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How A YouTube Tutorial And The Jenner Sisters Inspired Costume Design In 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'

Rejoice, nerds: Tina Fey is back! If you’re still mourning the loss of "30 Rock," we’ve got great news for you: "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," all 13 episodes of which just dropped on Netflix, is everything we could have wanted and more. Doomsday cults! "The Office"’s sunshine-y Ellie Kemper! An unbelievably catchy theme song parodying that viral Antoine Dodson video!

The humor is unabashedly weird—this is, after all, based on the premise that a kidnapped eighth-grader survives fifteen years trapped in an underground bunker and moves to New York City to start her life over. The show’s cheerful optimism and hilarious writing are spectacular, and Kimmy, played by Kemper, is somehow all wide-eyed, naïve charm—but never played as dumb or sugary-sweet. And after binge-watching the entire season, her colorful looks are somehow all I want to wear this spring. Light-up sneakers, here I come!

We tracked down Tina Nigro, the show’s costume designer, to give us the behind-the-scenes info on the hilarious first season’s look.

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MTV: So, when the series begins, we meet the "Mole Women" in the underground bunker. What was some of your inspiration for the cult costumes?

Tina Nigro: Sure! So, the costumes are based on various cults and religions that require their women to dress modestly. We wanted the dresses to contrast the bleak, depressing backdrop of the set, so we chose pastel colors based on the colors of Easter eggs.

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MTV: Kimmy's character has been underground since the eighth grade, and one of the real successes of the show is that she never appears dumb—her naiveté isn't played for obvious laughs and her sweetness and sincerity aren't obnoxious or cloying. How did you strike that right balance in her wardrobe?

Nigro: We wanted Kimmy to have a young and innocent style without looking childish. We thought her character would be drawn to things from the '90s, which was when she last went shopping...but not in a thrift-store way. So we gave her shapes and accessories that reflect that time, but we could still find in stores today: her fanny pack, polo tshirts, friendship bracelets, or her block letter necklace. Her clothes are colorful and bright like her attitude. Her light-up sneakers are from Sketchers; we only modified them slightly for filming purposes to make the lights flash brighter on camera.

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A lot of her wardrobe is from JCPenney, H&M, and Topshop. We try to only shop in places that Kimmy could realistically afford, and sometimes we have better luck in the Girls 12 – 14 section.

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MTV: In the second episode, there's a plot line where Titus (Tituss Burgess) leads the off-brand unlicensed costume characters of Times Square in a rebellion against a shady costume rental house, from the Statue of Liberty to a hilariously off-brand Miss Piggy failure. Can you talk about creating those costumes? Were they rentals or were they fabricated for the episode?

Nigro: For legal reasons—as we reference in the script!—we fabricated those costumes. We have some great, very talented people I use when I need to build something complex. Miss Piggy was also my favorite!

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MTV: Some of what the show does so successfully is skewer the New York elite—Jane Krakowski's character as a rich Manhattanite mother, and the specific style of her teenaged stepdaughter (Dylan Gelula) and her friends. Can you talk about styling those characters?

Nigro: We wanted it to read like the kids would spend insane amount of money on things that don't look like expensive, like Xan’s Givenchy t-shirt with the dog … and then we’d pair that with an H&M legging. Cara Delevingne and the younger Jenner girls were inspirations. Jane’s character is pure all-designer, all-day, all the time. We joke that her “casual home shoes” are glitter Louboutins.

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MTV: One of my favorite looks was the "fancy party makeover" Titus gave Kimmy, created from the stuff lying around the apartment. Her shrug is made from the fuzzy bathmat, her necklace from the toilet chain. Can you talk about that specific design challenge?

Nigro: The writers discovered a YouTube video tutorial on how to make basketball shorts into a sexy dress, and the idea really started from there. So, we shopped in places like Bed Bath & Beyond and HomeGoods, which was fun. It turned out to be a favorite of mine from the season; I think she looked great.

MTV: Can you speak a little about your process?

Nigro: I have an amazing team behind me, and I could not do this job, or any job, without them! We shoot an episode once every five days, but sometimes we’ll get a heads-up from the writers if they’d like something really difficult, or something that we’d need to build. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are amazing and always available for questions or feedback. I mostly design darker dramas ("Law and Order: SVU"), so working with the team from "30 Rock" was something I absolutely couldn’t refuse.

MTV: Thank you so much, Tina! We think the show—and your work—are great. Hashbrown no filter.