How ‘Succession’ Costume Designer Dressed the HBO Drama’s Leading Men

Peter Kramer/HBO

Few shows in recent history have received as much attention simply for the clothes as “Succession.” The costuming on the show is indulgent, and impeccable; it arguably plays as big a role as the actors. Entire articles have been written about Shiv’s backless turtleneck — her clothes and her hair. The men on the show are no exception; each and every one of them is meticulously tailored and styled to tell us exactly who he is, and exactly who he wants to be. They are the perfect illustration of the immense precision, balance, and awareness of self that goes into being a well-dressed man; how everything from the width of a man’s tie knot to the cut of his jacket can make a critical difference in how he is seen.

Michelle Matland, costume designer for “Succession,” spoke with Variety about the comfort as an indicator of wealth, vests, and how a tie knot can make a man.

Let’s talk about Logan’s suits. They look soft and comfortable but never sloppy; how did you decide how his suits would be tailored?

With Logan specifically, he is of a certain generation; the tailoring is going to be much more Saville Row. It’s going to be accommodating to figures of men who are of a certain age, of a certain lifestyle, who are not necessarily playing tennis and polo every day or working out at the gym. We made a decision to tailor his clothing so that, while they are powerful, his comfort in his position is the most important aspect of the garments. He need not profess or posture as anything other than the man he is. And I do think if you walked into his closet on any day and you closed your eyes, you would be able to tell the difference between his garments, just by touch, than a middle management person that works for him, just by the texture, the luxe feeling, the fabrications.

We have a wonderful Savile Row tailor, Leonard Logsdail who I’ve worked with for years, and he just has an instinct for these men. He travels the world, and he makes equestrian garments, he makes hunting garments, and he makes suiting for these people. I almost never have to explain to him where to cut the seam or where the darts should go or how many [there should be.]

Of course, the sons, they all have a different sensibility – a more moderate, a more American sensibility than their father. And we try to achieve that by showing subtle differences because obviously, a suit can become a suit and a suit and a suit. And how do you differentiate personality? Just like we all do. How do you individualize your own wardrobe so that you feel when you walk out the door, you are innately Caroline, or I am innately Michelle? And what we try to do on the show is show the subtle differences through other pairings, through the lack of a tie, or in Tom’s case, suspenders and a pocket square.

And then there’s Frank — he is an impeccably dressed man, but he’s always dressed slightly more formally than Logan and watching those two styles play off each other was fascinating.

Logan is the only one who can get away with that, taking his shoes off and putting a pair of slippers on. We never went that far — he wouldn’t do it in the office, but solely for the impracticality, not because he would be concerned with what someone else would be thinking.

Frank, on the other hand, is still concerned, not only with what Logan is thinking, but what everyone else is thinking, too. Because as upper management in the position that he’s in—which is a level or two down from Logan, obviously—he is being eyed by all of the up and coming. So, I think his position, as we see where the storyline goes, becomes even more and more tenuous. And he’s very sensitive that he can be cut out at any time. The only one who has the luxury of being comfortable is Logan. And even in his worst-case scenario when the company may be at the precipice, it’s his to lose. So, he can be comfortable in that as well, whereas everyone else, they’re tottering, and they never quite know.

And we see that with the Kendall and Roman too; their clothing signals how they want to be seen by Logan.

That agitation has to be seen on some level, even on the sons. Because they’re all vying for his attention. They’re vying for the position. They were brought up in a household where that hunger was instilled in them at birth. Roman, in the first season, was completely lackadaisical about making an impression. And then slowly, as the opportunity seemed to arise for him that he might step into his father’s shoes, you see him start wearing a jacket.

The palette or the colorations — [the actors and myself], made those choices together. During the journey, we found as a character, Kendall moved through his evolution from very uptight Tom Ford-esque cut suits to his break to neutral, natural tones into the browns and the greens, which were completely out of his palette prior; they started showing themselves to the very end when he wears the brown tuxedo. He becomes the alter ego to his original self as he’s transforming. And the color palette definitely, or the color coding definitely played a part.

Kendall wears the same suit and tie in the Season 1 premiere and the Season 2 finale – but the shirt collar and tie knot change. In Season 1, Episode 1 it’s a spread collar and a wide knot; there’s an ego to it, but he is compensating, still. But in the Season 2 finale, he’s wearing a small point collar and a narrow tie knot – which is more understated. Was that intentional?

I can’t say it was because we don’t track things exactly that way; I wish I had. I think you should give yourself a very big gold star [for noticing.]  But we track in the same way you do when you are in your own life.

Beginning of Episode 1, there’s a pomposity about him. By the time we’ve gotten to the end, he’s been broken, rebuilt, and broken again. And he no longer has the ostentatious nature to create that. So, everything now has been minimalized into a much smaller version of the same person.

We live in the closet that we live. But the things about the way we wear those clothes or the essence or the tonality of those clothes, or in this case, as you astutely caught, the width of the tie or the knot is the reflex; that’s what changes, not necessarily the silhouette.

There’s a moment where Shiv takes a jab at Tom’s suits, and that was interesting because they technically fit him very well. But I also saw her point – he always looks uncomfortable.

That’s exactly the right word that I would use. There is a level of discomfort within Tom from so many layers in his life. He’s just not an equal, on so many levels, to the people that he’s competing with. It feels almost like a competition for him. And he’s a very bright man. But he was not brought up in a household of great wealth. He was not educated the way they were. And so, he is a posturer. And there is a level of a facade on him where the clothes are, it’s like Dressy Bessy, you know? It’s laid on top of the person rather than worn organically like he owns it.

One of the decisions that we made, for example, was when we did the big conference. There are eight million puffy vests in the world; his, of course, has to have the patch that says Moncler or whatever. He can’t get past that because those identifiable markers on the price tags are the things that make him comfortable.

I have a whole note here about how the different vests worn signaled different things about each character’s wealth. Connor is a big vest-guy, too.

Because Connor’s a man of the people. Connor’s a man who wants to save his culture, the country. He’s completely misguided in his good humor. He’s the source of comedy because his earnestness he wears on his sleeve and all of those canvas or woolen or his boots that make him a country man, those are his identity. He also puts them on to be able to, he feels, fit into the culture that he’s creating or wishes to create.

Then there’s a scene when Greg is driving his grandfather to the Thanksgiving wearing that like sort of skater tan vest.

It’s funny that you say that because when I first read the script, I thought that he was a kid from outside of the L.A. culture, the fast-moving culture. And I always saw him as a kid who got around, because he didn’t have a car, on a skateboard.

And he’s reflected in his suits too; they start out too big but by the end of Season 2, he’s well dressed.

We see in Season 2 the transformation of his emulation of Tom and how he learns by taking in all the people around him and probably asking a lot of questions. You can go to a better store, and they can actually tailor your suit. And then slowly, we see him evolve into the man who feels he can stand up to Tom and say, “I need to be my own person. I don’t want to be in this position anymore. I don’t want to be the footstool.”

They so embody the characters in their performance that they create the lines that we walk on because they are so visceral. When I watch it and I see a tiny movement from any one of the actors that they do in character moments, I’m like, oh, I get it. His shoes don’t fit because he has to buy them at a thrift store. And so, that little kick of the toe is the reality he’s living in.