Shonda Rhimes has done it again. Well-known for being the creator of Seattle based hospital drama, Grey’s Anatomy (which has recently been renewed for a tenth season!), Rhimes has been getting well deserved praise for her political thriller-drama Scandal on ABC which has just finished its second season this month.
The drama follows Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) a former communications director to the President of the United States, who has left the White House to open her own prominent crisis management firm.
The show has been a great success and has been getting particular attention around the fabulous costumes. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to the exceptionally talented Costume Buyer, Kristine Haag who gave the low-down on all things costume design in Scandal.
On Screen Fashion: Scandal is on it’s second season – how long have you been working on it? What’s it like to work on?
Kristine Haag: I started on episode 4 of the second season and we just wrapped for hiatus. It is very intense. Scripts come out the day before we shoot and its always a crazy rush to get it all to camera on time. In fact, my co-workers have renamed our show ‘Scramble’.
OSF: What type of research did you do to prepare for the show?
KH: Research for me was just about watching season one and having a really close look at the character design so I could just hit the ground running. Lyn Paolo, our Costume Designer, had already established the characters’ designs, so it was pretty clear after having a closer look at the first season. This show is about contemporary, affluent, Washington DC power players. We look to current high-end designers as inspiration which means lots of magazine research. Fashion is the name of the game for this show.
OSF: Can you talk through the different designers used in the show? Where else did you source costumes from?
KH: For our lead character Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), we shop primarily at Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani, Escada, Ralph Lauren, and Christian Dior. We also source Prada for hand bags which means lots of trips to Rodeo Drive! For other characters, we turn to Brooks Brothers and shop a variety of brands from the better department stores like Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Sacks Fifth Ave, Barneys, and Neiman Marcus.
OSF: The main character Olivia Pope wears some lovely pieces – what are your favourites?
KH: That is a hard choice to make. I really love the Ann Demeulemeester cropped white jacket I found at Barneys and the White Escada evening gown. All of her Ralph Lauren sheath dresses are amazing too; so clean and chic, they are amazing! She has so many great coats and blazers in her closet… it is really hard to pick a favourite.
OSF: Typically, a woman with power and working in politics would be dressed in primary colours yet Olivia’s colour palette seems far more subtle with neutral colours – what’s the story behind this?
KH: Lyn Paolo our Costumer Designer came up with this idea and its just genius. Olivia Pope is a very strong woman and she wears lots of power suits, but to make her different from everyone else in the frame they chose this colour palette of neutrals. It looks amazing on Kerry and it adds a wonderful layer of feminine quality to the character. We are very careful to not use Olivia’s colours on anyone else.
OSF: Will we see bolder colours on Olivia in the future?
KH: That’s an excellent question. I won’t say its impossible. However, I think it would have to be in a moment where it furthers the story.
OSF: How closely do you work with overall Costume Designer Lyn Paolo?
KH: I work very closely with Lyn every day. She is very close to all the actors and Shonda Rhimes. Lyn talks everything over with them and then we talk about what she needs for the fittings. I take her notes and ideas with me when I go out into the world to find all the essential pieces. Lyn has exquisite taste and loves beautiful things. I think this is why we work so well together.
OSF: A lot of woman that are fans of the show want to dress like Olivia – what advice would you give them?
KH: Know your body. Understand how to find a great blazer that flatters you; not all blazers are equal. Get a great tailor who can help you fit and alter, this is key! Look for business attire that is feminine, but not girly. Find a colour palette that compliments your skin and hair tone.
OSF: Costume Designer Janie Bryant of Mad Men has done collaborations with high-street store Banana Republic, thus enabling fans to dress like the show – are there talks of a Scandal high-street store collaboration?
KH: Not sure how that will all work out as of yet, but stay tuned …
OSF: Are there any other characters costumes in Scandal that have been particularly great to work on?
KH: Lyn and I both love Mellie and it has been fun finding pieces for the First Lady. I think her character is evolving and so is her wardrobe so I’m very excited to see where we will go with her next season.
OSF: What do you look for when costume hunting for Olivia?
KH: These are the questions I ask myself when shopping:
1. Is it in ‘the colour palette’? (i.e. white, cream, tan, camel, any hue of grey, or navy on a wild day soft pastels pale pink, pale green, ice blue.)
2. Is it classic? (If it’s too trendy or crazy fashion forward- skip it!)
3. Is it strong? (i.e. If it’s too overly feminine/frilly/lacy- skip it. Olivia Pope is serious business so she has to look strong and command respect.)
4. Is it clean? (i.e. Are the overall design lines of the garment clean? Is it simple and sophisticated? If it’s too busy in design detail or print – skip it!)
5. Will the proportions flatter the body? (Too much fabric will overpower anyone. Garments should fit well. This is the key to really being put together! If it’s overly boxy or flowy- skip it.)
OSF: What advice would you give somebody who is looking to start a career in the costume design world?
KH: I would say that they need to ask themselves if they are passionate enough about it that they are willing to take on 12 to 14 hour days. Our schedule requires this kind of work everyday for months straight. So be aware!
I went to school and studied theatre costume design and fashion design. Both areas taught me valuable lessons that I call on in my every day work. Understand storytelling, stock characters and psychology of personality types. Study garment construction and fabrics.
Learn as much as you can about photography, lighting, and working with the camera. Most importantly, practice small talk and how to make other people feel important.
Many thanks to Kristine Haag.