Costume designer Dana Covarrubias talks about collaborating with Aziz Ansari on
the Netflix hit series, ‘Master of None’.
Women get all the attention when it comes to on-screen style. From ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ to ‘Dynasty’, ‘Sex & the City’ to ‘Scandal’, it’s the fashionable ladies of prime-time who are most often celebrated. But when Netflix released ‘Master of None’ back in November, a new style hero arrived in television land. Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, ‘Master’ stars Ansari as Dev Shah, a working NYC actor trying to navigate his career and dating life through those pivotal early-30s years. The series has garnered almost universally enthusiastic reviews from both viewers and critics (a 9.1 rating on Metacritic…what?!) and its quirky blend of humor and drama has been compared to that other NY-based comedy series, ‘Louie’.
But ‘Master of None’ is lighter and more optimistic that ‘Louie’, with an upbeat bounce in its step that’s neither too saccharine or predictable. And the series has allowed Ansari, last seen as the lovably cocky Tom Haverford on ‘Parks and Recreation’, to play the leading man. In addition to Ansari’s writing and performance, the actor’s formidable fashion know-how has also become part of the conversation. Dev’s wardrobe (which mirrors Ansari’s own real-life style) has been praised by men’s fashion arbiters including Details, GQ, and Mr. Porter. Here, ‘Master of None’ costume designer Dana Covarrubias discusses how she outfits Dev and his merry band of 30-somethings, and why working in comedy is the greatest thing ever.
It seems like everyone is taking about the fashion in ‘Master of None’. Are you surprised by how attention the show’s been getting for its style?
Not at all surprised! 😉 From the beginning we (Aziz, Alan and I) had decided that we wanted the show’s costumes to be true to how early-thirty-somethings (who have a little cash in their pockets to spend) dress in NYC. Which meant we were able to shop high-fashion looks at stores like Opening Ceremony, Barney’s, Top Man, and on Mr.Porter.com. We also wanted to distinguish ourselves from cheesy sitcom looks and also from other NYC based comedic television shows like ‘Broad City’ and ‘Louie’. We wanted our characters to look like they are excited to express themselves through what they wear — and that they are willing to spend some money and effort to do so. So it wasn’t very surprising that people picked up on all of that.
We know that Aziz is very fashion savvy and wears a lot of his own clothes on the show (like that Saint Laurent leather jacket) and that one of his favorite labels is the (dearly departed) Band of Outsiders. Are there any brands that he turned you onto and/or vice versa?
Aziz loves fashion — which made my job so fun on ‘Master of None’. He came into the process already knowing what designers look best on him. He loves Saint Laurent, Dior, Band of Outsiders, Steven Alan, Gant, Brooklyn Tailors, Top Man and also loves shopping on the website MrPorter.com. He brought in a good amount of his own wardrobe to wear on the show, which helped make his outfits feel more lived-in and real. He turned me onto the brand Unis! He basically only wears the skinny fit chinos from Unis on the show and I had never shopped there before. They fit amazing on a slender body like Aziz’s and they come in a wide range of unique colors. Aziz is very aware of the fashion world, so I’m not sure that I turned him onto any designers that he wasn’t already aware of! Maybe Seize Sur Vingt and/or Kooples? I shopped shirts and ties for him from those stores and he loved them, I don’t think he had ever shopped there for himself before.
The show flashes back and forth between current day and the 50s, 80s, and to different countries. Then there is the movie within the show (The Sickening). Is it challenging bouncing around between all of these different settings and timeframes?
It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s also what made the job so creatively exciting for me and my team. Usually when you costume design a movie or television show you focus on creating one world, but with ‘Master of None’ we had the chance to create a bunch of different worlds. The biggest challenge is to figure out how to create all these very specific separate worlds on a limited budget. We spent a lot of time researching 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s India and Taiwan for the flashback scenes and then we recreated those looks on the cheap by shopping at stores like H&M and Zara and altering the clothes to make them feel more of that era. Then we hired an amazing aging and dying team whose job was to make the clothes look old and like they’ve been worn for years.
The movie within the show was also very fun to create. I, myself, am a big big fan of sci-fi and what I call ‘disaster movies’ (Contagion, Volcano, Independence Day, etc.) and it’s always been a dream of mine to work on a movie or show like that. So by designing this little movie within the show — I was able to fulfill this dream! Because Aziz is so slender we knew that we couldn’t just put him in a giant off-the-rack hazmat suit that would drown him, so we bought a slim fit jump suit fit perfectly and then had it recreated in a white vinyl material that felt very sci-fi fantasy. It turned out really well! Hopefully that’s just the beginning of my sci-fi career. 😉
Each character seems to have his or her own, specific color palette. How does color play a role in the costuming?
Color is a very big consideration when costume designing for a show. It’s usually one of the first decisions I make when thinking about how to costume a character. Aziz knew that he wanted ‘Master of None’ to have a retro 70’s film vibe. When we started the creative process for this show, Aziz and Alan sent out an email to all of the creative departments with links and examples of how they wanted to the show to look and feel. They sent a list of films they love: The Graduate, Manhattan, Annie Hall. Aziz wanted to use Dustin Hoffman’s looks in The Graduate as a starting off point for his look on the show. So we went with a lot of navys, whites, reds, khakis, browns; a sort of hip-twist on an all-American look. For Lena’s character Denise we knew we wanted to do more vibrant colors. Lena has amazing personal style and Aziz wanted to showcase that. We shopped her a lot of tribal prints, colorful camo prints, brightly-colored flat-billed caps, etc. With Eric who played Arnold, we wanted to go with a nautical vibe- so we used mostly whites and blues on him.
Does any episode stand out as one that was particularly fun to work on?
Gah! That’s a hard one. I loved working on the ‘Parents’ episode because of all the flashbacks scenes in India and Taiwan that we got to costume, as well as the 1980’s and 90’s New York City flashback scenes. But my favorite was actually probably ‘Mornings’. I thought it was such a fun idea to have each scene be a new day/morning in Dev and Rachel’s relationship and to be able to show how a relationship changes over the course of a year. For this episode we had over 45 costumes changes for Dev and Rachel…each! So it was a lot of costume changes in a short amount of time. We were able to show a full range of these characters closets, which was really fun and interesting — their pj’s, underwear, going-out clothes, work clothes, partying clothes, schlubby at-home clothes, etc. It’s rare that you get to see all of that focused into one episode.
Do you keep a close eye on men’s fashion weeks or read any blogs that might be relevant to the style of ‘Master of None’ (like Hypebeast or Highsnobiety)?
I do keep a very close eye on men’s and women’s fashion, but I don’t really read a lot of fashion blogs. I mostly like to people watch, and living in Brooklyn I have the best people-watching EVER. People in Brooklyn are so stylish in the true sense of the word. It’s not always about what’s hot right now. It’s about what works on your body, makes you feel good, and expresses your unique point of view as a person. I feel like it’s definitely part of my job to be aware of up-and-coming designers and current fashion trends. But when you’re costuming for television and film, your choices are rooted more in character, script, and what works on the actor’s body best, not usually what’s the most fashionable.
Besides ‘Master of None’, you’re currently working on season 4 of ‘Inside Amy Schumer’. You’ve previously designed for ‘Louie’ and ‘Broad City’. How did you end up falling into the world of comedy and what about it do you love so much?
I LOVE WORKING ON COMEDY!!! It’s truly the best. There’s never a boring day on set. I started out in this industry as an intern in the costume department of ‘The Whitest Kids U’Know’, a sketch comedy show on IFC. I’ve worked my way up the ladder since then and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked mostly on comedy shows. I’m just now wrapping ‘Inside Amy Schumer’ season 4. Next up, I’m designing a new HBO show that’s produced and directed by Judd Apatow starring comedian Pete Holmes called ‘Crashing’. And after that, ‘Master of None’ season 2!
All photos by K.C. Bailey/Netflix – © 2015 Netflix