Interview: „Jane The Virgin“ Costume Designer Rachel S. Kunin 

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Confession: I used to have a blog back in High School. Through that said blog I got to go to the Manhattan Beach Studios and interview the costume designer of CW’s „Jane the virgin“ Rachel Sage Kunin and got to talk about the then premiering season 2. It was a big deal- for me at least. Now that said blog is history I want to take the chance to re-publish the interview.

Whether you’re all caught up on the show or not I hope this will still give you some insight and a peek behind the scenes and what’s it like to hustle in Hollywood. And maybe- just maybe if we all cross our fingers Rachel will let me interview her once again for the upcoming season 3 so you will get some more exclusive, un-aired details beforehand. We’ll see…

So here it is: re-published and re-written. My interview with Rachel. It’s a long one so grab a snack!

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I got to interview Jane The Virgin’s costume designer prior to its‘ season 2 premiere, the lovely Rachel Sage Kunin, after obsessing over her mad styling skills ever since the show started back in 2014.
We met up one Monday morning (and with morning I mean the crack of dawn because these film peeps take their call time seriously- nothing a vent iced latte couldn’t fix though) in Manhattan Beach about the process of completing an outfit, what it takes to create the character and how YOU can re-create the summer Miami style yourself, of course I had to share it with all of you!

Mishale Schulenberg: When did you know first you wanted to work as a costume designer ? Or did you always wanted to do something with fashion ?
Rachel Sage Kunin: I knew very early on that I loved fashion. I was the person playing dress up for hours and hours instead of doing my homework. Then I became an assistant stylist at 19 but I soon realized that’s not what I want to do. I developed a connection to every character so I wanted to do something that has a reason and a background. I love to create a story.

MS: Did you always want to work on a tv show?
RSK: TV has changed so much over the last years, now it’s the golden age of television and I’m glad I got in at the right time. I started working on shows and films probably about 8 years ago but I really care about every project and character, so in the end the challenge of the project is more important than the medium itself.

MS: What would you have become if this wouldn’t have worked out? Did you have a back-up plan ?
RSK: No I didn’t and I don’t recommend that to anyone. Being from LA I was lucky to always have the support of my family at all time. To pay my rent I was actually a nanny for many years. It was only a financial back up plan though because I loved working as a costume designer. I gave myself 10 years to establish a career. If that wouldn’t have worked out I would have thought about a Plan B then. It was a risk and it probably freaked out my parents but it was worth it. As an advice: if you have a goal and want to succeed have a realistic timeline so you don’t lose sight of what you want but also know when it’s time for a Plan B!

MS: What kind of projects would you be interested in doing after Jane The Virgin ends (hopefully not for another few seasons though) ?
RSK: Defiantly Dramedy! After working on Jane The Virgin I realized that I love that kind of genre. But that can change any time. If you ask me 5 years from now I might say something completely different. But for now I’ll say „Dramedy“ (= Drama + Comedy)

MS: Could you ever imagining designing your own clothing line?
RSK: No, I’m actually not that interested in the fashion industry. I want to create a story and a character with my outfits. But I could imagine maybe doing a collaberation with a brand or a person for one collection…

MS: Ok so,if you could do a collaboration with anyone in the world (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
RSK: That’s a good question! I love the 1930s the age of the silver screen sirens where glamour was hat its‘ high. So I’d probably say Katherine Hepburn but there are so many more people.

MS: If you could only use one type of accessories for the rest of your life what would you choose (i.e. Rings, bracelets, handbags,…)
RSK: Handbags! They’re my favorite accessory and they’re also so handy to carry stuff around with! I don’t care what brand as long as they look good and are good material.

MS: Would you rather wear (a) heels all day everyday & never be able to carry a handbag again OR (b) never wear heels again and only be able to carry a handbag ?
RSK: Defiantly Handbags like I said above. I can’t walk in heels (laughs)

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If you have not heard of Jane The Virgin before (have you been living under a rock?) read a short plot overview here before we jump into the interview!

“Set in Miami, the series details the surprising and unforeseen events that take place in the life of Jane Villanueva, a hard-working, religious young Latina woman whose family tradition and a vow to save her virginity until her marriage to a detective is shattered when a doctor mistakenly artificially inseminates her during a checkup. And to make matters worse, the biological donor is a married man, a former playboy and cancer survivor who is not only the new owner of the hotel where Jane works, but was also her former teenage crush.” (Wikipedia)

For everyone that doesn’t know what a costume designer exactly does, Rachel broke it down for us in a few simple sentences: “As a costume designer for the show I design and put together an outfit for every character. It needs to portray the character and represent the background, the mood of the character. Ask yourself ‘Why did that person put on that outfit in the morning? What’s the story behind it?’ .” It’s also important to keep in mind what other scenes are coming up. Some outfits take 20 minutes to create if they just get pulled from the “character closet” which gets build during prep time weeks before the actual filming. But some costumes take days and days and days to prepare because tweaks need to get made, plans change, it always depends on the costume.

Rachel describes her 12 to 14 hour work day creating an outfit “like painting a picture, but these are moving pictures” so she makes sure the whole look fits the environment and vibe of the scene.

MS: How early do you need to start prepping for outfits and how does it work?
RSK: I start prepping for the series, 22 episodes, 4 weeks before we start filming. I get the script for an episode 7 working days before we start shooting that particular episode. It depends on the schedule which costumes I have to prioritize. Sometimes we need to build a costume from scratch, sometimes I shop for it and sometimes it’ll come from the character’s closet. I always need to make sure that I have enough summer clothes (i.e. shorts, tank tops and sleeveless dresses) on hand at all time since it’s internally summer in the show (& in Miami). Once it gets down to choosing exact costumes I work closely with many other departments. The producers making sure we’re still on budget, the AD department making sure I’m on schedule, the sound department making sure they can mic the costume and such. I also send my favorite outfits and options to the creator Jennie Urman who then let’s me know what she likes and what might need to be tweaked. In addition, the makeup and hair department get photos of the costumes so they can create their looks.

The benefit of prepping for a show early is that as a costume designer I get to develop the characters and I’m able to get very detailed. I do wish that all the looks I put together were readily available to the viewer but often I’ve shopped for the pieces months ago and when you’re watching it air, fall or winter is being sold in the stores. The most important part of what i do is set the tone of the show for the viewers. Thanks to Jennie Urman (who Rachel calls a Superhero) the tone of the show has been right form the very beginning.

MS: Has working on the show (jane the virgin) affected your personal style?
RSK: Working on a show doesn’t effect my personal style. I mostly wear jeans, a shirt and some comfy but cute sneaker at work. With all the physical activity this job takes and running around I need to wear fairly comfortable clothes. Though I have always had an affinity for summer clothes and love the pastel colors on Jane The Virgin. Ever since I started dressing others for a living I put myself a bit on the back-burner but I do still enjoy dressing up when I go out at night or on the weekends.

MS: What is the easiest and what is the most difficult thing when it comes to creating a costume/outfit?
RSK: Once you build a character’s closet and have an overview it can be easier to pull together an outfit from there. The more challenging aspect happens in prep. You must find the pieces to create the closet. Each costume must tell a story and portray the character’s story.

There’s something wonderful about not knowing what the day has in store, to take everything day by day, hour by hour. However, there is also something very anxiety provoking about all of unknowns. The schedule can always change: for example we’re shooting a huge costume driven scene several days earlier than expected and now I must rush to finish everything. In the end, it’s what I love though!

MS: Is there one thing or accessory that makes the outfit just “special” or “complete” that you can’t live without ?!
RSK: Every outfit is different and every character is different. Some characters can get away with wearing a ton of jewelry and some can’t. The costume needs to portray the character and also it must fit the actor and should either contrast or tie into the background and the production design choices. Knowing what the right choice is, really is just a gut feeling you develop over time.
MS: So lastly, I know you’ve been working on a ton of short films, TV shows and movies in the past (such as: Dallas, keith and the ex-list ). How is jane the virgin different from all of the others ?
RSK: Jennie makes the show special, she knows the characters, the vibe, the tone. With a any show, the tone is the key. I think it helps keep viewer engaged and knowing what type of experience they’re in store for each time they watch. They may not know what’s going to happen but they know they are in for a fun ride.

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MS: If the viewers would want to recreate the Miami style portrayed on the show, how would they do it best?
RSK: I work with a lot of summery tones and light colors. So, I’d recommend a cotton summer dress in a light pastel for women and a linen shirt worn with a khaki pant for men.

(Editors note: as mentiond before clothes and outfits are mostly bought prior to the filming because they are needed in prep time. So by the time the episodes air you may not be able to buy the exact same outfits in store anymore- especially if its seasonal clothes. But you can always go shopping at your favorite store and try to recreatesome of outfit from the show!)
MS: I know you have a fashion board on Pinterest, how much do fashion boards actually help you ?
RSK: Printing out pictures helps me the most. I like to post them on the board in my office and let them visually marinate. I’m not one to print out pictures of specific outfits. I print out abstract ideas. The color of a sunset that inspires me. A vintage Miami tourist poster. An art deco building. I build a foundation of ideas and what my general overview might be on platforms like Pinterest and flipping through different magazines.
These visuals also help me with the concept of how color is going to be used on the show. In general, I like to use cool tones for Rafael and Petra and warm tones for the Villanueva family. This definitely defines the contrast between the two worlds.

MS: What outfit changes can we expect from Jane now she’s not pregnant anymore ?
RSK: I want her outfits to show the reality of post-pregnancy. It takes time to get your pre-pregnancy body back and I’d like her costumes to reflect that. We all hope that she’ll be nursing baby Mateo very soon so nursing bras, shirts that are easy to nurse in and such would be important.

MS: I always love Jane’s „fantasy“ scenes. I especially loved the pregnant punisher outfit. Are there going to be any more crazy or weird fantasy outfits coming up?
RSK: That’s going to be a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see. There is definitely exciting things coming up. It’s great to have the chance to design these fun sequences. Right now I’m working a special late 19th Century costume that you’ll see tonight.

(Editors note: So we’re defiantly excited for this hopefully exciting 19th century fantasy scene ? I have no idea how they’re going yo incorporate it into the storyline but I’m stoked to see it tonight.)

MS: Jane and Xiomera have the same laid back style, different from Petra’s high fashion looks. How was it having to find different outfits for all the different ladies ?
RSK: When I go shopping I see a particular character in every piece. So you have to get to know the characters really well to know what will work.

MS: I bet the boys are so much easier to dress. Just some jeans and a shirt. Or not ?
RSK: Yes, one would think but they are not always that much easier. The choice of color and style still must evoke the character and their current situation and how the piece fits is also very important.

MS: And lastly, which cast/staff member is the the most fun to be around? Has anyone ever pranked you on set ?
RSK: No one has ever pranked me so far. I’m also not around set that often because I’m off prepping. I’m gathering pieces for a fitting and such. Other than trying to be there to establish an important costume. It usually takes a fashion emergency to get me to set. I don’t have time for pranks. Just kidding. But seriously with such a hectic schedule and a 12 hour workday unfortunately I think it’d be more annoying than funny.

MS: I understand. Alright that’s it. Thanks so much for allowing me to come to the set and interview you!
RSK: You’re welcome, thanks for having me. I enjoyed answering your questions.

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Leave a comment and tell me what surprised you to read, what you wish to see in season 3 of JTV and tweet Rachel (@RachelSageKunin) to chat with her more!

No photos were allowed to be taken on set so Rachel kindly sent me some to attach to this post. All credits/copyright goes to her ! 🙂

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