Warning: Spoilers for the first three episodes of ‘Love Life’ below.
Thanks to stellar fare like “Hustlers” and “PEN15,” early 2000s-set stories can feel like period costume epics, especially through a nostalgia-hungry 2020 lens. Living through such dizzyingly accelerated news cycles, it was only a matter of, erm, time that the early-2010s became the latest hot bygone era — see: the pivotal NBA playoffs in “Uncut Gems” and the new HBO Max series “Love Life,” which kicks off in 2012.
“It’s a touchy time period,” says Jacqueline Demeterio, who also costume designs for present-day Williamsburg and Midtown Manhattan-dwelling media types in ‘Younger.” “Because I was looking at back at my 2012 and 2011 wardrobe, and it’s not a huge difference.”
The 10-episode rom-com stars Anna Kendrick as Darby, an early 20-something who’s flailing on her career path, while falling into questionable relationships and roaming the city’s party scene with her roommates (as we tend to do at that age).
To study up on the subtleties of the time period beyond her own fashion bonafides, the Patricia Field protégée headed to the library at FIT. “I did a lot of research, like Teen Vogue and Nylon magazines in 2012,” says Demeterio. Plus, she revisited pop culture and top musical hits from the 2010s. (The premiere episode alone is rife with very 2012 references, like the fear of Mitt Romney being the worst outcome of a presidential election and a pack of Gawker editors parading through an art museum.)
Demeterio also used subtle and specific downtown-girl-on-a-limited budget details to depict Darby’s life stage and aspirations. Relatably, the lead first appears on what appears to be the Church Avenue F train platform in skinny Zara jeans, a lotus leaf baby T, faux fur lined parka, her trusty Converse Chucks low-tops and, of course, a Fjallraven backpack (above).
“Definitely, we had to throw that backpack in there because it was of that time,” says Demeterio. “I had to start her off somewhere. Like, I couldn’t go out of the gate with too much fashion.”
Establishing a sort of “High Fidelity“-esque format for the first few episodes, the pilot of “Love Life” focuses on Darby’s starry-eyed relationship with dreamy media bro Augie Jeong (Jin Ha, of “Devs” and “Jesus Christ Superstar Live!“). Although, here’s a secret: Darby, supposedly borrowing her band promoter roommate Sara (Zoë Chao)’s clothes, is actually wearing current-day pieces, like a striped Zara sweater and an A-line Acne button-front skirt (above), which Demeterio “chopped to death” to make it “completely tiny.” Her Rag & Bone boots, with a softly rounded off narrow toe, are also contemporary.
“But you know what, I had a pair of boots like that [in the early 2000s],” Demeterio says.
Augie also walks that sartorial line of a 2012 creative indie guy who wouldn’t look out of place in Bushwick today. “He’s streetwear, skater, sports-influenced,” says Demeterio. “So I always had that vision for him with the beanies, the flight jacket, the raw denim jeans and the Red Wing boots, which can still work now. There are smaller touches, again: the fit or the way you style it. I layered him a lot.” His scripted vintage-y McGovern for President 1972 T-shirt (which, incidentally, gave me “Mrs. America” deja vu, above) speaks to his job as a Politico reporter during an election year, while his Knicks beanie coincides with the Jeremy Lin-led “Linsanity” — also as shown in a quick shot on a sports bar TV screen.
Augie does don tweedy formal-wear for the couple’s last evening together — Darby’s boss’s wedding — right before he joins President Barack Obama’s press bus (sob) and moves to D.C. Darby ups her game for the occasion in a purple fit-and-flare mini dress covered in raw-edge petals (below), which felt as DIY-chic as it probably was in real life.
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“That was a no-label vintage dress and I feel like someone made [it],” says Demeterio. “Some kid at FIT made this dress!” The silhouette was actually “long and big,” so the costume team cut and refit it to the petite Kendrick, and then adorably accessorized it with flat brown wingtips.
As some of us can relate, in the process of finding herself, Darby tends to sartorially reflect the boys she’s dating. As Lesley Manville narrates in her soothing British accent in the opening episode: “Darby wondered if she’d ever reach the next level where you’re really dating someone. Where you don’t change your outfit because you’re seeing the person. Where you’re just wearing what you’re wearing because you are who you are.”
With Augie, Darby wears a theme of indie, sporty-casual stripes (which have nothing to do with Jeremy Bearimy). “There’s a type of youthfulness with her and also an intellect,” says Demeterio. “So, for me, something just kept going back with her and the stripes. At one point I said, ‘I gotta chill out with the stripes,’ because I felt like overkilling it.”
Spoiler: Darby’s boss’s marriage didn’t quite work out, along with the start-up that employed her. So she heads to Bradley Field (Scoot McNairy)’s sprawling bachelor pad to drop off remnants of his office — and in an outfit that hints at what’s next.
“She still had a crush on this guy, so I wanted to show differentiation between their ages in that scene,” says Demeterio of the playful R13 Hawaiian shirt, military green Nili Lotan mini-skirt, Chucks and, of course, the backpack Darby wears.
Once the two start dating, Darby ups her wardrobe game (and probably her credit-card debt), first by heading to New York designer discount shopping mainstay Century 21. “She starts to be a bit more sophisticated in episode two because he takes her to the Carlyle Hotel,” says Demeterio, about Darby reluctantly trying caviar, at a suit-wearing Bradley’s urging, at Bemelmans Bar (above, in another “High Fidelity” crossover). “She feels intimidated and has to step it up a bit and starts to dress like him.”
After the inevitable demise of their relationship — thanks to Darby’s cringe-y, drunken moment at Bradley’s father’s wake — she forlornly takes the train back to her shared Village apartment. She’s still wearing a chic black lace, ruff-neck blouse, miniskirt and cardigan, but swaps out her stilettos for Chucks (below).
“Those were her hero shoes, which always rounded it back to that immature, junior feeling,” explains Demeterio. “Even on the subway, she has those on with the dress and the hoodie, to just show, ‘Now here I am, going back to my old life and my roommates. This fake life that I wanted to have with this successful guy that lives in Tribeca, that’s over.”
Then, there’s Magnus. Fragile, fragile Magnus.
“He has more of a vintage feel about him,” says Demeterio. “He’s like that hipster chef — that guy — so I tried to mix in the cuts of her jeans, just the small details.” At this point, it’s 2015, and flares were making their way back. “He wore the same vintage jeans throughout the whole thing, basically.”
Once Darby starts to make headway into her career, her wardrobe starts reflecting her growing professional confidence through streamlined, elevated silhouettes and a bold black, white and red palette. “I had to step her up there. She’s in Valentino and a lot of designer clothes,” says Demeterio. At one point, Darby wears an especially arty and intricately laser-cut Dior halter layered over a crisp white shirt.
“Sam [Boyd, creator, director and writer] hated that thing,” laughs Demeterio. “He’s like, ‘You’re going to kill me with this piece.’ and I’m like, ‘It’s going in and that’s it. I’m not fighting you about it.”
As for the blue Crocs and pajama sweats that Darby wears in episode three, when she runs into Augie and his new girlfriend at East Village coffee house Mud — did it hurt Demeterio to dress her in that look? “Yes,” she laughs. “Yes, that whole look.”
Demeterio admits she most enjoyed designing for roomie Sara, whose nightlife and music industry profession allowed more leeway for a sartorial flex. “She was fun to dress because she was the more fashion-forward, edgier girl,” she says.
Plus, the costume designer didn’t have to go far to find key pieces that Sara wears in the first few episodes.
“Those were all my moto-jackets from my closet,” says Demeterio. “I was like, ‘Here’s my Balenciaga,” referring to the Nicolas Ghesquière-era design. In the first episode, Sara’s sherpa collar leather bomber is an Acne find from 2011: “I used to wear that when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I was like, ‘Oh, this is from the right time period,’ so I pulled that from my closet.” (Look out for a green Junya Watanabe parka, too, for a trip upstate in episode eight.)
Sara also has another fashion must-have that didn’t necessarily go away: a black Balenciaga Motorcycle City Bag, which I’m imagining she bought gently-used from Ina. In reality, Demeterio’s assistant Irene Bilo lent that particular bag — from Ghesquière’s first edition of the hero accessory — from her own closet.
“I felt like that girl — that downtown girl — had that bag at that time,” says Demeterio, sounding pretty nostalgic.