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Don’t Overlook the Costumes on ‘Master of None’

Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s original Netflix series, “Master of None,” has quickly emerged as not only one of the best comedies on television, but also one of the most poignant. If you’ve somehow made it through both seasons one and two of the show without seeing something incredibly relatable, or feeling your heart swell (or break!), then you may want to get checked out to make sure you’re not a robot.

While it may not be as flashy as a costume drama or a sci-fi epic, the costumes in a hyper-real series like “Master of None” are an essential part of the show, speaking volumes about the characters and their setting before there’s even a second of dialogue. Dana Covarrubias is the show’s wardrobe mastermind, putting together everyone from a DJ on a cooking competition show to the (real life!) parents of Ansari’s character Dev. Covarrubias has been working in costume design in New York for about a decade; her first big job was “Louie,” Louis C.K.’s own comedy series, which means she already had New York realism down pat. “Aziz and Alan and I are all the same age, about, and I think we just hit it off,” she says. “I had brought a lot of research with me and showed them, and they were like, ‘Yes, this is pretty right-on.'”

She’s been with the show since the first season, in which her favorite costume designs came from the “Parents” episode. Covarrubias sourced vintage saris from all over the world to nail the short flashback scene of Ansari’s father. But, as is the case for many who watch the show, the real highlight is finding new restaurants to try. “I think I always have considered myself a foodie but the show has taken it to new heights,” she says. “We’re so busy during the filming, but then when the show’s done filming I have my list of all the places I want to go [that] we shot at on the show.” 

Plates of pasta aside, we’ve always been impressed with the wardrobe on the show, especially Ansari’s— and who didn’t come away from season two looking to fill their wardrobe with Francesca’s Italian-chic staples? We hopped on the phone with Covarrubias to get her insider view on how the clothes of “Master of None” come together, from Eric Wareheim’s stylish Italian duds to that white men’s button-down. 

Aziz Ansari in "Master of None." Photo: Netflix

Aziz Ansari in “Master of None.” Photo: Netflix

Season two opens in Italy; how did you approach designing the costumes for those episodes?

Aziz is really into the Italian neorealism films, so that’s where most of the inspiration was drawn, all of these black and white, amazing Italian films. 

When we did the fittings for all the black and white stuff for the first episode, I took all the fitting photos with black and white cameras so we could see the contrasts, because a light-blue shirt is going to look like just a really light gray. I never had to be able to do that as a designer, to think about things in terms of black and white and how they’ll turn out on camera.

Then on the other side of it, there’s the second episode of season two; we were doing this beautiful wedding in Tuscany and Aziz and Eric are walking through this beautiful Italian market, so for that we wanted to focus on all these beautiful, rich colors that Italy has — these golds, reds and really vibrant greens of Tuscany, the rolling hills and all of that. It was a very amazing, amazing opportunity.

Dana Covarrubias's moodboard for the character of Francesca on "Master of None." Photo: Dana Covarrubias

Dana Covarrubias’s moodboard for the character of Francesca on “Master of None.” Photo: Dana Covarrubias

Speaking of Italians, everyone in the office is obsessed with Francesca now. What was the approach to dressing her?

Thinking about dressing an Italian woman, and also defining her against the kind of Rachel archetype from last season, was really fun. As a young, 30-something New York woman, it’s something when you visit there it strikes you; it really hits you the moment you are there, how beautiful and fashionable [Italian women are]. It’s just a graceful, simplistic, sexy thing that they have. So much of it is the attitude — it’s not necessarily about what they’re wearing, but they just carry their clothing with such grace and such sex appeal. I wanted to capture that with her.

We based her looks off of Monica Vitti, who’s the actress in “L’Avventura” and “La Notte.” She is a stunningly gorgeous actress and when we watched those films, nothing that she is wearing is so spectacular — it’s like a simple button or a simple black pencil pant or really simple, chic black dress — she just has such appeal that it makes it look amazing. I think Alessandra [Mastronardi, who plays Francesca] has that, and so we really wanted to keep it simple. It’s really about shape too; we tried to mimic a lot of those ’60s shapes on there, a lot of boat neck and three-quarter-length sleeves and pencil pants, chic dresses, stuff like that.

We shopped for her all over but one of my favorite personal places to shop is the Outnet.com and Net-a-Porter. We did try to work in some designer stuff, because all Italian women are very fashionable. We wanted to keep it realistic — she worked in a pasta shop, how much money does she really have? That being said, being in Modena, Italy for those few weeks, you see the girls working at a little shop and you know they don’t make a ton of money, but they’re wearing nice stuff.

The first time we see her in color, I really wanted to punch that up, so we put her in a really beautiful, very colorful top. She’s one of those people you see in person and you’re like, “How is it possible that you exist?” — not a stitch of makeup on, hair not done, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and she’s just stunningly gorgeous. She charmed the pants off us all.

She had such amazing outerwear, too.

Again, with the simplicity, it was more about shape and creating this classic, timeless look. Rachel was very hipster and in-the-moment, this sort of very typical Brooklyn girl. We wanted to define against that, and have Francesca be the timeliness beauty, so we tried to do really simple, beautiful silhouettes.

Alessandra Mastronardi and Aziz Ansari in "Master of None." Photo: Netflix

Alessandra Mastronardi and Aziz Ansari in “Master of None.” Photo: Netflix

Francesca has that really strong moment in the blizzard episode with the men’s button-down. Did you guys custom build that?

It was scripted to be Eric Wareheim’s character Arnold’s shirt. He is a literal giant, he is so tall. We took some of his actual shirts from his costume closet and tried them on her and we were like, no, this just looks bad. They were like a dress on her! I took some inspiration from different research images that I had found and I had this one really beautiful image of a woman standing in front of a window; she’s silhouetted wearing a white men’s dress shirt and you can kind of see her body through the translucence of the shirt. It was just so sexy and so simple, so we tried to achieve that.

We custom fitted on her, and we were very particular about how short we made it, because it’s this moment where they’re both obviously very tempted to sleep together and they’re dancing; we wanted it to be a bit of a tease, like if she lifted her arms up, you might see something. We had it right on that line of sexy, but still not revealing too much.

The Thanksgiving episode is such a great episode. How did you tackle doing so many eras?

Lena Waithe and I sat down and went through childhood photos. We talked about how her and her family dressed when she was growing up and her favorite things to wear as a kid. It was basically the same with Aziz; Aziz’s brother works as a writer on the show, and he snuck me a bunch of photos of Aziz as a kid — he would die if anyone ever saw them! [laughs] — these super cute photos of Aziz as a little junior high aged Aziz, which was so funny.

Then we did a ton of online vintage shopping on Etsy to find a lot of the pieces, because we did want really specific stuff, and when you’re just hitting the thrift shops it can be challenging to find a Cross Colors jacket. It was so fun to get into that classic ’90s hip-hop style. Also, you don’t see a lot of stuff that’s early-2000s anymore, so that was really fun to remember all that weird, shiny fabric that everyone was wearing from it — why did we do that? [laughs] 

One of Dana Covarrubias's moodboards for the Thanksgiving episode of "Master of None." Photo: Dana Covarrubias

One of Dana Covarrubias’s moodboards for the Thanksgiving episode of “Master of None.” Photo: Dana Covarrubias

How collaborative is it between you and Aziz in terms of dressing Dev?

He’s very involved with his wardrobe and the general look of the show. He loves fashion, so he has his favorite brands that he likes to wear. Sometimes on the weekend or something, he would see something in a store or he’d be watching a movie and he would text me a picture and be like “Hey, what if we worked this into the show?” This season, we really focused on all the Italian designers, because we thought that Dev would go there and he would want to purchase an Italian wardrobe, so we got a lot of Italian designers for those couple episodes. We tried to leave them in the rest of the season too, even when he was back in New York, to have a nod to this time that he spent in Italy.

As you said, his parents are in it; there’s a lot of non-actors on the show. What’s the approach like for dressing them?

I’ll shop a closet for them based on photos I’ve seen, and then I’ll also ask them to bring a few items if they can. We kind of do a mix and match; the costume ends up being my dress with their shoes and their earrings or something like that. Everyone’s a bit of a heightened version of themselves, and we are trying to go for a certain vibe and a certain look on the show, so most everyone is shopped. Lena, who plays Denise, really does mostly dress like that in her real life, so it’s just a bit more amped up; same for Aziz.

There are two costume gags in the New York episode that I thought were really funny — the pizza scarf and the “Toadily Smashed” shirt. 

Those were both scripted, which was so fun. The pizza scarf, we found it on Etsy. Aziz is obsessed with pizza, so we try to work pizza in where we can into the show. The “Toadily Smashed” t-shirt, Aziz’s brother had a friend who had a shirt like that, so he had written that into the script. I just asked him, ‘”What did it look like?” He was like, “It’s the words and the frog sitting under it, smashing him down.” We had this whole email back and forth between myself and the graphic designer who came up with he image; it was so funny, because it was literally like, six emails back and forth. It was a very serious conversation for a very, very silly t-shirt. 

Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim in "Master of None." Photo: Netflix

Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim in “Master of None.” Photo: Netflix

What were your favorite costumes from the second season?

I loved, I just loved, Arnold and Dev’s at the wedding in Italy. Both of their looks, they just looked so great and they both had a little bit of an Italian flare to them. We had them tailored so nicely, and there’s that shot of them walking up that classic, Tuscan path with the giant rows of trees and they’re walking up to the wedding, and they look so great. It’s hard for someone of Eric’s height to find stuff that fits well, so we focused a lot on tailoring and we had an amazing tailor that was on our team in Italy. That was one of my favorites visually.

The Thanksgiving episode, I really just loved. My favorite is that moment in Thanksgiving when little Denise, her mom tells her to put on the dress, so she goes and she puts it on and she’s like looking in the mirror and she’s like, no. There’s that slow-mo shot of her coming down the stairs, and she’s wearing vintage Tommy and the Cross Colors and the vintage Jordans and she’s got like a Malcolm X hat on. That was maybe my favorite altogether look.

A really fun one that we got to create from scratch — it’s really silly — it’s the DJ that is part of the “Clash of the Cupcakes.” We did a pink camo track suit. We tried to do a bit of a nod to the early-2000s version of a DJ, with that faux fur, hot pink hat and those big glasses. We had that camo jumpsuit made custom. 

There are just so many — it’s such a fun show to work on, it’s so creative. The cinematography is so beautiful and it makes everything look great.

What’s your favorite part of working on the show?

Oh, gosh. I mean, the costumes are so fun to do, but I think the crew, cast, producers, everyone, they’re so nice and amazing. Everyone’s very driven to create this beautiful piece of art. It’s kind of rare when you work on a TV show; it all happens so fast. Everyone is so excited by the writing, you really feel like you’re working on something that is important; they talk about a lot of social issues and race issues and gender issues.

We were shooting the day after the election happened, and we were actually shooting a scene that I think was actually cut. It was something that had happened to Aziz; back in 2001, he was crossing the street and someone yelled some slur at him from a taxi cab. We were literally shooting that the day after the election, the whole crew was walking around like zombies, we were all in tears. It’s very amazing to work on something that has that social importance. 

And then the food, the food — I just have to say it, it’s delicious. Aziz and I have become buddies from the show and he’s so generous and so great. We eat so much on that job. That’s definitely one of the highlights.

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