If the November chill isn’t enough incentive to grab your coziest sweater and bundle up under the blankets, Aziz Ansari’s new series "Master of None" hit Netflix this weekend. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised: It’s being hailed as one of the freshest, most thought-provoking, and most effortlessly diverse shows on television. As many have described it, think "Louie," for millennials who know all about the secret Father John Misty show or how to find the best tacos in Manhattan, but are a bit more clueless about navigating sexism, racism, kids, family, and love.
We’re in love with so many things about the show, and included on that list is the quietly flawless style. We caught up with costume designer Dana Covarrubias, who gave us an inside look at creating the menswear world of Manhattan, what a celebrity stylist actually does, and how her favorite people to hang with on set were Aziz's parents.
MTV: Hey, Dana! Thank you so much for talking to us today! Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to become a costume designer?
Dana Covarrubias: I grew up in Texas, and ever since I was little, I was sketching outfits and was really into fashion. My grandparents lived in California, and we would do these massive roadtrips where I was constantly drawing in the backseat -- you couldn’t rip a crayon or pencil out of my hand. I went to school for theatre, and I didn’t really know that the film and TV costume world even existed! But I got really lucky and got a costume internship on an FX show called "The Whitest Kids U’Know." I remember on my very first day, the head designer asked me to help her shop, and said, 'OK, so this is the character, this is their job, this is how much money they make, this is what the actress looks like -- now we have to go shop her.' And I was like, 'This is what you do?! This is AMAZING!' It felt perfect, and it made perfect sense that this is what I could be doing. I made it a goal to work my way up the chain. A year after that, I was hired as a PA; a year after that I was hired as wardrobe supervisor. My first head design job was on "Louie," for season two. It was amazing, and it started me on this path of designing for comedy shows.
MTV: It’s so interesting that you got your start on "Louie." The format and the structure feel very similar to "Master of None." The show also seems to riff on his book "Modern Romance," and I saw that you styled his book tour this past year. How did you come to know Aziz Ansari, and how did this job come your way?
Dana: I had worked with the "Master of None" producers before, and they called me in to interview, which is the first time that I met Aziz. It was so funny. Whenever you go in, and you know you’re interviewing with someone who’s going to be on the show, you kind of have to do a bit of Google stalking of them -- see what they wear in their daily life, what brands they’re into, what designers they like. [...] Knowing how he’s really into fashion and has a great body for fashion-- Everything looks really good on him, fits really well. He puts on a suit, and he looks so instantly dashing. So, we went to this interview, and we really hit it off -- I felt immediately like we were friends.
While we were filming the show, he was also getting ready for the book tour, and he just asked me one day to style him for that as well. I don’t do a lot of celebrity styling, but I really really love it, and I want to get more into it. It’s a totally different animal than costume designing.
MTV: Can you explain what the difference is, actually?
Dana: Of course! With costume design, you’re thinking about the character, and with celebrity styling, you’re thinking about the person. With a character, it’s about where they live, how much money they make, their daily life -- you’re thinking about all this internal stuff, and through what you choose for them to wear, you’re displaying externally what’s going on internally. It’s a lot more psychological. With celebrity styling, you’re thinking about the person, and you’re thinking about what looks great on them, what color’s going to pop if they’re on late night versus something live versus a giant audience. You’re thinking about color and texture, the camera setup, what’s going to look good in a close-up. Fit is probably the most important thing about styling -- just making sure everything fits impeccably, having it tailored to the T.
MTV: Can you talk about the brands that you worked with on "Master of None?"
Dana: This was my first design job where the lead actor/creator was really into fashion, and it was so fun. Usually actors are like, "Whatever you think my character would wear." But Aziz is so into fashion, he’s so hip. He came in with a list of people that he wanted to try, and the stuff he normally wears in his day-to-day life. The main brand we used was Band of Outsiders, which is going to be really sad if we get renewed for a second season because they just went out of business. They’re amazing, amazing designers, who created the coolest, most unique stuff. We also did a lot of Steven Alan -- one of his favorite shirtmakers -- and a lot of shirts from Gant. All of his pants are this brand called Unis -- they’re this amazing company that just has great basics, and the quality is really high, really well-made. The fit for him is perfect, and they come in every color you could imagine. One company that worked with us and was awesome was this company called Brooklyn Tailors -- they did three or four of his suits, they loaned us stuff and were great to work with. The cut of their suits is great for guys with really slim-fit bodies.
MTV: I was also a big "Parks and Rec" fan, and there was that recurring joke that Tom Haverford had to shop in the boys’ section, so I was wondering about fit and cut! How do you design for radically different body types? I’m thinking about Eric Wareheim, who plays Arnold on the show -- those two men look so different when standing next to one another, and you must fit them so differently.
Dana: It’s a challenge! But it’s fun. On so many shows, you can loan things from studios, and from different designers. But we really couldn’t do that here, because Aziz is smaller than the sample sizes -- he's, like, a 36 short suit. Many designers don’t even make that size. We really had to stick with designers that we knew made good suits for slim guys. And Eric is, I think, 6'6", so kind of the opposite problem. We had to shop a lot of Big and Tall stuff for him. But we had so many great designers that we used -- I never felt limited. But it’s not like I could just go to the Gap.
MTV: Can you talk for a bit about Lena Waithe, who plays Denise? I was so in love with her style, and I think I read that the role was re-written a bit once she was cast. Did a similar thing happen with her onscreen looks?
Dana: Lena is an awesome, awesome, amazing person, and we were so excited to work with her. I’m trying to remember an earlier script -- I think the character was always a woman, but not originally a lesbian. And then they cast Lena, who is gay, and who has this amazing personal style. After Aziz cast her, he was like, "Oh, my god, Dana, she has this amazing style, you’re going to love her, and I kind of just want her to dress like how she dresses." So, again, I did a lot of Google stalking! We met in person, talked about what she normally wears. She only ever shops in the men's department, so that's what we did, too. It just opened up the possibilities for what we could do with her character. A lot of her stuff came from the men’s department of Urban Outfitters and H&M. We did a lot of BLK DNM, wings + horn, a lot of stuff like that. We bought like, fifty pairs of amazing Nikes. We were just so excited to go crazy and have fun with her style.
MTV: In addition to the realistic world that you create of New York, you also have these crazy flashback scenes -- Dev’s daydream sequence in the first episode, or when Rachel’s grandmother steals the car. Even the costume design for the fake movie that Dev is shooting -- a “black virus” sci-fi thriller called "The Sickening" -- has its own rules and challenges. How do you approach those scenes?
Dana: This project was so great and fun because of that duality, that creative challenge. On one hand, you’re still a stylist, and on the other, you need to create things from scratch, in the way that they might on, say, "Game of Thrones," so I got to combine both of those ways of working, which was great. When I initially read the script and saw that there were these flashbacks to India, to Taiwan, to the '50s, '70s, '80s, '90s -- I got so excited.
You know that moment when they flash back to Dev’s dad growing up in India? It’s a really short scene, and it was such a giant project. I mean, weeks and weeks of work. We flew in vintage saris from all over the world, hand-dyed them and distressed them. I think we wound up hiring around 200 extras -- it was massive, like a little movie. We hired a bunch of people to come in and age/dye -- their entire job was to make everything look old. So, to combine this sort of high fashion New York styling job with this intricate period work -- you rarely get both of those things in one show.
MTV: What was it like working with Aziz’s parents?
Dana: They cracked me up. Oh my god. They’re the best. His mom was really shy, and I know it took a lot of convincing to get her to do the show. His dad cracked me up -- he’s such a jokester, and you can see exactly where Aziz’s silliness comes from. They basically wore their own clothing -- Aziz really wanted them to look like how they normally look. His dad wears a lot of, like, pleated-front slacks and loafers, really simple stuff. We shopped for them a little, but mostly, they brought in their own things.
What was really helpful, though, is that they were on set while we were shooting the India stuff. And because that is his father’s actual story, I was able to interview them and ask them questions -- we really wanted to get the details correct. They’re from South India, where that scene takes place, and not any other part of the country, where the saris might be slightly different, the colors and jewelry are slightly different. They were so helpful to have around as resources. Just the sweetest, and so great to have on set.