Costume Designer Sarah Laux Jumps From Theater To TV With ‘High Fidelity,’ Scouring New York City For Stylish Vintage Tees

'High Fidelity' costume designer Sarah Laux
Courtesy of Sarah Laux

In Hulu’s female-driven reboot of High Fidelity, costume designer Sarah Laux found the opportunity to tackle her first TV series, honing trendy, vintage looks for a set of music-loving Brooklynites.

Based on a beloved novel by Nick Hornby—which Stephen Frears previously adapted into a classic film—the series centers on Rob Brooks (Zoë Kravitz), a music-obsessed native of Brooklyn Heights, who runs a record store, while struggling with a series of failed relationships.

An Obie Award-winner known primarily for her work in theater—both on and Off-Broadway—Laux came to the project as a result of her longstanding relationship with Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood. “Colleen is an old friend and mentor for like 14 years. I’ve done some stuff with her, and did a feature that she recommended me for,” the costume designer explains. “I just sent her an email and said, ‘I’ve been doing a lot of theater lately, and I’d like to do more film and TV, because I think that’s where my aptitude actually lies.’

Zoë Kravitz in 'High Fidelity'

“She was like, ‘Oh great, I’ll keep that in mind,’” Laux adds—and just a week later, she got a call regarding the TV adaptation. Before signing onto the series, the designer was already well-versed in the world of High Fidelity. “I’d read the book, and I’d seen the movie,” she says. “I’m exactly the right age bracket, I think, to remember all of it as an adult.”

In this second phone call, Laux was met with an offer she couldn’t refuse. “[Colleen] was like, ‘All right, so this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to do the pilot together, and then you’re going to take over the series. How does that sound to you?’ And I was like, ‘Fantastic,’” she recalls. “It was like a miracle, in a weird way, because the aesthetic of it…[when] my friends see the show, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I can see you in there.’”

For Laux, one of the greatest aspects of boarding the romantic comedy with Atwood was the level of creative freedom that resulted. “One of the wonderful perks about being affiliated with Colleen is, there’s such a huge amount of trust in the world about her taste,” the designer notes.

Zoë Kravitz in 'High Fidelity'

In pre-production, Laux engaged in “light conversations” with Atwood and the series’ creators about the world they were exploring, while putting together research boards for each character. “As far as the boards went, it was really about finding interesting street-style photos—[of] musicians, things like that—that make a clear reference point,” the costume designer says. “It was always having references back to musicians from the ’90s and the ’70s, and Zoë also had a lot to say about the kind of vibe of people [the series depicts].”

Given that the world of High Fidelity centers on relatably cool millenials and the record store where they work, Laux knew early on that the majority of the series’ costumes would be sourced from vintage stores. “Pretty much everything that you see on camera, I think 90% of it is thrifted, so all the clothes have a life to them,” she says. “If they were purchased new, for the most part, we would run them through some distressing before they ever made it into a fitting, just so that it could feel real.”

While eye-catching vintage clothing is commonly worn in Brooklyn, part of the intention in thrifting for the series’ cast was simply to bring each character down to earth. “With the Rob character, it was about this sort of loser, almost. She’s sort of ridiculous, and kind of the antihero,” Laux notes. “Also, when you’re dealing with someone as beautiful as Zoë…Really, our whole task, because we’re blessed with such attractive people, was making sure that they looked like people and not like gods.”

Zoë Kravitz in 'High Fidelity'

Prior to the pilot shoot, Atwood and Laux found the majority of Rob’s looks at the Metropolitan Vintage Show in Manhattan. “It sounds kind of crazy, but it was just like dumping both of our brains into what we think is cool,” Laux says. “It was really about assembling a bunch of really great pieces, and then figuring out how we were going to put them together.”

While Kravitz was “an amazing reference point” in dressing Rob—even bringing some of her own clothing into the show—the character’s look was also largely informed by the way Laux dressed in the ’90s. “I personally have a really large collection of vintage rock t-shirts. It’s always been a thing for me because I also am really into music,” she says. “There’s something about those t-shirts. It’s like a piece of history, so you collect them in a similar way to collecting albums; you collect the original artifact.”

Apart from Rob, two of High Fidelity’s primary characters are Simon (David H. Holmes) and the fashion-forward Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), friends who work with her at Championship Vinyl. “One of the things that was really fun with the Cherise character is initially, it was hard to know where she was going to go. We set this in Crown Heights, and one of the things that was really important to us is, I think oftentimes with women that are not a size 12 or a size 6, people have a tendency to try to cover them up,” Laux says. “But the fact of the matter is, the women here, especially in Brooklyn, they celebrate their curves. They’re like, ‘This is what I’ve got, and this is beautiful.’ So, that was one of the things that I got to play around with.”

Da'Vine Joy Randolph and David H. Holmes in 'High Fidelity'

Referencing Queen Latifah’s looks from the ’90s for the character, Laux hoped to highlight the beauty in her figure. “The hardest thing was making sure that it didn’t look like a costume, that it looked like something that you could actually see on the street,” the costume designer says. “I feel pretty confident about it, because I’ve spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, and her stuff wasn’t particularly high-end. It was really just about how it’s combined, and being unapologetic.”

In crafting looks for Simon, Laux embraced the personal style of David H. Holmes. “In his personal life, he wears suspenders, and he wears his jeans cropped, so we just leaned into it. Then, I started curating a David Holmes-based Simon character,” she says. “There are things that Simon wears that David would not ever want to wear in real life, but he understands that it’s right for that character.”

For Laux, sourcing clothing for Cherise, Simon and other principal characters was a matter of stopping by a number of New York’s premier vintage shops. “For the most part, it was about going to What Goes Around Comes Around. Quality Mending was a huge thing for us; their t-shirts are really good. Beacon’s Closet, the Goodwill at the Steinway stop by my house…I went to Resurrection for a couple of higher-end things later in the season,” she shares. “It was really one of those things, just combing, and combing, and combing. The amount of thought I put into t-shirts is crazy.”

Zoë Kravitz in 'High Fidelity'

In terms of looks crafted for Rob, a few stand out from the rest, from Laux’s perspective. “One of my all-time favorites is a little dress that she wears in a flashback with Mac—a little, brown, cotton ’60s dress that we turned into this teeny-tiny, mini dress,” she says. “It’s weird, but it’s one of my favorite looks.

“I also really liked some of the times that we would dress her essentially like a little, old man. I really love the lilac pants, and the green Hawaiian shirt, and the loafers,” she adds. “It’s so dumb, but when we made that outfit, it was like, ‘Oh, no, no. This is totally right.’”

Undoubtedly, transitioning from the world of theater to television presented a learning curve for Laux. “One of the biggest challenges was that, coming from the theatrical background, we are not generally very supported,” she says. “It took a minute to get used to the fact that there are so many systems in place for how to facilitate a really quick turnaround.”

Nonetheless, the designer’s experience on the series was invigorating—akin, in a sense, to the best aspects of working in theater. “Your brain is constantly running, which was awesome. I liked the pace, and on some levels, basically every day feels like tech in the theater,” she explains. “Because in theater, you go off to your own corners, and you don’t come together as a complete creative team until you go into tech. Whereas when you’re on set, you’re always in meetings with everybody, so there’s so many great ways to be able to cross-reference and check in with everybody.”

Enjoying her collaboration with the High Fidelity cast, Laux felt a particularly strong kinship with Kravitz, whose eye for fashion elevated the series. “I really can’t say enough nice things about her, because she’s so present in the whole vibe of everything,” she says. “Even with being number one and executive producer, all of the things that she did, she also always wanted to talk concept, which is just so wonderful.”

After having such a positive experience on the series from Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West, Laux is as excited as ever by the notion of splitting her time between theater, film and TV. “I would absolutely love to do that,” she says. “I like having a camera up against the work that you’ve done.”

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