Natasha Newman-Thomas on Vintage Prada, Bloody Feet, and Styling The Idol
The Idol, the lightning rod of summer television starring Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd, has provoked many opinions. But there’s one thing we can all agree on: costume designer Natasha Newman-Thomas absolutely nailed the fashion, each outfit a spot-on representation of a familiar Los Angeles creature, from Troye Sivan’s creative director Xander to the personal assistant played by Rachel Sennott—and, of course, the embattled pop star front and center, brought to glimmering life by Depp. Earlier this week, before the final episode hits streaming on Sunday, our editor-in-chief Mel Ottenberg called Thomas to find out what it was like to style the show of the summer.
MEL OTTENBERG: Hey, Natasha. How’s it going?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I’m ok. I’m in this weird house built into the side of a boulder in a valley shooting a film.
OTTENBERG: Oh, you’re doing a film?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Yeah. It would be fun-ish to live in a house built into a boulder but I don’t know if it’s for me.
OTTENBERG: So are you enjoying all the controversy? I hope you follow Page Six on Instagram because even though it might be traumatic to watch now, it’ll be funny later.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Oh, yeah. I mean, the day the show premiered is the day I left to the desert and I’ve been like secluded, living in a trailer for the last month.
OTTENBERG: It often happens like that, when you don’t have time to see the reaction to the psycho shit you’ve been doing. I get it.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I get back the day of the finale. So I’m like, “I’ll get to experience everything the next day.”
OTTENBERG: So tell me about working on The Idol. When did you come on? Were you in both iterations or just the final iteration?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I was only on the final iteration. I wasn’t on what we call “round one.” Heidi [Bivens] called me to check my avail and tell me about the project and I was like, “Amazing! Available.” And I got on the phone with Ashley and Sam Levinson and started the next day. It was a whirlwind because we had three weeks of prep.
OTTENBERG: Oh, wow. So if you had three weeks of prep, what was the reality? Jocelyn is the kind of character that, as a costume designer, you want to do everything perfectly. But getting thrown into it like that, how did you do it? Because she looks really good.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Thank you. I mean, I think you probably get this, I’ve gotten calls about doing a music video in two days and making miracles happen. Or you don’t get casting until the night before a shoot and are expected to dress like, 50 matching dancers. We know the tricks, how to make it work.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. Well, of course. I actually said no to my first Rihanna job ever because it was three days from when I was called and I was like, “I can’t do that, just tell them I’ll do the next one.” And then Willo Perron was like, “Mel, just for me, will you please say yes?” And I’m like, “Okay, fine. I’ll do it.” I mean, that is psychotic but it’s just the way the industry works. What were the refs for Jocelyn? Because it’s not obvious.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: That’s kind of the goal, to make her a totally unique non-referential, icon pop star. Because that’s the thing about pop stars, they’re all individual and create new identities. But I mean, all kinds of vintage runway. There were lots of references, but it really just came together in the fittings.
OTTENBERG: The teeny black bra that Jocelyn was wearing in the first episode, who’s the designer?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Oh, that’s Didu.
OTTENBERG: It’s such an obnoxious bra. I love it so much. It’s so good.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I’m glad you like it. There was a ton of nineties Chanel on the mood boards but then we ended up not being able to get any Archive Chanel.
OTTENBERG: I heard from one of the stars of the show that your racks were really amazing and filled with incredible clothes.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Thank you. Wait, which star?
OTTENBERG: Hari [Nef] told me that.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Oh, that’s so cute. I love Hari. We had a really fun time together. She’s so fun to work with because she would look at something and be like, “I don’t know.” And then try it on and be like, “Wow, you tore this. I had no idea this would look so banging on me and my waist has never looked smaller. Can I keep this?” And I was like, “You can’t keep it but I’ll try to help you find it.” Almost all of her stuff is vintage. We put her in vintage Mugler, vintage Prada, vintage Dolce & Gabbana. I think she’s wearing a Jacquemus piece in one of the episodes, but for Jocelyn, Hari, Tedros, we leaned into vintage a lot.
OTTENBERG: Where’s the best place to get men’s vintage in LA? Because it seems so hard.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Most of it was from the costume house. I went to ABC, I went to Warner Brothers. I went to Palace. I mean, I hit all the costume houses, The Ruby, but I also pulled from Replica. It’s probably my favorite vintage store in LA. Do you know Replica?
OTTENBERG: I don’t think I’ve ever been there. I’ve gotta go.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Oh my god. It’s amazing. It’s appointment only. This guy Danny Flynn owns it and he’s like an encyclopedia of fashion. Galliano goes there to get inspiration for his Margiela collections. It’s such a hidden treasure, it’s in an old church in Boyle Heights.
OTTENBERG: What was the process of doing Jocelyn with Lily?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Our timeline was super limited, so we kind of just dove in and started pulling pieces that I thought spoke to the character and the moodboards. We got Lily in for an initial fitting and we just did this marathon fitting of trying to figure out the character and what was working and what wasn’t. And then, as the scripts came in, we tried to slot in looks from the initial fitting to each scene to see what would work and what would follow the narrative arc. We were perpetually prepping and fitting throughout the show the deeper we got into the character and the more scenes that were added, but it was really fun. She’s got such a wealth of knowledge of fashion history, so it was a real treat working with her. And her body, I mean, come on.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. Her video look for “World Class Sinner,” did you have multiple looks made and that was just the one picked? Or like that was a one-and-done.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: That was a one-and-done. That was something that I kind of co-designed and had fabricated and he actually went totally MIA and it was a really scary process because that was what we signed off on. I had as close to a meltdown as I can have, DMing, texting, calling, emailing, having my whole team call him and it was just crickets for 24 hours. And then he did finally appear with the piece. But it was pretty scary.
OTTENBERG: Is it 3D-printed?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Yeah, it’s 3D-printed. And it’s funny, I had never worked with that designer before and he doesn’t have any experience working in stage or theater. So I thought I communicated well that we would need that to be like, attached to a sheer piece. She has intense choreo. But it ended up actually working really well for the scene because it kind of fed into the character’s trauma that she’s going through. That was a rough one, though.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. The success of the costume is how uncomfortable it was. First of all, it looks really great and it’s a thing, you know what I mean? It’s a real pop star decision to wear an outfit like that. And the scratches on her body and how uncomfortable it looked and the shoes that are so wrong to be dancing in, it was so great. They’re Zanotti, right?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: They’re Jimmy Choo. We knew that she was gonna end up having bloody feet.
OTTENBERG: It’s disgusting and it’s great. It’s totally perfect. How did you go about Tedros and collabing with The Weeknd, Abel [Tesfaye], to create the character.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: This was probably like the first week or two that I was on the project. I just started building racks of what my vision was for the character. And then my ACD and I went over to Abel’s house and loaded in like 10 or 12 racks and we just had a marathon fitting with Abel and Sam. It was so fun. We just listened to music and tried on clothes and figured out what was for the character and what wasn’t. And that day sort of set the tone for the Tedros character. The scripts were still being written and we did a lot of sociological exploration, so I think it was a really good process for Sam and Abel, because we were talking so much about why the character would make the decisions he would make, and from a clothing standpoint. And then we had some defined looks for certain scenes, like the club, when you first see him enter Jocelyn’s house. But we also just built a pretty tight closet of looks that we loved, that we slotted in interchangeably for other scenes, so Abel and I could kind of just decide on the day for the majority of the project.
OTTENBERG: Who makes the really high platform shoes that Jocelyn’s wearing when he comes over to her house for the first time? Are they Prada?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Yeah, they’re vintage Prada.
OTTENBERG: They’re the collection with all the fairies and shit on them. 2007, right? Yeah, the fairy collection, cool, they’re so hot. And who makes that little pink top that she’s wearing with the little silver beads?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Oh, Rui.
OTTENBERG: Hot. What about Moses [Sumney’s] animal print bathing suit? Is it vintage?
OTTENBERG: Love it.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Yeah, they look great. We got a ton of awesome vintage underwear for him from costume houses and ordered a plethora from Amazon and those were just the ones that worked, but he looks good in everything.
OTTENBERG: Yeah, he looks good in everything. Being a costume designer in LA, which character do you know the most? Where you’re like, “Oh, I know exactly what this person is wearing.”
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I think like the Rachel Sennott and Troye Sivan characters because there’s, like, always the creative director on a shoot that’s wearing some graphic tee and like, a slouchy, vintage Missoni sweater or whatever. And, you know, that was really fun because we were able to lean into his stereotypical cool Silver Lake guy. But also, at the same time, he’s kind of rejecting that and thinks he’s really individual. That was really fun. And then the Leia character, I’ve met a million of personal assistants and they all have that kind of Madewell vibe that she has, but still trying to be a little fun and flirty.
OTTENBERG: Yes, 100%. So now we know where the best places are for the guys to shop. Where are the best vintage places for girls in LA?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I mean, still Replica. I don’t want to blow up my favorite spots, but I love Scout.
OTTENBERG: It’s a disgusting to ruin Scout for you.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: No, it’s okay. The people who go there, I don’t think anyone’s gonna buy the shit that I’m gonna buy there anyway. You know what I mean? Scout is great. Aralda is great. Decades can be fun. Those are all good picks.
OTTENBERG: Where do you think is the best place to buy sunglasses in LA?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I have a pretty massive–
OTTENBERG: You have a pretty massive sunglass collection?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: I have a collection and a lot of them came from Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off Fifth, weirdly.
NEWMAN-THOMAS: That’s kind of the secret plug. I’m there a lot. I’m shopping all the time, but you can get insanely cool glasses there because no one buys them at Saks and then they’re super discounted.
OTTENBERG: Is there anything you can tell me about the fashion in this final episode? Is there anything I should be looking out for?
NEWMAN-THOMAS: Yeah, that one’s out on Sunday, right? There is a little foreshadowing when Leia and Jocelyn are watching Basic Instinct.
OTTENBERG: Hot. That’s enough for me. I mean, the good thing about The Idol is I’m definitely not watching it on a Monday. It is a Sunday night thing. I’ve gotta have it on Sunday night. Well, thanks for talking to me. I love the costumes.