Costume designer Lyn Paolo puts 'Scandal's' Olivia in pastels to show she's feminine, strong
Paolo: Olivia dons cashmere and silk when she's at home because she's more vulnerable
Olivia's "silhouettes are fairly consistent. ... It's a classic business look," Paolo says
Paolo: Olivia will carry a new Prada purse on season 2
Editor’s Note: This week, CNN is introducing you to a few of the most sought after costume designers in the business. They’ll share the trends, colors and silhouettes viewers can expect to see on TV this season, and offer inside information about the series they clothe.
As the former director of communications at the White House, crisis management guru Olivia Pope whips her clients into shape. And she looks good while doing it.
So good, in fact, that there are countless blogs dedicated to the “Scandal” character’s chic, business casual attire.
Using dainty jewelry, a pastel color palette and perfectly tailored separates, costume designer Lyn Paolo said her plan for Olivia, played by actress Kerry Washington, was to “create a vision of femininity, but still show strength.”
Olivia’s wardrobe will look more or less the same when the ABC series’ second season premieres on September 27, Paolo said. But possibly not for long.
“What we’re doing with (Olivia) works, and it’s a theme that we’ll stay with; however, because of things I can’t tell you, we may change slightly,” she teased. “There are certain tonal things that I’m doing at the moment to express the differences in (the characters’) lives. Specifically with the Quinn (Katie Lowes) character and Huck (Guillermo Díaz) character.”
Whether Quinn’s secret identity will influence her wardrobe remains to be seen. And who knows what’s in store for Huck, a former CIA operative with a dark past.
Either way, this won’t be the first time Paolo has played with color and texture to evoke a certain tone. She said Olivia dons cashmere and silk when she’s at home because she’s more vulnerable, and she often wears darker colors during flashbacks to show that she was a different person back then.
As a costume designer, Paolo says her job is to “create another human. If you’re really doing your job, you’re making it easy for an actor to inhabit that person’s skin. … They can walk into their trailer in the morning, don the costume and all of a sudden, they become that other person.”
In her more than 20 years as a costume designer, Paolo has worked on “ER” and “Southland,” as well as “The West Wing,” which might explain her knack for picking out a good power suit.
It’s all about knowing what works on an actor’s body, Paolo said, adding, “If you look at (Olivia) you’ll see her silhouettes are fairly consistent. … It’s a classic business look,” with a feminine twist, of course.
“This woman is working in a very complicated, lets face it, male-oriented world in D.C.,” the costume designer said of the series, which is filmed in Los Angeles. “When you talk about Washington D.C., you think of dark gray and navy blue. Look at a picture of Congress. Everyone pretty much looks the same. … My idea was, we should always have Olivia Pope standout in some way.”
But while Olivia is standing out, her accessories are blending in.
“We always want to find something that embellishes the costume, but also disappears,” Paolo said. “It shouldn’t be jarring. We tend to do a lot of tone-on-tone – neutrals or pinks.”
And that goes for her shoes, as well. “I don’t want them to draw attention,” Paolo said, adding, they almost look like paint chips lined up in her closet – “one tone of gray after another.”
Olivia will continue sporting “the long necklaces that are in vogue right now,” Paolo said, adding, she’ll also have a new Prada purse and two new Movado watches, one in rose gold and one in silver, in addition to the gold timepiece she wore during season one.
Washington’s character only wears Movado watches for the same reason she typically carries one of four classic Prada purses.
“We wanted her to have a watch that was functional and spoke to who she is, but wasn’t a distraction. … Elegant and understated,” Paolo said. “Olivia is always focused on the job ahead.”
She’ll don her standard Armani, Escada and Valentino threads – on loan from the designers – mixed with pieces Paolo finds at stores such as Nordstrom Rack, Bloomingdales and Loehmann’s.
“We get top of the line stuff, but the thing that makes our show so good is the tailoring,” Paolo said. “We have an army of tailors who take everything in and make it fit properly.”
Washington is so petite that Paolo’s team sometimes spends up to 40 minutes pinning a jacket before even cutting it, which can take an additional three to four hours. But that’s not the case for every actor, Paolo said. Columbus Short, who plays Harrison Wright on the series, fits into a suit right off the rack.
“You don’t want more than one set of hands on a piece of beautiful clothing,” Paolo said. “It’s like drawing or sketching. You can’t hand it off to someone else.”
To achieve Olivia’s business casual look, Paolo suggests women look toward stores such as Zara and Ann Taylor “where you can get the feeling.”
Sometimes just shortening a sleeve makes a huge difference, she says.