Not only is Mindy Kaling a certifiable risk taker on the red carpet, but the actress, writer, and all around funny lady wears equally eye catching outfits on her hit show The Mindy Project. So who, exactly, is responsible for the beauty’s on-screen style? Salvador Perez, a celebrated costume designer who can also list Castle, Moonlight, Veronica Mars and Pitch Perfect on his resume.
Yesterday, the duo met inside Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills for a discussion on everything fashion related. The actress quizzed Perez on the challenges of his job, the art of tailoring, and what the most gratifying look he’s designed for her has been. Below, a sampling of the conversation.
Mindy Kaling: "Well, obviously I look gorgeous on the show [laughs]. You’ve had me in a whipped cream bikini, I’ve worn a wine bra that you had to make for me, I've had to have dresses literally explode off my body. So what was the most gratifying costume that you designed that you can remember, and what was the most challenging?"
Salvador Perez: "Well with the whipped cream it was like, how do we make this stay on you and how do we make things fall off of you? But I think the most satisfying was the holiday dress. You know, with season 3 we really hit our stride and I knew there would be a Christmas party because Mindy loves parties, so I was planning that dress months in advance. It was hand beaded and I tried to stay on top of it because I knew what you were going to throw at me.”
MK: "You do a lot of custom work and tailoring and, well, it seems pretty easy to get a bunch of skinny actresses and put them in pretty dresses that you buy, but I will tell Sal, 'I want to wear a dress and I want there to [make] decisions because I want there to be language going on in the show that is not verbal, that when you look at someone you see their personality and the statement they are conveying.'”
SP: “You coined the phrase, 'Everyone wants to be effortless. She wants to be effortful.' I love that. This takes a lot of effort."
MK: "There's a lot of effort that goes into this. I mean, I insisted that our finale be in India and that we have 300 Indian extras that needed to be dressed and then I also insisted on having, like, a Pretty Woman montage that had like 23 outfits changes. And I mean this is just one episode.”
SP: "Well the montage was sort of an accident because I jokingly said that you should have a montage. Famous last words, because that is now Mindy's favorite thing in the world.”
MK: “Yeah, but that was like a finale.”
SP: "No, this year you did it in the middle of the season in San Francisco and…”
MK: "Sal you know what, I'll do what I want to do and sometimes I'll throw in a montage in the middle of everything because that's my process. Okay. So on to the other characters. The other characters on the show come from different backgrounds and different socioeconomic backgrounds, so you actually have like seven different shows that you're designing for because it's not just like me and my four fabulous friends all living the same lives with the same style.”
SP: "It’s so fun being able to dress people with so much diversity from their socioeconomic backgrounds to their body types. It keeps everything exciting and I really love dressing everyone and every character, and I love that everyone is different. It makes my job harder, but much more gratifying and exciting and gives me a lot to look forward.”
MK: "Talk to us about some of the challenges you faced while working on the show.”
SP: "Well, my job is to make Mindy Lahiri look fabulous on-screen, and then the head writer decided to make the lead character pregnant. You hated those pregnancy fittings.”
MK: "My whole thing at the beginning was 'I want this pregnancy to be real.’ Then you showed me what a real seventh month pregnant woman looks like. I'm already like a size 10, so when I put on the pregnancy pad I was like 'Oh no, no, no. Just forget it. I want the Bethenny Frankel special,' but you convinced me to keep it real.”
SP: "Yeah and we still kept things lavish with some Gucci maternity wear. I don't think Gucci knows that they make maternity wear, but they make great maternity wear [laughs].”
MK: "One of the most gratifying things about the costumes on the show is that I will get tweets on Twitter or comments on my Instagram from girls [expressing], you know, magazines and articles and people say 'you can't wear this if you have this body type. You can't wear like light colors. You can't wear miniskirts, You can't do this,' and it will almost be a challenge. I will say, 'Sal, take this thing that people say that people with my body can't do—and do it.’ Because I don't like to be told that I can't do something. It's not like I always feel beautiful every second I wake up in the morning, but I think those things are so repressive. And also I have someone that can figure it out for me [laughs].”
SP: "That’s the thing; I feel like there are so many fashion rules and as a costume designer we don't listen to fashion rules. Our job is to make the actor look great no matter who they are or what size they are. When I first met you, you would not wear florals and, hello, this month she's on the cover of InStyle [in] a floral dress. So I think it's just showing you how to wear an outfit, and most importantly, getting the right fit. I understand how to fit clothes, and you very graciously give me the time—which is why you look as good as you do, because we will have 4-hour fittings after work when you've worked a 12-hour day and you will still come have a 4-hour fitting with me, and you'll come in on Saturday to have a 4-hour fitting and that's what it takes to look this good. The clothes are precise and fit to your body and that's why they look so good.”
MK: "When do you decide that something is going to be custom or that you are going to buy something and tailor it?”
SP: "For me, to make it is always easier, and I think for me it's always kind of an organic thing. You know, we were supposed to be in the fall in New York but we’re in LA in August, and I needed to find coats that were lightweight, so I just started to make lightweight colorful coats... When I’m missing something or I need to really adjust something with the different fabric, I think it's just easier for me to make it.”
Audience: "What have you learned from Sal that you've taken into your own personal style?”
MK: "Fit is everything. And I thought that having a tailor was a luxury only for kings or something, but that's not the case. And you should always get everything tailored. Tailoring is something can completely transform an outfit. I've also definitely experimented more with prints and mixing prints. Sal taught me the trick that you can do a large print with the small print, which is not something that I would've thought about."
—With reporting by Tiffany Faure
Read more about our June cover girl, Mindy Kaling, in the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download.