headed for the 90s
Talking 90s style with Tina Nigro, costume designer for ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’.
If you haven’t yet watched “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, chances are you have a friend who is begging you to do so. The new Netflix comedy from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, “Kimmy Schmidt” follows the life of an Indiana woman who, upon being rescued from a 15 year imprisonment by a doomsday cultist, starts her life over in New York City. Ellie Kemper stars as the 15-going-on-30 Kimmy, a sparkly Sketchers-wearing woman whose endless optimism, time-warp lingo and hilarious malapropisms will have you at “Urethra!!!” In her first two days in NY, Kimmy secures a sweet (if not, slightly illegal) apartment share and new roomie, aspiring superstar, Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess). She also finds a job, as an assistant to wealthy Manhattan socialite, Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). Rounding out the little crew of oddballs is Lillian Kaushtupper, Kimmy and Titus’ kooky landlord played by the glorious Carol Kane.
“Kimmy Schmidt” has become a surprise quasi-mid-season hit (if there are even TV seasons anymore) and is undoubtably one of the funniest shows on television right now. But along with the whip-smart dialogue, surrealist bent, and impeccable comic timing, are the costumes, which play an especially important role. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has been compared to Nickelodeon tween shows in its look, which is undoubtably linked to Kimmy’s chirpy, 90s-inspired wardrobe. And as the show’s costume designer Tina Nigro explains, the appearance and dress of each character has been very carefully crafted, right down to the name necklaces.
Fashionfollower: There is a very specific color palette — yellow, hot pink, turquoise, and purple seem to be used a lot. This carries over into not just Kimmy’s looks but also Titus’ wardrobe and the interiors (not just their apartment but also Jacqueline’s.) How does color play such an important roll?
Tina Nigro: There is definitely a specific color palette. Each character has their palette that reflects their personality. Kimmy is so optimistic and young at heart, we felt that she would be drawn to bright shiny almost child-like colors. Whereas Titus is bold and flamboyant, also drawn to brights, but they are a little muted and more ‘adult’. Jacqueline dresses in a lot of white and black, with emphasis on white. I felt like she wants to blend in, ‘not rock the boat’, especially in her own house. White to me is a color for people with extra income. It’s a color you don’t do much manual labor in. A color that is hard to keep clean and pristine.
FF: One of the things I’ve read in multiple reviews for the show is that Kimmy looks a character from a Nickelodeon sitcom. Were there any specific inspirations for her?
TN: I haven’t heard that but I can see it. We felt like Kimmy is a preteen in choices for fashion. It was the last time she went shopping so she is drawn to items that reflect that. I am not familiar with Nickelodeon shows but I would imagine the target that age group. We wanted her to have a young optimistic sense of style without looking juvenile. Her inspiration comes from more of the 90’s fashion trends.
FF: I love all the subtle 80s/90s references that are relatable. For instance, I didn’t have a purple Jansport, but I did have a fuchsia Eastpak! And I definitely had one of those silver cube name necklaces.
TN: Yes, there are definitely 80s/90s reference. That was a conscious choice. Kimmy was kidnapped in the 90s so it was the last thing she remembers. We wanted to reflect that, but we wanted her to have a modern twist. We did not want her to look like she was going to a theme party. She is shopping not so much in thrift stores, but in Forever 21, H&M, JC Penny, and is drawn to the items that are familiar to her.
FF: Ellie dresses a lot like young Jacqueline from the flashback scenes — the style, the colors, they both wear name necklaces. Was that intentional to show parallels between Kimmy and Jacqueline?
TN Yes, but each does it in there own way. Jacqueline necklace was very ‘Sex in the City’, where Kimmy’s is a much younger version. Jacqueline’s is a much more fashion-driven choice, [like] things she sees in magazine as a young girl, and she wants a different life. Kimmy’s choices are more pure. It is what she likes based off of far away memories but it is who she is: Cheerful, young, innocent, but not naive. Strong and idealistic.
FF: Xanthippe (Jacqueline’s angsty teen step-daughter and Kimmy’s arch nemesis, played by Dylan Gelula) also dresses very 90s, but in a way that follows the current trendy revival of grunge style. Was this also done consciously or is she just dressing like a modern day, mopey rebellious teen?
TN: The whole show has a 90s feel to it. But Xan dresses more like a mopey rebellious teen. I wanted her to be polar opposite of Jacqueline. Xan spends a lot of money on her clothes but it doesn’t look it. It’s the anti-fashion fashion. She wants to rebel against it all but could not live without all the money. Where Jacqueline wants everyone to know she has money.
Images courtesy NBCUniversal