Warning: Mild Spoilers for 'High Fidelity' below.
Based on the 1995 novel by Nick Hornby and a gender-flipped twist on the 2000 film starring John Cusack, "High Fidelity" — the new 10-episode series streaming on Hulu — centers on Rob, short for Robin, played by Zoë Kravitz. She works through her top "all-time heartbreaks" (largely of her own making) while running a concerningly-empty record shop in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, partying with her friends/employees and definitely judging everyone's musical taste. (Phish fans need not apply.)
Rob's discerning, exacting and classics-filled musical preferences could also apply to her unpredictable, expressive and vintage-infused style. Her closet is akin to a perfectly-curated mix — and, as Rob says, "making a playlist is a delicate art."
"Her references are Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain, Winona Ryder from 'Reality Bites' and even Drew Barrymore [in the '90s when she was friends with] Courtney Love. Sort of fucked-up thrifting and making it theirs," explains Sarah Laux, who assisted mentor and Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood on the pilot, and then took charge for the rest of the series. She worked closely with executive producer Kravitz on developing Rob through her late-'60s-meets-'90s-with-a-dash-of-'70s wardrobe, which was 90% thrifted or borrowed from Kravitz's or Laux's closets, she estimates.
"Rob doesn't care about clothes necessarily. She's always a little high, a little drunk. She's upset. Her mojo is seriously hit," says Laux. The costume designer also had Rob repeat pieces that she presumably thrifted, as an owner of a record store in the digital era would need to do. "We tried to do is make it look like she just rolls out of bed in the morning and just maybe wears the T-shirt she slept in or picked it up off the floor."
Fans of the Chicago-set turn-of-the-century film may notice some costume Easter Eggs in the Hulu reboot, starting with Rob's reliable "Matrix"-y leather outerwear.
"It's a riff and homage to the iconic figure of Rob, whether Rob is male or female," says Laux about the black leather jacket that resembles the one Cusack wore in the role. "Colleen had a really old Banana Republic jacket from the 2000s, and we threw it on Zoë." She and Atwood were drawn to the longline shape because it's recognizably from a bygone decade, but isn't a clichéd rocker moto. So they custom-built a set of four, based off of the "old Banana," for Rob to wear as her "armor" throughout the season.
The Dickie's T-shirt, which Rob dons with her signature pleated mini-skirt silhouette (above), white socks and Vans, pays homage to a tee that Cusack wore in the movie during a similar plot point. Plus, the outfit gives indie fans and music snobs another '90s cool-kid reference: "It's playing into the whole 'Empire Records' tomboy, Catholic school girl, demented femininity," says Laux. "It's intended to be super tongue-in-cheek, like, 'Yeah I'm wearing this tiny little skirt, but I'm also wearing this ginormous Dickie's t-shirt with it.'" The T-shirt was actually a new piece, which the costume designer then "distressed the hell out of" to mesh with Rob's beat-up band shirt collection.
Laux did tap all the vintage resources available to her online and in New York City, including What Goes Around Comes Around, Reminiscence, Resurrection, Beacon's Closet in Williamsburg, Buffalo Exchange, Quality Mending, New York Vintage and the Manhattan Vintage and A Current Affair shows. However, she came across Rob's white Bob Marley tank (above) in a vintage warehouse in Yonkers, New York. "I'm digging through and all of a sudden, I see this Bob Marley T-shirt, and I was like, 'Zoë is going to want this so bad,'" says Laux, noting she also lent shirts for the cast from her personal collection.
"She's got the world's tiniest pair of 1950s jean shorts underneath there," adds Laux, about adding extra — but hidden — coverage under the almost-dress. "I thrifted those when I was home in Nashville, when Zoë was on hiatus getting married and we had a couple days off. We knew as soon as that shirt came in the room that [she would wear it to love interest] Liam's concert at Brooklyn Steel. Done and done. She's going to be the coolest chick around."
Kravitz herself happens to be the coolest chick around. So, of course, a portion of Rob's closet came directly from the actor-musician-producer's own — including her tragically-cool, square-toe platform booties by Helmut Lang. "They're extraordinarily feminine, but they're also very strong at the same time. It was a really nice juxtaposition of badass-ery and a little feminine kick to it to keep it edgy," says Laux, who also felt the shoes fit in with the setting for the Hulu series.
Laux does admit to copping brand-new Gucci Jordan loafers for Rob, going on to "distress the hell out of them, because the only way I, in good consciousness would put on them Rob, is if it looks like she could have thrifted them." They were incomprehensibly — but in a good way — styled with white athletic socks: "We basically dressed her like a little old man, if you think about it. It's like a little old man in Florida and she can just rock it."
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One of Laux's — and my — favorite Rob 'fits is a green Hawaiian shirt, cropped white tank, skater-style lavender painter pants by Stan Ray and the Gucci-and-sports-socks geriatric-chic combo (above). The vintage shirt is also plucked out of Kravitz's own wardrobe, but the team had to pull back from putting Rob in too many flowy Hawaiian button-downs.
"We just loved them so much and there's something about playing around with how feminine somebody like Zoe can look in clothing that is traditionally male gendered," says Laux. "It gives us color. It gives us vintage. It gives us one-of-a-kind and it also gives us not being afraid to be ugly, which is one of the things we tried to hone in on."
Rob's vintage costumes also offer subtle character-defining clues, especially the mossy green and black-striped cardigan (above) that Rob wears in the aptly-named second episode, "Track 2." She first dons it to wallow in her questionably-spacious (and roommate-free) apartment after running into dreamy ex-fiancé Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Then, succumbing to peer pressure, she goes out to her local club, where she encounters British snack Liam (Thomas Doherty) doing his swoony rendition of Boyz II Men.
The vintage cardi — revealed in a flashback to be a leftover from Mac — needed to both fit the actor paying him while also serving as Rob's mopiest "inside sweater."
"We just decided to leech as much color out of her as possible," explains Laux. "It was also about making sure that cardigan felt true vintage. I wanted it to feel like a Kurt Cobain cardigan." She bought and considered around 45 options before landing on the green one, which she found on Etsy.
I'd also be remiss to end this story without discussing the fantabulous Cherise, played by super-buzzy Da'Vine Joy Randolph. Working at the record shop during the day, while hustling in her off-hours to chase her music dreams (and shaming customers with questionable music taste during all waking hours), Cherise has a wardrobe just as bold and energetic as she is. "I researched old Mary J. Blige. I looked up very important women from the '90s who celebrated their figures," explains Laux.
Laux filled Cherise's closet with pieces from Crown Heights staples, where the character would go, including DrJays for the "Good Vibe" red and black striped set from the pilot (above).
Cherise also wears "stronger colors and silhouettes" sourced from the (traditional) men's department, like a fire black Nike tracksuit with hot-pink and blue striping in episode seven. Although, when Cherise accompanies Rob to Brooklyn Steel with networking incentives of her own, she wears an "aspirational" denim belted jumpsuit from Asos (above).
"She's dressing for the job she wants," says Laux. "She needed to look totally like herself. But the dressy version of herself."
Throughout the season, the characters' wardrobes almost become their own curated playlist, which Laux herself meticulously edited. "I don't want to toot my own horn, but I was sort of trying to see if we could change street style a little bit," she says.