Mindy Lahiri has never had a shortage of leading men in her life on The Mindy Project, but in reality, Mindy Kaling, the multi-hyphenate behind the series and its titular character, reveals there's only one man she's ever truly chased after—and that's costume designer Salvador Perez.
When Kaling says "I've never pursued a man more than Sal in my life," you know she's not messing around: He may work primarily behind the scenes (seams?), but Perez's penchant for the bold is recognizable in the costumes for Pitch Perfect, Veronica Mars, Party Down—and, of course, six seasons of The Mindy Project, for which he's received an Emmy nomination for costume design. He and Kaling are collaborators in the greatest sense, having worked on- and off-set together for years, with Perez styling and crafting custom creations for her to wear at various red-carpet events—a bond she doesn't play down in front of the audience gathered for the Beverly Center Presents The Mindy Project Costume Conversation.
It's not just Lahiri's style that has evolved thanks to Perez's touch: "I had a very detached relationship with Indian fashion since I didn't grow up there," Kaling explained. "[But because of Sal], I've gone to events wearing Indian [designs and looks]." It all started with the costume designer's personal affinity for saris. "I’ve always loved [them] even before I met Mindy," Perez said. "One time, instead of putting her in a beautiful cocktail dress, I said, ‘Mindy can I put you in a sari?’ And she didn’t say no. I went out and we bought numerous saris." According to Kaling, that's not the only way Perez has been pushing the limits of how she relates to fashion—and the role clothing can have in the lasting influence of The Mindy Project.
"It’s really wonderful to be an Indian woman working with a Latin man," she gushed of her collaborator since 2012. "It’s so inspiring that we can reach people, especially women of color and people of all shapes and sizes. It’s easier to dress a size 0 or size 2, [but it doesn't matter to] Sal. That's probably his biggest contribution, and I’m really grateful for that."
Now that we're down to The Mindy Project's final season, Kaling and Perez have no plans on slowing their collaboration down—even if it's for a shorter run. "This season, we have 10 episodes, and we're going to make the most lavish clothes ever put on film," the costume designer promised. But before you start wiping away tears, we got the duo to dish on five seasons of candy-colored inspired designs, the role Lahiri's wardrobe has in a larger conversation of representation in fashion and television, and what they hope viewers will remember about The Mindy Project's fashion. Read on!
Glamour: What would you like Dr. Mindy Lahiri’s legacy to be in terms of her style?
Sal Perez: I want it to inspire women to be bold and fearless in their fashion choices. Mindy doesn’t have any fashion rules in her life, and nobody should. I mean, to an extent—I don’t want Mindy to wear a bikini in a lab coat to the office. But I think the legacy we leave is that Mindy empowered women to be confident and bold.
Mindy Kaling: I came up as a comedy writer, and when you’re on sitcoms—with very few exceptions—it’s considered strange to be interested in glamour and fashion and couture. I think one of the great things about being funny now is loving and embracing the fact that you can also love being beautiful and interested in fashion but still have comedy cred. You can have both. It’s the same thing as you can wear lipstick and be a feminist. You can be fabulous and care about how you look and know about designers and be a really strong woman. It’s weirdly not reflected in a lot of shows. [But] Sal and I talk about this…that women who don’t look conventionally like what you'd [normally] see on TV tell us that they tried a new fashion because of my character. I love that. I’m inspired by Mindy Lahiri. I wouldn’t wear about half the things Sal puts me in, and yet I do it because he tells me I can pull it off, and that’s a huge confidence booster.
Perez: People have insecurities…and I think that Mindy has opened the door for an entire generation of women to be confident.
Glamour: What do you consider the most impactful outfit she's worn, on the show or off?
Perez: I think, for me, her red-carpet looks have been the most impactful, because I think it changed Mindy’s way of dressing. I think that it gave her a bolder confidence. [In terms of the show], the first big custom-made outfit that people noticed [on Mindy Lahiri] was her green Christmas dress; people were like, ‘Wow, that show is really at a whole other level, that they’re custom-making an outfit for a party scene.’
Kaling: My favorite look was a skirt suit that he made [for The Mindy Project's season two finale], complete with a tie: Everything from the blouse to the vest to the skirt that I wore when I was running up the stairs of the Empire State Building—and I had to sweat in it, and lie on the dirty ground in it, and Chris and I had to kiss—was custom-made. I remember thinking, In my opinion, it’s easy to dress a size 2, and it’s easy to wear a dress, but it’s hard to put together an outfit. And to me, that was the outfit of outfits…
Perez: It was our version of Annie Hall.
Kaling: Plaid, pink, and polka dots!
Glamour: Sal, you're president of the Costume Designers Guild, and so many industry friends love and support you—like Scandal's Lyn Paolo (who also designs the costumes on Shameless). Have any of the designers you're in touch with said that your work has inspired them?
Perez: Um, excuse me, Lyn Paolo, thank you very much! Kerry Washington was in white all the time, and, coincidence or not, now it’s bright pink and bright bold [colors]. Whenever I see Lyn, I’m like, ‘You’re welcome! You’re welcome!’
Glamour: Did Lyn ever admit to you that that’s why she started dressing Olivia Pope in more bright colors?
Perez: I mean, look, I don’t need her to admit it, but I know very well… [Laughs]
Kaling: They're old friends. I love his relationships with all these great costume designers.
Perez: My costume designer friends [come out to support us at events like these], and that’s a testament to the show. I think that every costume designer is jealous of my relationship with Mindy. [Laughs] But Mindy looks as good as she does because she puts as much effort into the character as I do.
Glamour: Lastly, we can't end this without hearing a little bit about what's to come in the final season this fall.
Kaling: All of everybody’s favorites are coming back. People were calling to say, ‘I really want to be part of the last season,’ so we have some of everybody’s favorites coming back in a really meaningful way. Which is exciting. Sal just read all of the outlines! I can't say more, or [executive producer] Matt Warburton will kill me, but there’s a lot of fan-favorite men that Sal will have to dress again.
The Mindy Project returns to Hulu this fall for its sixth and final season.