Mandi Line is known as one of the most sought-after costume designers today. One of her most high profile jobs has to be her role as Head Costume Designer on the international hit Pretty Little Liars, where her work has received numerous nominations such as Best Dressed Cast and Most Googled Character for fashion on television.
The fact that she’s a well known style ambassador for GetThis, guest columnist on Celebrity Style Guide and has a strong social media following means that she’s an increasingly influential fashion force. We caught up with Mandi to find out more about her own sense of style, and of course, what exactly goes into dressing those Pretty Little Liars.
The Fashion Spot: How would you describe your own style?
Mandi Line: My own style is actually quite similar to Aria’s on my show, as I based her off of me. I’m dark but not Goth by any means, and I try to pull off a Rick Owens-on-a-budget look.
tFS: It’s rumored that you never wear the same clothes twice, is that true? If so, what happens to your old clothes?
ML: That was back in high school when I used to make all of my own clothes, as I grew up with no money and my mom was in a wheelchair. So I made sure nothing was the same, as I made them. Now, the older I get, I find my favorite pair of jeans, that faithful leather jacket, and I try to spice it up, but I really don’t have the patience anymore.
tFS: Do you have one item of clothing that you couldn’t live without?
ML: Yes, my black fedora, I’m obsessed with it! There’s this brand, Makins, and I’ve been wearing them for about five years. I love it as my hair is short, and if I wake up in the morning and my hair starts to stick up, I just throw that thing straight on.
tFS: What item of clothing do you believe that every girl should have in her wardrobe?
ML: It has to be a pair of boots. She can wear boots with dresses, pants, leggings… I just love a good pair of old motorcycle boots, even if you're conservative, preppy or Ralph Lauren-esque, a great pair of boots in brown or black is a must.
tFS: Do you have a favorite designer?
ML: Well, because I’m a costume designer and not a stylist, I go for looks and not necessarily names. I was just watching the hits and misses of the 2013 Fall runways, and my friends thought that Hedi Slimane’s stuff was great, but I saw the runway show and I didn’t care for it, as edgy as I am! I thought that it was cheap looking and that it’d been done. But then I see something like Hermés, which is so far from my style, yet I love it. I loved how clean it was, its simplicity, its tailoring… Maybe it’s just because I’m growing up!
tFS: Where’s your favorite place in the world to shop?
ML: Since my mom has been sick my whole life, I’m so L.A.-based and all of my work has also luckily been based out here, I don’t travel much, but I did do a film in Germany, in the very quaint Cologne, and it had so many great thrift shops. It’s not like I’ve had the luxury of traveling there just to shop yet but I was definitely in awe of the shopping in Germany. Yes, Berlin is hands down beautiful but I really just loved Cologne’s vintage stores.
tFS: You’ve had a very successful career in fashion, so, what initially prompted you to choose that career path?
ML: Well, at first I was a model, but I knew that I couldn’t starve forever! I think it was actually when I was a senior and I had to be the breadwinner for the family at just 17 years old, and since modeling is so hit and miss, I had to innately find something else, and it just surfaced. I used to make my own clothes, I was on the other side of the camera, so what would come naturally and quick? So, I went along to the Fashion Institute, and when I left, I knew that I didn’t want to work at a store, as I had too much of a gypsy mentality to do that! It’s also really funny that in my high school year book, it of course said that I wanted to be a supermodel, but obviously everybody then grows up, and I said that I wanted to work in fashion, make my own clothes and have my own line.
I started interning on films and music videos, and now with the ever-changing economy television is now really strong in Los Angeles, and I got the call for Pretty Little Liars, and actually turned it down because I wanted to be more diverse. I’d already done work for a young demographic, so instead I went to work on a lawyers show, and I was so bored. Then, as I have Peter Pan syndrome, one of the creators of the book told me to watch the pilot, and afterwards I went along to the interview, and I said that I can make this the best show on television if you let me have creative control and listen to what I know that these kids will want to see. Gossip Girl was on its way out and they needed another addiction.
tFS: Tell us about the process of dressing the cast of Pretty Little Liars?
ML: We have the scripts, and originally we had the books, but they weren’t relevant as they were from 1993. So, usually I read the script, I meet the producers and they trust me 90%, and then sometimes they’ll grab me on a particular scene and say, "Hey, when Aria tells Ezra that she loves him, lose the big hat!"
Usually, for two whole days I hit the pavements with my team. We scour from Los Angeles to Santa Monica to New Orleans, bring everything back, see what’s still missing, do the fitting and we have five days to do that before the next episode comes along. We have 25 episodes per season, which are completely circular, so while we’re shooting one, we’re fitting for the next episode.
tFS: Where’s your best place to shop the costumes?
ML: I am a big fan of giving local businesses money, so there are small boutiques around my place, like Una or Maes, and I love the thrift store called Wasteland. I also do the department stores like Macy’s, and people always laugh at me because I love places like Forever 21, but with my demographic and its price points, it’s perfect as I want the viewers to be able to look at it and save up or go to Urban Outfitters and spend just 20 nice dollars on that cool beanie that they saw. I believe that the longevity of my career has been due to obtainable fashion.
tFS: Do you ever share the same items amongst the cast?
ML: Yes, it’s funny, as I do sometimes try to sneak some pieces around the girls, like if there’s an amazing pair of black jeans that Aria has, then I’ll try and share them around the girls but without them or the viewers knowing.
tFS: What happens to the clothing at the end of a shoot?
ML: At Warner Brothers, we have cages downstairs and we own every single item, so it either goes in house or to different exhibits, so we keep everything. This is a show where we can’t get rid of a single item, as there are constant flashback scenes — sometimes I’ll borrow a necklace form Aria, and then they’ll need it again, and I can’t remember where I’ve put it!
tFS: How would you describe the girls’ characters form Pretty Little Liars styles?
ML: I think that Aria has schizophrenia with fashion and I don’t like to put her in a box. She’s constantly running around chasing mysteries, so she’ll look like she’s from the Sixties one day and the Seventies the next. For me, her character is my heart and soul, as I’m fulfilling my desires from when I was young and I didn’t have the means to dress how I wanted to. I'm getting my addiction out on her, so, I don’t know what will happen if I ever don’t have her!
Hanna is the popular girl that everybody wants to be, she turns the pages in the fashion magazines and makes sure that she has it no matter whether she has to beg, borrow or steal in order to get that on trend piece.
Spencer’s character goes for a deep, hipster cool vibe, so I try not to do on-the-nose preppy with her, and often opt for preppy with a twist. She’ll have her vintage, her pieces from Urban Outfitters but she’ll keep her look classic, as that’s what the viewers want to see.
tFS: How far ahead do you have to think about how the characters’ styles will evolve?
ML: Being a costume designer is such second nature to me, I’ve been doing black and white stripes on Aria since season one, and back then I had to go to thrift stores just to get the look whereas now it’s a massive trend and in every department store window around. I don’t stress out about creating future trends, but I just know that when I like something, I have to put it together in a special way that will hopefully turn it into a trend.
tFS: Which of the PLL’s cast do you think has a great sense of style in real life?
ML: Troian (Spencer) has an effortless style, she literally wears dirty T-shirts with holes, sky-high socks and old duster coats. Lucy (Aria) has stepped it up two hundred percent, and has got a little more Aria style, which I love. Shay (Emily) has become a fashion icon as she’s so elegant with her style. I love Ashley’s (Hanna) style, as she’s like a little rocker and grungy.
tFS: What’s next for you career-wise?
ML: When I first began in fashion, I dreamed of my own line but then I got into costume designing, so, I am yet to fulfill that fashion designer in me that went to college. I look at people like Rebecca Minkoff, and although I know that we’re on a different level, I don’t think that anything is unobtainable. I would love to do a Pretty Little Liars line! Even if I don’t end up working with Warner Brothers on that, I think that somebody like Lucy Hale and I could do a line together. I think that the next phase is definitely a collaboration before the PLL buzz fades.
tFS: What’s been your biggest career achievement?
ML: Pretty Little Liars has been amazing, but creatively, there’s this movie Congress coming out with Robin Wright and Paul Giamatti that’s half animated and half live action. It was shot in Germany, and I didn’t think that I would be able to do it and it was both mentally and physically exhausting, so finishing it for me was such an amazing accomplishment.
tFS: Is there anybody that you dream of dressing?
ML: I used to say Justin Theroux, but now I’d love to dress characters like Sam Rockwell, who has a more independent and diverse career, as the process would be more integrated with an outcome that looked simple but really had a whole history to it.
tFS: What tip would you give to somebody trying to break into costume design for televison?
ML: Interning is the first step, and they have to realize that at the beginning it’s not about them. I don’t want to hear about who your dad is or what you’ve done. As an intern you have to be in that moment and just serve the purpose of your project.
Images: Greg Metcalf, Mandi Line; ABC FAMILY/ANDREW ECCLES