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Netflix’s Emmy-nominated Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returns for its third season on May 19th — and as the show’s titular protagonist might say, we’re pretty fudging excited about it. The series is as famous for its candy-colored costumes as it is for its nonstop zingers and sight gags, none of which are in short supply this time around.
Despite the mile-a-minute jokes, however, season 3 comes with its fair share of drama. Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) prepares to head off to college while deciding whether to grant her former cult captor, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm), a divorce. Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), suspecting infidelity, goes “full Lemonade” on his boyfriend, Mikey. And Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and Lillian (Carol Kane) wage war against the Washington Redskins and gentrification, respectively.
We caught up with Tina Nigro, the show’s costume designer, to chat about season 3 cameos (Maya Rudolph! Laura Dern!), Titus’s big Beyoncé tribute, and how she uses fashion to reflect the evolution of each of these Unbreakable characters.
A lot’s changed for Kimmy and co. since we last saw them in season 2. How did you move their stories along via costume?
I think Kimmy’s evolution is the most obvious. She’s been in the city for a bit now — and I don’t want to say she’s hardened, but she’s always getting knocked down, even if she always gets back up again [Ed note: Don’t worry, there’s a Chumbawamba joke in the season premiere]. She’s not as naive as she was when she first got out of the bunker, so her clothes are getting a bit more mature, too.
She’s still fun and quirky and ’90s-influenced and she still wears color, but it’s not as bright as what she wore in season 1. It’s a little bit more muted, not as in-your-face.
Her accessories are still pretty colorful, like that bejeweled neon necklace she wears in the first episode.
Right, but she wears it with a mustard-colored jumper — it’s a pop of color. We do a lot with her accessories. The friendship bracelets, the light-up sneakers, the yellow boots she wears this season — they’re all things that a young girl would wear, so Kimmy’s drawn to them, too. Because in her mind, she’s only a 15-year-old!
And then we found this denim jacket that has Lisa Frank unicorns on it, and that’s something I think she’d see in a store and be like, “I love that, I’m getting that.” But she’s wearing it with a skirt and tights, not her pink pants. She’s becoming a bit more — I won’t say refined, because that’s not her style — but it’s evolving.
How about the other characters?
Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) is still trying to pretend that she has money and she’s still trying to impress, so she still always looks on point. Where Kimmy buys things she likes and that speak to her, Jacqueline is much more aware of what other people see and think of her. But her color palette gets a little darker this season.
And Titus, well, he stays pretty much the same! Maybe a little more flamboyant than he was before. Like this season, he wears this gold chain-printed sweatshirt with leopard pants — it’s just amazing. He always goes for one too many prints! I really enjoy dressing Titus.
Speaking of which, we have to discuss his epic Lemonade tribute in episode 2...
I have to say: I knew the song, but I’d never seen the [“Hold Up”] video before! I knew that we wanted it to be Titus’s own interpretation of Lemonade, his attempt at copying what Beyoncé was wearing in that video.
The yellow dress I originally wanted to do with mops — yellow mops! — but it just didn’t flow and move as nicely as we wanted it to. We ended up doing a mix of paper and ripped-up fabric strips, which was much lighter. I wanted him to look like a car wash brush — that’s sort of what I was going for.
Then there’s the beaded Cleopatra wig [for “Sorry”], which I felt like was something he could’ve gotten on 14th Street, or maybe even had at home. By the way, you can’t see it in the [final cut] because it only shows his top half, but he’s also wearing Adidas shorts and these thigh-high boots for that. It’s hysterical.
When you’re not creating looks like the Lemonade dress by hand, where do you typically shop for each character?
For Kimmy, we do a lot of shopping at Sears — it’s really sad that they’re going out of business. Her floral pants are Bongo, and this season, she wears some colorful corduroys that are from J.Crew. I don’t go to one specific brand for her, but I try not to shop designer, because that’s obviously not something she could afford.
I feeI like Kimmy’s the type who’d get lost in a mall and just gravitate toward anything colorful!
Oh, definitely. That’s it exactly. Meanwhile, Jacqueline is designer all the way, and Lillian does a lot of vintage. And Titus is just a mix of everything — he wears men’s clothes, he wears women’s clothes. He wears things I bought at Lane Bryant, and his favorite cocoon sweater is American Apparel. I get a lot of stuff for him at Kohl’s. And like you said, Titus makes a lot of his own clothes, so I’ll see fabric and that’ll become a scarf, mixed in with some of his pins and jewelry.
I feel like color plays a role in the costumes too, beyond those for Kimmy.
It’s weird, because it’s not a conscious thing, but I am always drawn to certain colors for certain characters. For Titus, it’s always been purple — he looks good in purple, and it’s also a color that’s both feminine and masculine. And Jacqueline loves her whites, although her color palette gets a little darker this year.
Can you tell us about another big fashion moment from season 3?
So when Kimmy goes to college, all the girls decide to get dressed up and go out one night, and she has a sexy going-out look. That was hard because I wanted her to look so different [from how she usually does], but I also wanted her to still look like Kimmy.
And I mean, Ellie has a banging body — which we kind of hide when we dress her as Kimmy — so that was challenging, trying to find that midpoint of what’s sexy versus way too sexy. We ended up going with a tight red dress with a keyhole neckline — because, again, ‘90s! — and some boots. It was a little Pretty Woman-inspired.
Do you often collaborate with the actors on certain looks?
All the time, especially for Titus and Kimmy. We’ve created entire closets for those characters, but when we’re shooting something special, like Kimmy’s going-out look, we definitely talk about it. Titus has a lot of costume changes this year, and he’s probably the one who hates the fittings the most, having to stand there like a mannequin! [Laughs]
I want them to be comfortable in whatever they’re wearing, because if you put people in costume and they’re not comfortable, they’re going to look like they’re wearing a costume. These are supposed to be clothes these characters would really wear in their daily lives!
The characters on this show are so unique — when you’re designing their costumes, are you ever inspired by certain celebrities or characters from others shows or movies?
Yes — back at the beginning, we did boards for each character, and for those you need those kinds of references. And the writers all had certain references in mind, too.
Xanthippe’s [Dylan Gelula] look is based on Cara Delevingne and a younger Kendall Jenner, those kids who come from money but don’t dress like it — wearing ripped jeans and baseball caps that actually cost a lot. I remember in season 1, Xan wears a Givenchy sweatshirt with a dog on it; that’s the kind of thing somebody like that would wear. Kimmy was based on a lot of ’90s characters, like [those in] My So-Called Life. And for Titus, we looked to Angel from Rent.
Sometimes it helps the actors to have those references, too. Like, we have Maya Rudolph on this season, and she plays this Dionne Warwick type. So she gets to wear these crazy muumuus and caftans and wigs!
I can’t wait for that. I also hear that Laura Dern’s making a cameo this season...
Yes! She was great. You know, sometimes actors just want to wear what looks good on them, but she’s an actor who really thinks about what her character would wear and why she would wear it. I like that — I feed off of that.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 3 hits Netflix on May 19th.