'Scandal' Costume Designer Wants to Help You Dress Like Olivia Pope
Gladiators, your closets are being handled.
Between shocking plot twists, never-ending love triangles and A-list guest stars (such as Lena Dunham next week), it's tough to decide what we love most about this season of Scandal. Still, it's the characters' wardrobes that have had us hooked from the beginning. The show's costume designer Lyn Paolo, who recently attended the apparel industry's MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas, is dedicated to not only, presenting fashionable attire week after week, but also helping you get your hands on them. She gave us the inside scoop on Olivia Pope & Co.'s wardrobes—plus how to mirror their sophisticated styles.
What made you decide to join the MAGIC panel this year? "I thought it would be great to come and start sourcing some new designers to see what's available before it hits the stores. I’m really trying to have all of my shows stay ahead of the curve. So often what happens is we'll buy a piece, and it's gone [once the episode airs]. I want to try and help our fans find these pieces, which is why we did The Limited collection. How do you find things in a timely fashion and then display them on the show so then they can be part of the experience of watching the TV show? It's sort of fun—you're watching the show, you love something and then you can go buy it. Whatever Kerry and I can do to help our fans is important to us."
How do you approach the cast's wardrobes? "It's like painting a picture for me. I set the costumes for every single person, and then I take them and group them together so I can see everything. You want to make it beautiful—it's a visual image, a moment in time. Even though Olivia [played by Kerry Washington] is going to be in whatever she's going to be in, I will adjust her costume if I feel it doesn't work within the whole. It all has to flow and fit together, so it's a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle every week. We play with that with everybody. When Quinn [Katie Lowes] became baby Huck, for a while we had them both in plaid shirts as a joke for the fans to see if they noticed, [and] they went nuts. We're having a blast with it all."
Who are Olivia's favorite designers and why? "Olivia doesn't have a favorite designer; Kerry and I have lots. We source from many different places, but I don't like to source by name; I just like to look at form. Last season, we did a lot of Dior. We still do a lot of Armani, which surprises people because they feel like it's an older brand but it really isn't. The fabrics are stunning; it just depends how you tailor it. We tailor every single stitch of clothing used on the show. I think what surprises most people is that Olivia is never in one brand. Literally, one look could be five different designers."
How do you maintain the classic professional DC look among the female characters while giving them each their own aesthetic? "I was lucky with this show, thanks to Shonda Rhimes. When I did The West Wing, I was fairly confined by how I dressed the women because all of them worked in the West Wing. What's glorious about this show [is] that Olivia was on the beltway. She's not in the White House, so even though we see her [there] in flashbacks or she may visit, even though I try to maintain a very professional look on her, she can be slightly fashion-forward. That gave me the best of both worlds because I have Mellie [Bellamy Young], who is the quintessential Jackie O/First Lady—just perfect with the hair and the pearls—but then Olivia can just push the envelope a bit. Darby Stanchfield's character Abby was very layer-y and bohemian when we first saw her, and now that she's in the White House she's more polished. Quinn has gone from being that cute little girl with the Peter Pan collars [to] now all of a sudden this tough, street chick. I keep telling her she's Lara Croft. So, it's fun. You do try and keep the polished element, [what's] great about this show is that each year is completely different. Every season, each character has changed so much."
How does Olivia's wardrobe reflect what's going on in her romantic relationships? "I always love that question. I don't think it's just her romantic relationships—it's her overall feeling, life and where she is emotionally. The interesting part about it all, which makes us both laugh, is now our gladiators are so savvy and so smart about those touches of color, tone or palette. If she has a pointed-toe shoe on, they're like, 'Oh my God! Something weird is going to happen.' So now we're kind of back-tracking because even though we love to tell the story that way, we're frightened we're giving things away. We're going to try and fool our gladiators. I love playing with them. Our gladiators are amazing!"
We always see Olivia so polished. What was it like having to rough up her attire when she was kidnapped? "I really didn't like going to the set during those episodes because it [made] me cry! It upsets me to see Olivia like that because to me she's a real person. When [she] was kidnapped, she had on this amazing The Row sweater that I’m personally in love with. We destroyed it, literally shredded that thing. It's a criminal act, really. A $2,000 sweater, and we destroyed it. I tweeted about how upset I was because I couldn’t watch Olivia going through this. Kerry wrote back to me, 'Oh, is this about The Row sweater?' I was laughing so hard when she said that. My set people had a tough time because they're used to keeping everything clean, pressed and polished. It was challenging; I don't like it personally."
What wardrobe tips can you offer our readers? “I look at people sometimes and think, ‘You bought that because it's super fashionable right now, and you're so going to regret that purchase in a month.’ So my number one piece of advice is to not buy into trends. Always be true to yourself; if you find something that you love that works on your body, then buy that. For me, I’ll buy two or three of the same pencil skirt in different colors.”
Tune in to an all-new episode of Scandal tonight at 9pm CDT on ABC.