Warning: Spoilers below for all of 'Never Have I Ever.'
Mindy Kaling's new series, "Never Have I Ever" debuted on Netflix on Monday and your Twitter timeline is probably "litty" with buzz about it. (Oh, Mr. Shapiro.) The high school set show is very loosely based on Kaling's teenage experience, but, unlike her debut series "The Mindy Project," flashy fashion is not a focus. Well, sort of.
"This show wasn't about brands. It was about style," says Kaling's longtime costume designer — and sometimes stylist and couturier — Salvador Perez, over the phone. "The note from Mindy and Lang [Fisher, co-creator and writer] 'These girls have to be very unfashionable because they're nerds.' But they want it to be fashionable. I love that note: 'Unfashionable. Be fashionable.'"
The 10-episode comedy series stars Canadian-Indian actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, in her first and definitely breakout role, as confidently nerdy Devi. After suffering from a major loss and trauma, she's "rebranding" for sophomore year — starting with finding a boyfriend. "We are glamorous women of color who deserve a sexy high school life," she tells her besties Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young).
"Devi was a nerd, but she had a strong sense of self," says Perez. "We loved plaid pants and stripe. There was still this mixed prints [theme] in the way Mindy did it on ['The Mindy Project'], but the younger teenage version of it."
True to the teen show format, Devi's best friends also have their distinct aesthetics to illustrate their personalities and interests. Tech whiz Fabiola — who, as Devi says, is "naturally snatched," but dresses "like a helpful Honda guy" — prefers boxy buttoned-up polos and overalls. "Fabiola was literally from the boys department at Old Navy and Gap," says Perez, who admits struggling to pare down Rodriguez, who is also a model and singer in real life.
For spontaneous show tunes-singing drama-head Eleanor, Perez headed to the period racks in the Universal costume warehouse for "weird random" pieces from the '30s, '50s and '80s and mixed in finds from Nordstrom Rack. "Her look was supposed to be eclectic and found objects," he says.
And the focus of Devi's search for clout? Hot senior Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), who appears in minimal costume for a few key scenes. But more on that in a bit as Perez takes us through the top "unfashionable, fashion" moments in "Never Have I Ever."
The TikTok Dance Minidresses
To hopefully distract Paxton's social media attention away from jumping jacks on Insta, Devi, Fabiola and Eleanor do their TikTok dance rendition of "My Fit" by Mad Circuit. Fisher, who came up with the concept with then 17-year-old Ramakrishnan, gave the directive of brightly colored "identical" dresses to Perez. "I went to Amazon, found those, and I'm like, bang,'" he says.
But a Paxton HY thirst-trap-y, body-con silhouette seemed out of the box for self-conscious Fabiola. "Wait, I'm gonna put Fabiola in such a tight dress? It just didn't make any sense to me. I wanted each of them to have a their own persona," explains Perez. "So Fabiola wore Chucks." Due to limited prep time, he pulled from the characters' existing wardrobes for Eleanor's fittingly "random white tennis shoes" and Devi's Superga sneakers. That's where he also found the tissue baby-T, which disapproving mother Nalini makes Devi put on under the revealing dress — after video bombing the routine while taking out the garbage. Oh, mom.
The finale of the dance doesn't end smoothly, either. Eleanor's tech crew boyfriend/director Oliver loses his — and the camera's — focus due to the distractingly beautiful and crazy smart Kamala (Richa Moorjani) in mid-warrior two pose wearing a yoga set from Nordstrom.
Devi's "Itchy" Sari For Ganesh Puja
Episode four, titled "... felt super Indian," takes place during Ganesh Puja, an annual festival celebrating a Hindu deity and a huge gathering of friends, family and judge-y aunties. Devi, feeling disconnected to her culture, begins the day viewing the celebration as a "lamefest." But she considers opening up after "reading the room" and speaking with a childhood friend now embracing his heritage after starting college. (Growing up as a second gen Asian American, who celebrated every Lunar New Year organized by the local suburban Chinese Association — and held at my "low rent" high school while being judged by Chinese aunties — I really relate to this episode.)
Perez needed to outfit 180 extras, plus the main cast, in traditional clothing and stay specifically authentic to the diverse Indian American community. "Having worked for Mindy Kaling for eight years, and having done this so many times, I knew exactly where to go," says the costume designer, who beelined to Pioneer Avenue in Artesia to shop for a rainbow of saris and dhotis. For the principals, Perez raided Frontier Heritage, where he's bought Kaling's saris "for years."
Devi's stunning teal sari took extra care, also because the blue had to evoke Disney's Princess Jasmine — from the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah — in a culturally, but also comedically tone-deaf interaction at the donut shop. Perez reconfigured three separate saris; two to create the half-sari, which is worn by younger women, and a third to create the elaborate fringe at the hem. Plus, there's a heartfelt story behind the scenes: "Maitreyi's mom showed us how to make it," says Perez. "She had one in her closet and we copied the pattern off of that."
Although, there's one inaccuracy that Perez would like to clarify. On the way to Ganesh Puja, Devi complains that her sari is too "itchy." (To which Nalini retorts: "The itchiness of saris is a rite of passage for Indian women. Deal with it.") "No, it's the finest silk. The cheap saris are scratchy," says Perez. "That was acting."
Rebecca Hall-Yoshida's Spring 2020 Collection
Opting for the wrong, but relatable choice, Devi ditches her best friends in crisis when Paxton texts due to a "fashion emergency." His sister Rebecca needs a last minute model to shoot her designs for her fashion school application.
"Lang told me, 'Sal, I know you're a fabulous costume designer. Rebecca's 16 years old. So design like a 16-year-old girl would do,'" laughs Perez, who admits he enjoyed executing the teenage version of his vision with "heart appliqués and the very simplistic design." He even directed his seamstress to "make it pretty, but don't make it perfect."
Turns out that Rebecca Hall-Yoshida's debut is also a sustainable collection — and with a Mindy Kaling origin story nod. Ghost designer Perez repurposed remaining fabrics still in his workshop from the wardrobe he custom-built for Kaling on "The Mindy Project." "The bright yellow is from the Mindy Madeline dress," he says. "All of that was 'Mindy.' I didn't spend a penny on fabric. We had all of it." (Full lookbook here.)
Fabiola's 'Angelica Huston for Kohl's' Pantsuit and Eleanor's All-Beige
After blackmailing Kamala, Devi sneaks out to Ben's party at his "Parasite"-esque house and immediately runs into Fabiola and Eleanor, who've requested a "friend break." They're both out of their sartorial comfort zones. The usually casual Fabiola, who's about to uncharacteristically "pop off" and accidentally out herself to everyone, takes a fashion risk in a chic "Angelica Huston for Kohl's" all-white pantsuit. Devi proceeds to splash a cup of Trent's boozy "ball juice" all over the pristine outfit that Fabiola bought with her science fair earnings. "You know that wasn't from Kohl's," says Perez, who found the INC International Concept set from Macy's. "I bought six suits because I knew there was going to be a gag."
Eleanor, trying to separate herself from her flaky actress mother, continues her undramatic beige and Neutral Janet-like aesthetic. "It had to be something that was so drastic from what Eleanor would normally wear," says Perez. "I had done like 30 versions of beige outfits and Lang was like, 'It's too fashionable,' so I had to pull it back a little bit." He put together upwards of of 15 monochrome looks, but ended up using a handful, including the Charter Club sweater, Old Navy t-shirt and "probably" Zara pants Eleanor wears to Ben's.
Shirtless Paxton Hall-Yoshida
Come on, I know you've been thinking about this scene this whole time, and you're welcome. (Barnet is 29 in real life — which makes Devi's take on "Riverdale" that much more meta. "The actors are also older than mom.") Searching online for swimwear to outfit both the boys' and girls' teams in red and black Sherman Oaks High School colors, Perez finally landed on Nike ombré biker-style shorts for Paxton.
"I remember watching the dailies and that scene of him coming out of the pool. I'm like, 'oh my god,'" says Perez. "That is going to be one of those iconic Hollywood moments.'"