Pop a bottle of pinot noir: The first half of Season 4 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” went live on Netflix last week.
For anyone unfamiliar with the show, it follows the title character as she starts her new life in New York City after emerging from a bunker in Indiana where she was kept hostage for 15 years by a deranged reverend/DJ. She lands herself a tiny room in the apartment of one Titus Andromedon, star on the rise, in a fictional gentrifying Manhattan neighborhood called East Dogmouth and learns how to be an adult in “the future.”
Like many fans of the show, I fell in love with Kimmy’s goofy earnestness, Titus’ penchant for breaking out in song, and all of the ‘90s references. But as I was rewatching the series ahead of the new season’s release, I realized: This is the craftiest show on TV (or whatever we call the multiplatform entertainment options we have now).
Kimmy and Titus are broke as hell. Not “2 Broke Girls” broke, but really broke. Their basement apartment is actually a beached tugboat, and much of their décor comes from the curb — like the piano with “BEDBUGS” spray-painted on it. Kimmy and Titus are industrious in making things work, and in fact the costume and set designers for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” really DIY a lot of the outfits and props.
Tina Nigro is the costume designer in charge of the show’s look, working with a team of assistants, buyers, and designers. Before working on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” she costumed serious dramas including “Oz” and “Law & Order.” “I studied fashion design at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York) and have always loved making things and working with my hands,” she tells Craft Industry Alliance.
Nigro’s direction for the characters’ outfits utterly matches their personalities: The wide-eyed Kimmy loves bright yellows and pinks with teen-girl accessories. The nouveau riche Jacqueline only wears designer, except when she goes home to South Dakota. Old-school New Yorker, landlord, and drug dealer Lillian wears schlubby hand-me-downs. And the fame-seeking Titus’ fashion choices are daring, unorthodox, and flamboyant — much of it made or thrifted.
Here are some of the craftiest moments of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”:
Kimmy gets a makeover
Invited to a very fancy party by her boss, Jacqueline, Kimmy needs a makeover in Season 1, Episode 7, and gay best friend Titus obliges: “It is the pact between my kind and yours. And in exchange, you buy us brunch sometimes.” The makeover montage is pure craftiness: The made-over Kimmy enters the party as Kimberly Tiara Von Lobster, looking like a million bucks. She’s got a dress made of athletic shorts topped with a bath mat, her shoes are dipped in loose household glitter, her jewelry is made of parts of a chandelier and a chain from a toilet, her clutch is a pillow sham, and her cuff is half of a spray-painted soup can. Bonus craftiness: At the start of the episode, Titus rocks a very DIY cardboard laptop at a very fancy café.
Titus films “Peeno Noir”
“I love dressing Titus,” Nigro says. And it shows. In Season 1, Episode 6, Titus has to be fabulous on a budget when he films his music video, an “ode to black penis,” in a former chandelier factory, in front of a strip club with Grecian columns, and in Jacqueline’s temporarily unoccupied mansion. A lot of Titus’ outfits are DIYed, like the mechanic’s jumpsuit that tears away to reveal a sequined tunic over gold lame leggings from American Apparel. Fun fact: The actor, Tituss Burgess, now sells his own pinot noir.
Titus and Kimmy need new cassette tape storage
The running joke throughout the series about Titus and Kimmy’s cassette tape subscription to Columbia House is already amazing. (Did you know it only shut down in 2015?) In Season 2, Episode 9, “Now That Sounds Like Music 3,” a four-tape compilation of songs maxes out their cassette tape storage unit. Titus is dismayed to discover that his local electronics megastore no longer carries tape storage towers, and so he tries to make his own out of some salvaged furniture, destroying a “cassingle” of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” in the process.
Titus goes Lemonading
When Titus supects his boyfriend of cheating on him, “I’m not overreacting,” he says. “I’m doing what any reasonable person would do in this situation. I’m Lemonading.” By that he means reenacting Beyonce’s legendary video album “Lemonade” almost shot for shot in a totally DIY way (Season 3, Episode 2). For the iconic yellow outfit, writers imagined it being made out of Metro cards, which would have been awesome but a noisy nightmare for the sound guys. Nigro first tried using yellow mops, but those were too short. “I wanted it to look like a car wash brush, so we ripped pieces of fabric,” she says. “I have an amazing tailor, Danielle, and she really can make anything.”
Titus mobilizes the off-brand cartoon characters of Times Square
In Season 1, Episode 2, Titus is unable to get back the deposit on his not-quite-Iron-Man outfit from a corrupt costume rental store, and he gathers the performance characters of Times Square to protest. Nigro and her team created the off-brand cartoon character costumes for “Cookie Monster” and what is definitely not Miss Piggy. “I am very fortunate to have amazing and talented craftspeople in New York who take my scratchy drawings and make them come to life,” Nigro says.
The fourth season of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has even more delightful costumes and craftiness, for example, in a school play Titus directs, you’ll find an anthropomorphized backpack. No spoilers — you’ll have to see for yourself.
Grace Dobush is a freelance journalist and the author of the Crafty Superstar business guides. She’s also the co-organizer of Crafty Supermarket, an indie craft show. Grace has written for many print and online publications including Wired, Quartz, The Economist, The Washington Post, Writer’s Digest, and Cincinnati Magazine. She’s also worked on the editorial staffs of HOW, Print, Family Tree Magazine, The Artist’s Magazine and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.