Dressing The Mindy Project‘s Mindy Lahiri is a costume designer’s dream — the title character is a doctor, which means she can afford to fill her closet with designer labels, and the star who plays her is obsessed with all things fashion.
“I will be up at 1 in the morning and I’ll get an e-mail from Mindy that says, ‘Did you see this great outfit at ShopBop?’ She loves, loves, loves clothes,” says Salvador Perez (Pitch Perfect, Veronica Mars, Castle), who notes that costume fittings with Kaling — who is also the series creator — can last up to four hours. “In the real world, you don’t need to have ten new outfits a week, but the character does. [Kaling] gets to live out her fashion editor fantasies through the show.” As season two unfolds, Mindy’s wardrobe keeps pace with real-world fashion trends. “The character has a signature style, but as fashion has evolved, so has Mindy [Lahiri]’s look, because she’s constantly shopping. We’re working with what’s new on the market,” explains Perez, who was recently elected President of the Costume Designers Guild. The designer has also tweaked the character’s costumes to complement her short hair, which will soon grow back thanks to the magic of television. “Sadly…you won’t really be seeing that short hair anymore. I personally was a big fan of the short hair, it gave us a whole new way to dress her. We took away the layers and the collars, we did boat necklines, and we used pieces that showed off her beautiful neck. The wig showed that off, so I really played it up.”
Meanwhile, Perez says that Kaling isn’t the only Mindy Project star who gets caught up in the costumes. Chris Messina and Ed Weeks have been known to borrow an item or two from the wardrobe closet. “They love the clothes so much that they want to wear them out. It’s the highest compliment,” admits Perez. “A lot of times I’ll dress someone and they’ll say, ‘I would never wear that [in real life].’ I’m like, ‘We’re not asking you to wear it. We’re asking your character to wear it.’ When they want to borrow, it’s flattering. if they have parties or events, they’ll ask to borrow a suit.” Perez is happy to oblige, with one caveat: “I’ll [say], ‘As long as it comes back, please wear it with good health.'”
Click through the photo gallery to see what Perez says about using more doctor’s scrubs, working with guest stars like James Franco and Timothy Olyphant — and new series regular Adam Pally — and which actor wears a fat suit.
In season one, the characters were rarely seen in scrubs, but that’s about to change. “I got a note from the studio that they don’t look like doctors because they’re usually out gallivanting or having lunch. They’re not really seeing patients. To make them look more like doctors, we’ll throw them a lab coat, but look at the people who do E.R. or Grey’s Anatomy,” Perez explains. “The way [costume designers] dress doctors on camera is completely different from the way doctors [dress] in real life. Scrubs are meant to be comfortable and pajama-like… but on television or in film, everything is completely redone. Mindy’s scrubs have two zippers, a side zipper, a back zipper, so that they can mold to her body and show off her silhouette. We shorten the pants; we take in the waist, no real doctor wants to take that much time. For the amount of work we put into them, we should custom make them.”
Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling)
“Mindy Lahiri spends more time putting together an outfit than Mindy Kaling does. Mindy in real life is a little edgier, a little more street. Mindy on the show is a little hipster, fashionista,” says Perez. “You remember the movie Clueless, where Cher had that program for her closet? That’s the kind of girl Mindy Lahiri would be.” How has the character’s style evolved since season one? “When we came back for season two, she was in Haiti, so we thought a casual, Island version of Mindy [made sense]. Of course, even in Haiti, she wore Equipment blouses and J Brand jeans,” says the designer, who uses clothes from brands like Tory Burch, Alice+Olivia, Theory, Kate Spade, Lela Rose, and other labels that have “refined, classic lines and texture.” Perez’s biggest struggle? Recycling the character’s brightly colored wardrobe. “Mindy’s pieces are so specific that my challenge is reusing things in slightly different ways. [Viewers] might recognize it, but they’ll never be like, ‘Oh, she’s wearing that again.’ It’s tricky because Mindy [Kaling] doesn’t want to reuse clothes and I have to [say], ‘That blouse was $1,800. We have to reuse it.'”
Peter Prentice (Adam Pally) and Danny Castellano (Chris Messina)
“All I have to do is buy Chris Messina some Double RL Ralph Lauren and he’s a happy man,” laughs Perez. “He’s the most basic guy in the world. He hates fittings, he hates trying on clothes. You see very little difference between Chris Messina and Danny Castellano, except I make Danny…tuck his shirts in and add a scarf.” In season two, viewers will be seeing Castellano and the other male characters wearing flannel shirts — as seen here underneath Pally’s lab coat — which Perez says is no coincidence. “I like texture on camera, but even within the plaid world, they’re all different,” he explains. “It’s rare that I’ll put a plain, solid color on camera because it’s boring. You want to add some sort of texture.”
Jeremy Reed (Ed Weeks)
“Ed [Weeks] is a rock and roll, t-shirt and skinny jeans kind of guy, and I make [his character] this proper English dandy with the suits and the bold ties and the striped shirts with the pocket squares,” Perez says. In the past, the costume designer shopped for the character’s clothes at Reiss and Thomas Pink, but the aesthetic has changed to fit the story. “[Dr. Reed] gained 35 pounds, but he’s still very vain. He still wears his bright shirts and his peacock ties, but it [looks] a little sloppy. I had to buy [less fitted] shirts, I didn’t tailor the coats, and I went up a size in the pants. I can not wait until he gets to lose weight so we can go back to our beautifully [tailored] clothes.”
Guest Stars Bill Hader and James Franco
“You want everyone who comes through to make an impression. Of course, you meet with most of them the day before they work. It’s not like I have a week to think about [their look] and pre-plan it. You just have to hope you [have] the right sizes,” Perez says of working with guest stars like Bill Hader and James Franco. “Most of them are big-time movie stars that are used to being spoiled, so I have to do that in 15 minutes…before they go off to hair and make-up.” Perez consults the script and the writing team to find clues about a guest character’s style. “Dr. Paul Leotard — played by James Franco — was this total runway model, so his clothes had to look put together. [I used] a lot of Theory pants and Hugo Boss shirts. It was classic, but approachable.” Up next: Timothy Olyphant. “He plays this Tony Hawk, skater dude. He’s this 40-year-old man who dresses like a 12-year-old. There was a fine line where he needed to look like a wealthy, successful skater, but with the style of a 12-year-old.”
The Mindy Project airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on Fox.