Suit Up, Gladiators: Scandal Costume Designer Lyn Paolo Talks Olivia Pope’s Post-Fitz Style Rejuvenation

kerry washington scandal return

Even if you don’t know Lyn Paolo, you know Lyn Paolo. You’ve been obsessing over her work for years without even realizing it. This two-time Emmy-winning costume designer has created the aesthetic worlds of some of the greatest shows of all time—from The West Wing to ER to Scandal. Yes, that means I’m talking to the woman who created the legendary style of Kerry Washington‘s Olivia Pope. The time to swoon is…now. 

(Related: Empire‘s Costume Designer Paolo Nieddu On His Season Two Return, Creating Cookie Lyon, And How Showrooms Actually Work)

I asked Lyn what the reigning champion of small-screen style has in store for us in the second half of season 5, and what it’s like to work in Shondaland. Of course, don’t miss the return of Scandal tonight at 10 pm EST. #TGIT

white hat olivia pope

Kelsey Manning: The trailer for the season 5 return features that famous proverbial “white hat”—was there a huge search for the perfect white hat when it first appeared in the series? Who made it and are you happy to “say buh bye” to it this season?

Lyn Paolo: I had Louise Greene, a Los Angeles based milliner, create the hat for the series. We had a small amount of time to find the right hat and we decided instead to give Louise the specifications for the hat and she sent us options. I love the fact that David (Joshua Malina) actually gave the hat to Olivia, so it was important to us that it should reflect his perceptions of what Olivia would love. I am sad to say bye to the hat, but I doubt that it is gone forever.

KM: What about that fabulous red leather trench? Who makes it?

LP: I am so glad you asked this question, the trench is by Derek Lam and I love giving him this shout out. This brand has been so kind to the show and I adore Derek’s designs so I am thrilled that he got this fabulous moment. I am also addicted to Dorothy Gaspar and her handmade gloves, another local Los Angeles craftsperson who creates amazing gloves, and the pair she made for this shot were spectacular.

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Lyn Paolo and Kerry Washington

KM: Now that Olivia has moved out of the White House and changed everything, will that change be reflected in her wardrobe selections?

LP: The answer is a resounding YES. However, I want to be clear that this is not retail therapy for Olivia—she is just moving forward with her life and revealing herself in a different way than she has before. She is stronger, more certain, and determined.

KM: What types of outfits will Mellie (Bellamy Young) be choosing as her presidential campaign gets into full swing?  

LP: Now that Mellie is a Senator and also a Presidential nominee we will certainly be seeing less of her First Lady looks. Gone are the gorgeous cashmere shrugs and here come the business jackets. Obviously she will still be the Mellie we love, but she will be mindful of how she looks to the voters so her overall look will reflect that she is now on the campaign trail.

(Related: Jennifer Lopez Talks Shades of Blue, American Idol, and Rocking Las Vegas)

KM: Are you just as excited to get the scripts as we all are to watch the episodes? Do you tend to know where the storyline is going pretty far ahead, or is it all new information the first time you read each script? 

LP: Every new script that our stunning Shonda Rhimes and her talented group of writers hand out is a revelation. We really have no clue what is happening from episode to episode and it is thrilling, exciting, and a little bit scary to open the page of a new episode. After all we could be on an Island again—who knows! I know I don’t.

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Lyn Paolo and Darby Stanchfield

KM: This might be an impossible question but I’ll ask it anyway: Is there anyone in the political realm right now that you’ve been inspired by fashion-wise for the show? 

LP: Straight answer, NO. I mean, I am a news junkie and I watch all of the debates and the pundits (honestly, I really do—I am a political junkie). I do watch carefully as I consider it research, but then I find inspiration in other things, like art, design, and of course, fashion.

KM: What was the biggest design challenge in the upcoming episodes?  

LP: Actually, this is a fascinating question. There have been so many challenges this season, but I have loved the creation of our Gettysburger Restaurant, which you will get to see in all of it’s glory very soon. We had to create a whole set of costumes for the restaurant that were challenging to construct. I cannot wait for you to see what we have managed to create.

KM: Without giving too much away, is there one outfit from the second half of the season that you already know people are going to go crazy over?  

LP: Gosh, that is hard. All I am going to say is that this second half is full of new things, and lots and lots of new purses…

For more behind-the-scenes fashion from the set of Scandal, follow Lyn on Twitter and Instagram @LynPaolo.

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