When thinking about fashion in film, Amy Heckerling’s 1995 classic, Clueless, was revolutionary. We’d have a different memory of Cher Horowitz without that plaid, school bus-yellow ensemble. It’s been recreated time and time again—in parodies, Halloween costumes, and one of 2014’s more popular music videos. The perfectly tailored getup is an icon in itself; it adds another dimension to the film’s leading character, not with words, but with an artifact. Just by glancing at Cher’s wardrobe (comprised of 60 costume changes), we know something about this character: she’s fashion-forward, she’s proper, she’s young, and she’s wealthy.
From 1995 to 2015, a lot has changed. Media has become much more saturated. It’s hard for films and television shows to get noticed when up against hundreds of other programs, all available for streaming at the click of a button. As an occasional Netflix user, it seems as though a new sub-par television series has appeared out of the blue each time I log on. I don’t give most of them a second glance. Through all of the flashy competition, Shonda Rhimes’s ABC drama, Scandal, has made a name for itself. So has the wardrobe of its star character, Olivia Pope.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of Scandal, like I was until a few weeks ago, it follows
Pope (played by Kerry Washington) through her experience keeping her clients in the right shade of spotlight. Olivia Pope, formerly a White House Communications Director, has since started her own crisis management firm, Olivia Pope & Associates. Daily tasks can include keeping unseemly political relationships in the dark, battling full-blown nightmares of public affairs, and making sure their own secrets aren’t uncovered along the way. No wonder Olivia Pope and her team have been nicknamed “gladiators in suits.”
Just as Clueless’s Cher Horowitz expresses herself through her carefully selected fashion choices, Scandal’s Olivia Pope makes wardrobe decisions that speak volumes about her character. Pope’s streamlined silhouettes and structured, chic clothing shows she means business—and KNOWS style. Gucci. Valentino. Prada. Her outfits always make her look like a million bucks, and the show’s wardrobe department is probably valued near that amount. Some viewers are as interested in Scandal’s juicy plot-line as they are in the clothing—there are dozens of articles and photo galleries on women’s fashion websites dedicated to helping their readers recreate the style icon’s office attire.
We owe the eye candy that is Olivia Pope’s closet entirely to one visionary, Lyn Paolo. Known for her previous work on Homefront, for which she won two Emmy's, as well as ER, The West Wing, L.A. Confidential, Southland, and Shameless, Paolo is Scandal’s costume designer and works behind the scenes to bring the drama’s characters to life. Her skillful work on Scandal has transposed itself elsewhere—in collaboration with Kerry Washington, ABC, and The Limited, Paolo designed and launched the first Scandal clothing collection in 2014. Now, people everywhere can effortlessly piece together a television-worthy outfit of their own.
On Friday, September 25th, you can learn more about Paolo’s work, and maybe even pick her brain a bit. The Smithsonian Associates is proud to present this evening program: Lyn Paolo on Designing Scandal: Costume Design for Capitol Intrigue. Paolo will converse with Robin Givhan, fashion critic for the Washington Post on how costume defines character, where the designer gathers her inspiration, and how her work has impacted the fashion world. After the reception, you can mingle with other attendees while indulging in Olivia Pope’s favorites: wine and Gettysburger-style snacks.
With a new TV series tumbling out of nowhere faster than most of us can attempt to keep track, it’s rare for one’s inventive costume design to make a lasting impression and make an impact on the fashion world. Don’t miss this chance to chat with a true visionary and learn how to ignite your inner gladiator.
Makenzie McNeill, Social Media Intern