Be a gladiator in a suit!


Count me among the millions who will be watching the season premier of ABC’s hit television series “Scandal.” From the beginning I was consumed as much by the pithy scripting as by Olivia Pope’s blouses and coats. Needless to say, I was elated to meet Lyn Paolo, the award-winning costume designer who is responsible for dressing her.

I met Lyn at SCAD Atlanta’s Digital Media Center, where she recently spent an evening discussing costume design and fashion before hopping a plane back to LA in time for the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Prior to her enlightening talk, I thought of the relationship between fashion and costume design as a one-way street, with fashion trends driving an actor’s ensemble. This is how Lyn got started, by using images of Washington, DC society and previous presidential administrations to develop looks for “Scandal’s” characters. 

But for SCAD fashion students in particular, Lyn was careful to show how costume design increasingly influences fashion. Because of “Scandal,” for example, gloves are popular again, and winter white is the color of the season. If that wasn’t enough, there’s Saks Fifth Avenue’s announcement that Lyn and actress Kerry Washington will soon curate Scandal-inspired show windows at the flagship store.

If you don’t watch “Scandal” and you happen to stroll by those windows soon, here’s what you should know.

The show’s main characters hide their emotions, so Lyn makes sure their clothes are tailored to match their buttoned up approach. “Their suits should be their armor,” she opines.

Though not customary for a leading lady, Lyn says she was convinced that white should dominate Olivia’s closet in order to distinguish her as the white knight among her ruthless staffers.

Olivia comes of as off as bossy and tough in the script, so Lyn’s strategy, brilliant in its contrarian nature, is to dress her to be an “icon of the feminine.” “Olivia needed to glow, to be ethereal, so the eye of the viewer always found her in a room of powerful people,” she explains.

Therein lies the delicious contradiction about Olivia that keeps so many tuning in.

Lyn closed by asking the audience, “How do you define your story?” It was a reminder that, though most of us are not on screen, we have the chance to use our daily wardrobe to tell our own narrative.

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