and that's the character's growth and arc. But with TV, you can work with the same people for 10 years — that's 150 hours — and it's amazing the character evolution that can happen.

I think one of the nice things about "New Girl" is it shows the complexities of female friendship. Jess and Cece aren't enemies, but they also fight like real friends. Do you think that was intentional?

What I loved so much about that pilot script is you see Cece show up, and she doesn't walk into the apartment and flirt with one of the guys or try to get attention. She comes in, like our girlfriends do, and tells these guys off Craigslist she'll kill them if they hurt Jess. That's what real girlfriends do; we may bicker like sisters, but you will protect your girlfriend to the death. I think that's what people love about Cece and Jess, the comedy is in their sisterhood. It's not centered around men or their ability to attract men or fight over that.

Are you still friends with the cast and would you want to work with them again?

Yes! I would love to if the world could bring us back together. It's funny because that's so much for the fans, our friendship is real and exists off-screen, they just want to see it. It's absolutely wonderful for that to even be a demand, but funny to think about.

I'm really excited about your upcoming ABC sitcom based on your life — a buddy comedy about a father and daughter. Does it feel more vulnerable to make a show based off your actual life?

The co-creators of the show with me, Matt Fusfeld and Alex Cuthbertson, were two of these incredible writers that came from "New Girl." They were there four or five seasons so I've known them forever. One of the things that made "New Girl" so good was that they wrote from truth, they took from our actual experiences and worked them into the scripts. While this new sitcom is more directly about my life, I feel like the essence of what we're doing is very similar. I think that's why "New Girl" was so successful and I hope it will make this show successful!

How do your parents feel about the show?

They are so excited! My mom found out Jane Leeves was going to play her. I mean you couldn’t get a better reaction if you tried! She was overjoyed. Jane Leeves is the warmest, and most funny and beautiful human being on the planet. When I grew up watching TV, there was no family like mine. You didn’t see an interracial family, or a South Asian family represented on television, kids didn’t see that as a normal American family. So, the fact that we're now at a time where that representation is happening is so exciting, dissolving the idea of the "other" is so exciting. I want kids to see an Indian father wearing head-to-toe denim cooking carbonara for dinner.

Do you feel like it’ll open up opportunities to talk about race and gender in really natural ways?

Absolutely, that's the goal. I hope when people turn on the the TV, and they see it, they just go, "Oh, that reminds me of my dad, he's such a dork with his dad jokes." I hope this show is relatable and warm and makes you laugh, and you can watch it with your entire family. It just happens to look like a modern American family in 2019.

Are you going to costume the show based on your real-life style or are you dressing yourself as a character?

Yes! I am so excited. Like I said earlier, I don't have one sense of style, so my character's clothing is mostly based on my LA style. It's so exciting working with the amazing wardrobe designer Jessica Replansky. She and I spent so much time creating vision boards of what we want the characters to look like. I also get to dress my dad, my mom, my brother and my best friend character. It's amazing to be involved in all of their characters. It's so fun to map out my personal style. My mom has this incredible style, and my brother dresses completely his own. Being able to reflect all of these styles on screen is really cool, I love it!

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