StyleBlazer Exclusive: Inside Scoop From ‘Scandal’ Costume Director Lyn Paolo

Lyn Paolo, Costume Director, ScandalPhoto: Lyn Paolo/ABC

In honor of Season 3 of "Scandal" coming to a close tonight, we're reposting our interview with Lyn Paolo, the show's costume director, to get you excited for what's sure to be an explosive episode. Check out our interview below for a refresher on what Paolo planned for the season, and don't forget to tune into "Scandal" tonight at 10 p.m. on ABC. 

"Scandal" Season is back and it seems the world couldn't be more ecstatic; last week's season premiere drew in 10.5 million viewers, a personal best for the show. One aspect of the ABC drama that gets almost as much attention as what's going on in the world of Olivia Pope is "Scandal" fashion. The attention is rightly deserved as each and every character on the show is dressed to character-specific perfection, even if they don't always look perfect. (Poor Huck and his hoodies.)

The woman we have to thank for Scandal's fashion success is Emmy-Award winner Lyn Paolo, wardrobe goddess and veteran costume director. Lyn's previous roster of costume director work includes "The West Wing," "ER," and even the just-released video game Grand Theft Auto V, but we couldn't be happier she made her way to Scandal.

Lyn graciously took a minute to step out of the busy world of prepping Olivia and her gladiators for Episode 8 of Season 3 to chat with us about her style strategy at "Scandal," shopping for the cast, her favorite Olivia outfits, and more. See below for our comprehensive interview, and if you still have questions try sending Lyn a tweet at @LynPaolo; she's wonderfully responsive with the fans. Thanks Lyn!

SB: The Season 2 finale of "Scandal" left Olivia in a pretty vulnerable place; she’s no longer entirely in the position of power she has been previously. Are we going to see her wardrobe reflect her change in standing?

LP: I did think about that but because the next episode [Season 3 premiere] was a direct match to what happened last year [Season 2 finale] we didn't really have time. That’s not to say that things are not going to change as the season progresses. But certainly for the beginning of the season, Olivia has not had time to process anything yet.

SB: How do you go about shopping for "Scandal?" What percentage of designer send-ins or requests do you accept? And how far ahead in each season’s storyline do you get to see to prepare the wardrobe?

LP: On this show there is no getting ahead. We often get our scripts--and this is just the process, it doesn’t mean I’m unhappy about it, I kind of like it--we sometimes get our scripts maybe a day before we film. However, we do take eight days to shoot an episode, so within those eight days I can sort of scramble and think about what’s happening. We do build closets for all of the actors, and then we can pull some of the changes from that but we can never get truly ahead.

For instance, in Season 3 Episode 1 when Mellie and Olivia and Fitz were in the bunker, that had to be a very particular thing and there was no way for me to have thought about that ahead of time. So, even though we have rather large closets for each character, in each episode there will be something very specific that we will not own, so then we are rushing to get that. But we do try to get a little bit ahead because we don’t have time on this show. We sometimes get the script the afternoon before we start shooting. It’s crazy, but it makes you better at your job.

SB: A hot topic from last week’s episode was Olivia’s white coat. Did you already have the Burberry trench in Olivia’s closet?

LP: I did not have the coat. I read the script, I had seen the coat in a magazine and I read the scene and I said we had to get that coat. It was exactly the right coat for that particular scene.

Olivia Pope At Her DeskPhoto: ABC/Colleen Hayes

SB: Before the show aired did you and Kerry sit down and have an Olivia Pope wardrobe strategy discussion or do any DC fashion research? How do you two currently work together to make sure Olivia’s wearing the right thing?

LP: Well I had done "The West Wing" previously, and generally we continue to do research throughout every season. But because this is our third season together, pretty much Shonda is amazing in that she says to me, “I’m the writer, you’re the costume director. You do what you do, I do what I do.”

If I’m unclear about something I’ll call her and ask her a question to be certain I’m doing what she has in her head, but she gives us free creative reign. For instance, this Wednesday, Kerry and I are getting together to discuss Episode 8. We pretty much do it on our own in the room, and if we feel unclear about something or I say that I’m not sure this is right, then we’ll call Shonda, but pretty much it’s just Kerry and I in a room figuring it all out.

SB: Much of the focus on fashion in "Scandal" is set around Olivia Pope, how do you go about making the other characters distinct and noticeable, too?

LP: Over the hiatus I did talk to Shonda, and because things have evolved with each of our characters--David has a new job, so he’s dressing a little nicer--and because of what’s happening with Quinn--her going over to the dark side--we’ve kind of changed her look a little bit. The Peter Pan collars have gone ... her look is evolving and changing.

And because now Abby, who was an abused wife and didn't want to attract attention and kept her look very simple and very plain, now she’s in love. And we thought wouldn't it be great if all of a sudden her style evolved, because now she does want David’s attention and she is trying to attract him. So we gave her a curl, a little more makeup, and I've changed her costume significantly; now she accessorizes. She is going to be the accessory queen of the season. You’re gonna love it. Last year all she wore was the same pair of little hoops; this year she’s a different woman.

Scandal at SaksPhoto: ABC/Lou Rocco

SB: How do you expect the Scandal’s partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue to affect the way people view fashion on the show?

LP: I think it was a lovely moment. It was a wonderful evening especially for our fans in New York City and our fans in other stores to go look at the fashion from Scandal in the windows. Above and beyond that, that was it, that was the partnership. I do shop there an awful lot, but at this point that was our collaboration. I know it garnered a lot of attention. Saks embraced us, they were amazing to us. It was an amazing moment for the show, we were very excited.

SB: Favorite Olivia outfit?

LP: Yikes, I have several. So I love the Jean Ferre gown, the gown that she wore when the president was shot. And I loved the Burberry trench that she just wore in episode 301, I think it worked beautifully in that scene. And you know, anything from the first season that she wore at Camp David, all those yummy Ralph Lauren sweaters. I was sort of obsessed by that look on her. I just loved how Olivia looked in that happier time, with the jeans and boots and the big chunky Ralph Lauren sweaters. It seemed very innocent and sort of reminiscent of Camelot and the Kennedys.

SB: One you wish you could forget?

I’m very critical of all of my work, there might be a little thing like where a tie is crooked. but basically, no. I can’t really think of one where I thought, “Oh dear God, I wish I hadn’t done that.” My craziness is more about how it was worn, like if it’s not worn how I wanted it to be worn.

Olivia Pope Pink Ferragamo CoatPhoto: ABC/Richard Forman

SB: How do you pick which pieces to reintroduce each season on "Scandal"? Do the pieces have plot relevance?

LP: Sometimes, they do. It’s hard for me to answer that question without giving something away, which I’m not allowed to do. But I will say this: we do re-work and re-use often. Usually though it’s the shoes and the pants because I feel like pants--you know, her slacks--are interchangeable. So we will often, even within two episodes, reuse her slacks and then mix and match them with other jackets. Because I do want it to feel like it’s not just a fashion show, we’re not doing “Sex and the City.” We have to give the essence to the audience that this is really a working woman who doesn't just keep shopping all day. That she does rework things, and she reuses her coats a lot like the pink Ferragamo from last year. Sometimes there is in my mind and Kerry’s mind, there is a reason for bringing a particular jacket back or a particular piece, but that’s really in our heads and we hope the fans catch it, and often they do. It’s a thing that we do in the hopes that people will get the story we’re trying to tell.

SB: I’m sure our readers would love to hear a funny story from the set. Have any silly moments to share?

LP: There’s tons of joy on our set and hilarity because everyone likes to play jokes on one another. I always like it when Josh Malina tweets something and that kind of thing. But there hasn't been a joke as regards to costumes and there hasn't been a calamity, as it were. We did have a moment when Kerry’s Monique Pean ring went missing, which was less than hilarious, but after we found it, it was ok.

Olivia Pope in ShadowPhoto: ABC/Craig Sjodin

SB: You also do costume design for "Shameless" and recently completed costume design for the video game Grand Theft Auto V. How does your process for a show such as "Scandal"--where fashion is so integral to the show’s tone--differ from the others? Do you feel more pressure with "Scandal" to be perfect?

LP: I don’t feel more pressure with "Scandal." This is what I say to everyone, as a costume designer you have to be adaptable. You have to be able to look at each show--it’s like being a painter. Some painters only paint landscapes, but when you’re a costume designer you have to be able to paint every picture.

Last year I did "Southland," which is gritty LA with drug dealers and all that world, but it was also in Beverly Hills, so I had the two worlds there. Now I have "Scandal," which is DC, but I’m also doing "Shameless," which is really poor people in the heart of Chicago. They’re all tricky, but I would say that "Shameless" in some respects--although we have huge closets for those actors, so it’s easy to pull--but it’s a little trickier, actually, than "Scandal" because you have to somehow make these people who have no money look somewhat stylish and youthful and attractive, but still tell the story of poverty. So that is harsh to do because you have to age everything. I literally put pins exactly where I want each hole on each t-shirt to be, and we have a crew who just ages things for me all day long until I think they look grungy enough to put on the cast, but they still have to look great.

And then the conundrum with "Scandal" is that you want everyone to look great but I want to tell the story with color and texture and so that’s my own little craziness in my world.

Each show, video game, whatever it is, has its own special parameters and you just have to be able to adjust your mindset to each one and that’s what you should do, simple or not.

Team Gladiator

Photo: ABC/Danny Field

SB: We heard rumors of a possible "Scandal"-mass retail collection in the works. Care to elaborate?

LP: It’s not anything that we’re really doing right now so there’s nothing to say. We’re so busy doing the show right now that that’s pretty much all we can focus on at the moment. We’d like to do something going forward, but we don’t know what that thing would be.

SB: Any fashion tips for professional women?

LP: Be true to your body. If you find something that works on your frame, stick with that look. Don’t vary, don't follow fashion, don’t be too frilly and overtly feminine. Try to stick with colors that work for you.

SB: What’s a powerful item of clothing or accessory a woman can wear to display strength?

LP: I just think everything starts with your shoes. If your shoes are strong, especially in the work environment I think strong shoes say a lot. You shouldn't be tottering around. Olivia strides into every room and that’s important--that you walk with confidence. I always feel like women shouldn't have heels on that are too tall for them that they can’t handle.

SB: What words of advice would you give aspiring costume designers?

LP: Move to LA or New York. And just do what I did, I started at the bottom. Don’t expect to start at the top. It’s better to work your way up because you’re smarter and you can be a better boss because you know what you can expect of everyone. And if you've done all of their jobs, as I have, then you can understand how difficult they are and you can be the leader of the department. If you just want to be the person that creates pretty pictures, that’s not what the job is. You have to be on budget. You have to be on time. You have to be a good politician. You have to know how to speak to actors. It’s a complicated job.

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