×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Power Garments Defined the Political Class in ABC’s ‘Scandal’

In ABC’s “Scandal,” which airs its final episode April 19, some of the best-tailored and most conservatively dressed people on TV engage in some of TV’s most outrageous behavior as they navigate the charged political climate of the nation’s capital.

Credit for the show’s reserved garments, which contrast sharply with the personalities who wear them, goes to costume designer Lyn Paolo, a go-to artisan for showrunner Shonda Rhimes. (The two have also collaborated on “How to Get Away With Murder” and “For the People.”)

From “Scandal” star Kerry Washington’s initial fitting with Paolo, lead actress and costume designer were on the same page: Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, would be a glass ceiling-shattering heroine from the moment she opened her closet. She would be successful enough to afford Armani, Prada and, in a nod to Paolo’s native England, a Burberry trench.

Also, Olivia would wear white because she’d stand for justice, even if her motives were sometimes questionable — and even if it made the show’s DPs grimace because the color is hard to light.

Her shoes would be platform heels — not stilettos — because they’d give her height and the stability to power walk. And she would also wear pants, albeit not as a political statement.

Scripts came to incorporate such comments as “Whatever Lyn says” or “The most stunning white coat you’ve ever seen.” The other characters also look elegant, unless it’s a conscious story choice for them to appear otherwise. (Bellamy Young’s character was temporarily branded “Smelly Mellie” while she was grieving her murdered son. Bathrobes were involved.) Paolo also has a penchant for expensive ties.

Actor Joshua Malina has felt the sartorial love as well. “I was pleased that as David Rosen extorted his way to attorney general I’m apparently spending more money on [clothing],” Malina told Variety during the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour. “Lyn is very good at helping the story of the character move through the clothes. Anything that doesn’t feel right or doesn’t feel comfortable, she takes note of.”

Some of Paolo’s favorite costume choices have been the ones she’s developed for the show’s elaborate gala scenes. The sparkling gold Jean Fares couture gown Olivia wears the night of the near assassination of Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) in Season 2 was resurrected from the back of a Melrose Avenue shop, while the crimson, strapless ensemble Mellie wears to her presidential inauguration ball in the Season 6 finale is Oscar de la Renta, a nod to how far TV and fashion have come since the show’s early years, when Paolo says she had to beg for items.

Paolo is also proud of a full-length skirt and blouse in the Season 7 finale, a piece that came straight from the fall 2018 Carolina Herrera runway show — but the costume designer is tight-lipped about who will be wearing it.

Not all of Paolo’s projects are runway-ready. Her résumé includes Showtime’s working-class dramedy “Shameless” and costuming actors in scrubs and lab coats for “ER.” She also oversaw costume design for ABC pilot “Man of the House,” which Washington is producing.

“I find doing beautiful is, for me, simple and straightforward,” says Paolo. “But making something look real, like ‘Shameless’ — that is hard.”

 

RELATED CONTENT:

More Artisans

  • Luciano Pavarotti

    Ron Howard Turned to Editor Paul Crowder to Make His 'Pavarotti' Documentary Sing

    Ron Howard is fast becoming a noted music documentarian: His 2016 film, “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — the Touring Years,” released by Abramorama in theaters and Hulu on television, was a Grammy winner. His follow-up is “Pavarotti,” a doc about the man who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in [...]

  • Lesley Barber Film Composer

    How 'Late Night' Composer Lesley Barber Channeled Paul Shaffer for Talk-Show Theme

    When director Nisha Ganatra started planning “Late Night,” the new Emma Thompson-Mindy Kaling film about a failing late-night network talk show, she knew she’d need a house band and a theme for the program. Her first call was to composer Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”), with whom she had worked a few years ago on [...]

  • Ma Movie Set Design

    How 'Ma' Filmmakers Turned a Garage Into Octavia Spencer's Party Basement

    In the new psychological thriller “Ma,” a middle-aged woman played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer befriends a group of teenagers and invites them to use the basement of her house as a place to party. Of course they accept, and much of the film happens there, though the subterranean space we see in the film [...]

  • Jim Frohna Big Little Lies Cinematographer

    'Big Little Lies' Gets a More Naturalistic Look for Season 2

    Jim Frohna has a knack for framing female-centric stories that are lyrical and dramatic. As Jill Soloway’s shooter since her debut feature, “Afternoon Delight,” as well as several seasons of “Transparent,” Frohna has become a preferred DP for capturing the female gaze. So when conflicts in scheduling kept director Jean-Marc Vallée and DP Yves Bélanger from [...]

  • Fosse Verdon BTS

    How 'Fosse/Verdon' Recreated 'Big Spender'

    The making of one of filmmaker Bob Fosse’s early triumphs, the sizzling “Big Spender” sequence from the 1969 musical “Sweet Charity,” kicks off the opening moments of the first episode of FX’s bio-limited series “Fosse/Verdon” in the same sultry style for which the legendary director-choreographer was known. It juxtaposes the film’s dancers in a sinuous, [...]

  • Andy Vajna Remembered

    Hungary's Film Business Copes With Life After Late Producer Andy Vajna

    When the producers of Lionsgate’s “The Spy Who Dumped Me” were struggling to get a permit for a key location on the streets of Budapest several years ago, they knew exactly where to turn. “I called Andy,” says Adam Goodman, whose Mid Atlantic Films serviced the shoot. “I said, ‘Look, we need your help.’” Goodman [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content