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Therein lies the magic of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which packs each episode with musical numbers as irresistible as they are irreverent. According to the show’s costume designer Melina Root, creating costumes for all those song-and-dance sequences on top of shopping for the cast’s day-to-day wardrobes can be challenging. Below, Root discusses West Covina’s shopping scene, how protagonist Rebecca Bunch (series co-creator Rachel Bloom) continually attempts to "find herself" via fashion, and what we can expect from season 2. Hint: Beyoncé is involved.
What’s the story you’re trying to tell with the clothes on this show?
The series is really about people trying to figure out who they are — and, in the process, who they’re not. So there’s a lot of trying on identities, and therefore trying on clothes.
You see that particularly with Rebecca, I think.
Rebecca’s never really known who she is, and has never had any sense of self-identity beyond what other people expect of her, and you see that in her clothes. At the beginning of the show, she’s this high-powered New York lawyer; my thought was that she would probably have a personal shopper at Saks or Neiman’s who would just send her things. Or maybe she’d do those subscription services where they send you boxes of pre-selected clothes. Or she’d come home from work late at night and order stuff randomly from Net-a-Porter.
That all changes in the first few minutes of the pilot, of course.
When she moves to West Covina, well, they don’t even have a Banana Republic there! She starts wearing prints and brighter colors, and isn’t afraid to be mismatched. It’s California; they’re more relaxed about their dress codes there. So she starts this search for her identity through her clothes. She goes skateboarding one day, and buys a complete skateboarding outfit. She gets invited to an Arabian Nights-style wedding, so she drives to downtown LA and gets an I Dream of Jeannie dress with jewels on it. When she does something, she does it 110% when it comes to the clothes.
This season, she actually gets a makeover, and sort of attempts to do the whole California-boho thing in order to fit in with the local beach gals. Obviously, it doesn’t work.
When it comes to shopping for these characters’ everyday wardrobes, where do you start?
We actually go and shop in West Covina! We have to, because some of the pieces we need, you truly can’t find in LA. We go a little more high-end when it comes to Rebecca’s wardrobe, since she has more money than most of the other characters. I figured she’d probably shop at Bloomingdale’s, or maybe Macy’s. There’s a Macy’s in West Covina, but they don’t have the same things you’ll find at the Century City or Sherman Oaks Macy’s...
I can tell you’ve done your research.
Well, when I first interviewed with Aline [Brosh McKenna, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s showrunner], she said, "You know what I hate the most? When I’m watching one of those law shows and the secretary’s in a Marni blouse." [Aline] has such a high fashion IQ, but she knows when a character would never wear a $1,000 blouse, even if it is a fantastic piece and looks great on camera. She felt really strongly that Josh should wear, for example, those horrible jeans with the stitching on the back pockets. Most executive producers would want their characters to look "TV cute."
Let’s talk about Rebecca Bunch’s style for a moment. How would you describe it?
It’s pretty basic. She wears a lot of Rebecca Taylor, a lot of Joie in her everyday life. For a day at work, she’ll maybe wear a BCBG jacket with a Joie top and Theory pants — things any working woman might wear. Her T-shirts are from Gap or Urban Outfitters. And when she goes high-end, she goes corporate high-end; she’ll wear a Max Mara dress to a nightclub! She’s not cool. She tries really hard, but usually misses the mark.
Also — and you see this in the episode where she and Valencia show up at the club in the same dress — she tends to copy whatever the next girl is wearing. Paula does that a bit, too; she wears the same styles Rebecca wears. It’s that thing girls have, you know, where they all wear the same stuff. To have that sense of belonging. So you’ll see the two of them in complementary colors and cuts a lot, to emphasize the emotional connection they have with one another.
Speaking of Paula, her collection of kitschy jewelry is pretty incredible. The turtle necklace comes to mind...
The turtle — along with a bunch of Paula’s other jewelry — is from Betsey Johnson. I buy a lot of her jewelry at those weird all-service drugstores, too. I live in Pasadena and there’s this place called Cal Oaks — it’s sort of like an old-fashioned pharmacy, but they also sell jewelry and hats. It seemed to me like the kind of place where a woman who had a million things to do would pick up some stuff.
In the pilot, you also learn that Paula is obsessed with the lives of celebrities, so she wore a lot of Katy Perry jewelry and Jessica Simpson shoes for a while. That was her way of getting a bit of the magic that was missing from her own humdrum life.
Let’s talk about the show’s musical numbers; typically, there are several per episode. What’s it like making the costumes for those?
It’s the hardest part for us, to figure out how far out of reality and how far into fantasy we can go. I was originally a theater designer, so it’s easy for Rachel and I to communicate on that level. But film is more realistic than stage, so you have to figure out how to translate it. A lot of the conceptual stuff gets mulled over and changes quite a lot; the last-minute shifts can get really complicated. But of all the shows I’ve worked on, this one’s the most openly collaborative and creative. So we put up with the chaos!
Rachel will usually have references, whether it’s a stage musical or a music video. We never copy it or parody it directly, but we take inspiration from it. At the beginning of this season, she does a whole heartbroken number that’s inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
I also spied a cactus costume in the season 2 trailer. Please explain.
Oh God, the cactus! So the song in that scene is about how Rebecca is starved for love, and one tiny drop of attention is enough to make her last for days on end. [Rachel and the team] said, "We want a sexy cactus." And I was like, "Okay, but sexy in what way?!"
Which musical sequence has been your favorite to work on thus far?
I loved "Settle For Me." It’s such a sad song with such a sad message about compromised love, but the characters look so beautiful in those clothes. Rachel isn’t shaped like Ginger Rogers, so figuring out how to make something for her from scratch in six days was a challenge. I looked at a lot of ‘30s musicals for inspiration there.
And then the most creative, out-there number we did last year was "I Give Good Parent," with the dancing Puritans and the turkey bra. When we started planning for that one, I couldn’t figure out a concept at first — and I remember Rachel turning to me and saying, "What would Nicki Minaj do?" Well, Nicki would wear turkeys on her boobs! [Laughs] We ended up making the tweed shift dress, too, because I couldn’t find anything that looked appropriately Chanel-inspired but parent-friendly. You know, the least threatening, most desexualized, wholesome dress imaginable.
So besides Rebecca’s take on Beyoncé, what else can we expect in season 2, fashion-wise?
We’re doing a whole "Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend," Marilyn Monroe-inspired number. And we just made a triceratops costume! It’s for an episode where they go to this Burning Man/Electric Daisy Carnival-type festival. There were a lot of wacky clothes in that episode that were really fun to do.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returns for season 2 on Friday, October 21st at 9 p.m./8 p.m. central on The CW.