Interview with The Imperfects Costume Designer, Rafaella Rabinovich

In September 2022, Netflix premiered a new series called The Imperfects. The Imperfects is a story about three outsiders who go through horrific science experiments and come together to search for those responsible for these life-altering trials. Costume designer Rafaella Rabinovich designed the costumes for The Imperfects and joined The Art of Costume to talk about her costumes for this new science-fiction series!

Elizabeth Joy Glass: The Imperfects is a fun, colorful, and fresh take on the sci-fi genre. Through the wardrobe, what kind of story were you trying to tell, and what kind of look were you looking to achieve?

Rafaella Rabinovich: I wanted to elevate reality in an approachable way and make it interesting to the eye without taking over. At the end of the day, the transformation of the character through wardrobe is meant to encapsulate the story in a way that serves both the production and the people at home watching. Fashion is really not the primary effort; it’s telling a story by analyzing a script and getting in the head of the character so you can create that world for them. Color and specific pieces in the costume design choices show what’s unfolding and, through costumes, let the audience know what’s happening. I had a lot of fun using layers and texture, patterns, and colors while considering how they move and grow throughout the episodes.

The Imperfects. (L to R) Morgan Taylor Campbell as Tilda Weber, Iñaki Godoy as Juan Ruiz in episode 103 of The Imperfects. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022

Elizabeth: Tilda has an amazing and unique punk rock look that evolves with her as the season progresses. What was your inspiration for Tilda, and what kind of work went into creating her wardrobe?

Rafaella: My inspiration for Tilda was mostly rooted in punk rock goddesses throughout the years, strong, versatile female voices and characters like Brody Dalle, Cherie Currie, and Joan Jett, of course, as well as Shirley Manson, Siouxsie and the Banshees (no pun intended), The Slits, L7, Debbie Harry, and Stevie Nicks for her vintage vibes. At the same time, I drew inspiration from other great musicians such as Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, Ramones, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, street fashion from around the world, incredible designers like Betsey Johnson and Vivienne Westwood, and icons like Tilda Swinton and Kate Moss. Tilda’s wardrobe had so much detailed work put into it: casting handmade jewelry, making corsets and belts, adding chains and custom-made patches, sourcing materials, dying fabrics, aging, custom printing, reworking, and building shoes and jackets that represent her armor in this word, as well as a constant embellishment of pieces we found and personalized for her.

The Imperfects. (L to R) Rhianna Jagpal as Abby Singh, Kandyse McClure as Dr. Elizabeth Monday, Morgan Taylor Campbell as Tilda Weber in episode 108 of The Imperfects. Cr. Dan Power/Netflix © 2022

Rafaella: Her look was constantly bouncing between androgynous pieces and the same time, hyper-feminine and confident pieces with bold choices. These mixes represent all the ways she is choosing to think for herself in ways she couldn’t when she was younger. One piece we refer to a lot is her lavender jacket, her final look. We had three people work on it for two and a half weeks to get it just right, adding individual studs that we brought in from the UK by hand to create the right pattern and spunk that flows to give it that perfect look and adding weights to have it fall properly on her shoulders. Other looks that had massive work put into them are her two concert looks. They both give a glimpse into who Tilda is on stage, but in a way, also who she is off stage – unapologetic and different in the landscape.

Rafaella: One of my other personal favorites is the look she wears when finding out PJ has passed away; she wears a beautiful vintage shirt I’ve had for almost two decades I’ve squirreled away from a vintage store in Berlin, and she wears a necklace with a lotus flower that represents re-birth. It’s also one of the few looks that aren’t paired with a jacket, showing that her armor is gone. Another great piece is a patchwork jacket that has patches on it from one of the director’s tattoo shops in Toronto, a friend’s band logo, as well as some art I made in high school. I sewed them onto the jacket after we bleached parts of it on the costume trailer the night before it went to camera.

The Imperfects. (L to R) Iñaki Godoy as Juan Ruiz, Morgan Taylor Campbell as Tilda Weber, Rhianna Jagpal as Abby Singh in episode 107 of The Imperfects. Cr. Dan Power/Netflix © 2022

Elizabeth: Abbi’s wardrobe is unique and fun, but also grows and evolves with her over the season. What story were you looking to tell through Abbi’s wardrobe?

Rafaella: Abbi’s wardrobe speaks a lot about the way she embraces her power and how she shows up in the world while growing to be more comfortable within her own skin and power. Color played a great role in Abbi’s wardrobe, and I really wanted to show the way that she breaks the mold every time with her clothes while really knowing who she is with a very defined language that had structure and whimsicality to it.

I had a lot of fun with the details in Abbi’s wardrobe, finding and giving her meaning with her patterns and silhouettes. In order to get there, we had to think outside the box and let Abbi unfold in fittings, a lot of thought was put behind the intention of each piece, and it made finding and making them a journey worth taking. For example, the choice behind her burgundy collar shirt from episode 1, while in her interview, was inspired by Piet Mondrian, who was a brilliant artist well known for his use of geometry. There are multiple studies about the relationship between his art and math, and red symbolizing seduction also played a part in this look. Her bee sweater and bee collar pins in episode 5 are inspired by her pheromones as well by Hannah’s hero locket and if you look closely, has a bee on it. Speaking about the Hero necklace, Abbi’s most worn necklace throughout the show is a medallion of Saint Albert, the Patron of scientists, philosophers, medical technicians, and natural sciences.

The Imperfects. Rhianna Jagpal as Abby Singh in episode 107 of The Imperfects. Cr. Dan Power/Netflix © 2022

Rafaella: For her gray sweater in episodes 6 and 7, we added a spiral of a rainbow button as a touch of the rainbow flag on her arm and paired it with heart pattern tights. You might not realize this at first, but Abbi really does wear her heart on her sleeve. This combination, worn with collar pins that say “science,” and even the snakes she wears on her collar in episode 9 with her heart patterns shorts, are a metaphor for the forbidden fruit. You can really see Abbi growing into herself and her relationship with the environment and with her powers, especially expressing her asexuality while opening up to Hannah. We specifically planted a lavender sweater with little balls on it early on in the first episode, and then we re-meet that texture on Hannah’s pink cardigan in a critical moment in her story and their relationship. We worked really hard on sourcing and building pieces that support Abbi’s story and took her personality and used it in a way that dictated the dialect of her closet. Her outfits show you can be preppy but also really interesting and different. You can be attached to both your mind and your heart at the same time, and it can be easy to show a practical and whimsical side by side if you choose to.

Elizabeth: Dr. Sarkov certainly does not fit the standard look of a scientist. What was your inspiration for Sarkov’s rogue scientist wardrobe?

Rafaella: Honestly, Rhys Nicholson brings so much to the table that trying to mold him into anything other than what he is didn’t make sense. When the casting came in, it was obvious to all of us that we were just going with it. We wanted to celebrate the nuances that make him a bit out of this world yet still make him timeless with the silhouettes and patterns and make sure you can pick him out of the crowd in a subtle way. We also wanted to shy away from the stereotypical scientist look and give it a breath of fresh air, a broader stroke that has representation. It does really help to have someone like Rhys that collaborated with us on understanding how the character grows and what serves it best.

The Imperfects. Rhys Nicholson as Dr. Alex Sarkov in episode 109 of The Imperfects. Cr. Dan Power/Netflix © 2022

Elizabeth: Another scientist that doesn’t fit the standard scientist look is Dr. Sydney Burke, whose duel personality of Isabel Finch certainly gives these two characters distinct looks. What was it like designing for two different actresses and characters who are, in part, the same character?

Rafaella: It was great! Both Italia and Kyra are the type of actresses to go all in and really grasp the essence and growth of each character. They are both seasoned actresses as well, so they could see the bigger picture and help facilitate the way that they meet in the middle, coming from both ends and also helping to create a plotline for the future. You can see hints of Dr. Finch in Dr. Burkes’s wardrobe with the use of pinstripes that become prominent in Finch’s wardrobe as she progresses. Similarly, the pearls that Finch wears at a few points to reflect on Dr. Burke’s hero necklace speaks to the imperfectly perfect stone that a pearl can essentially be farmed by science. Both Burke and Finch are my favorite looks. Burke’s casual but still feminine look had us searching far and wide for the right pieces vs. Finch’s sharp, seductive look that grows and has her in some amazing custom-made suits.

Elizabeth: Juan’s wardrobe is certainly more practical than some of the other’s characters but still conveys his creative nature. What was your inspiration for Juan’s wardrobe?

Rafaella: Juan’s wardrobe was inspired by university/streetwear as well as that guy we all know, that cute guy that is still growing into his emotional independence, cool dude, fun and effortless that wears for comfort but also for expression. To me, Juan’s wardrobe says – “I’m always doing something, and you’re in good company with me,” so very practical, but I also wanted to give him an opportunity to grow more, being that he’s so young and into his art, so we made sure to have multiple art pieces by him printed on shirts. You can also tell by the colors that he’s wearing that he’s becoming more serious as well at the end, especially with his relationship with his brother and family and how much closer they become.

Elizabeth: Special effects also played an essential role in the show, particularly for Juan’s character. What was your collaboration with the special effects team like?

Rafaella: It was great. They really made it work in a way that served the department’s needs. We went discussed a lot as to what framework we should be working around and would make sure they’re aware of what the actors are wearing so they can flag anything that they might need to consider. 

The Imperfects. The Chupacabra in episode 101 of The Imperfects. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022

Elizabeth: Along with special effects, stunts played a huge role in the show; what was your process for getting the costumes stunt ready?

Rafaella: This was not only stunt heavy, it was female presenting – stunt heavy, which came with another set of challenges. We were very lucky to work with stunt performers that were game to maintain that, so even though we would flag an outfit and make it appropriate for padding if necessary, we had to make very few changes along the way to our main cast.

The Imperfects. (L to R) Rhianna Jagpal as Abby Singh, Morgan Taylor Campbell as Tilda Weber, Iñaki Godoy as Juan Ruiz in episode 106 of The Imperfects. Cr. Dan Power/Netflix © 2022

Elizabeth: Through the series, we get to meet some of the other individuals who had taken part in Sarkov’s trial, all of whom also have unique looks. What kind of look did you hope to create with these characters?

Rafaella: The intention was to keep it versatile but still in the elevated language that I built for the show. The approach with everyone was uniquely different but with the same intention to keep them versatile, interesting, and elevated but also tangible.

Elizabeth: For you, what was the most fun part of working on The Imperfects?

Rafaella: Being able to work with a crew of people that were so committed to bringing something new to life and having an opportunity to offer a voice to diverse communities. And the sheer freedom I had to voice my own creativity and use my creative muscles over and over again.

Stream The Imperfects on Netflix

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