Style Over 35

An Interview with Scandal’s Costume Designer Lyn Paolo

December 14, 2014

As part of SOURCING HOLLYWOOD series for MAGIC, we interview Scandal’s Lyn Paolo on costume design, character storytelling and how TV’s fashion is form of narrative unique to in its own right.

To say Olivia Pope has major style is an understatement. Yet, she’s never over-the-top. What’s your approach to dressing Olivia?

Thank you for the kind words concerning Olivia’s style. I truly use the script as my foundation when creating each look that Olivia wears on the show. For this character I really pay great attention to line, form, and color. After I have shopped for the looks, Kerry and I work together to ensure that Olivia’s style remains classically feminine and definitively powerful.

Let’s talk about Abby Whelan. Working in the White House, how has Abby’s style evolved since last season? We even noticed that she started to dress more feminine and wear more makeup towards the end of the last season. Was this intentional? How do you approach dressing Abby?

Abby has had several incarnations on the show. As Shonda Rhimes delivers each new piece of information in her scripts, we work to show the “new” or “old” versions of Abby. In our third season, Abby fell in love with David and we felt that she should have a softer look that was not as severe as the beaten-down Abby we met when the show began. We softened her color palette and worked with our amazing hair and makeup team to change the overall tone of Abby’s character.

Darby is amazing and completely embraced the idea of adding a new dimension to Abby. This season we see Abby in the White House. No longer at OPA, her look has evolved yet again. You really never know where Shonda will lead you, which is exactly why I love working on this show. Each new character evolution allows me to work with amazing actors to literally reinvent the people they are portraying.

SCOTT FOLEY, COLUMBUS SHORT, JOSHUA MALINA, BELLAMY YOUNG, GUILLERMO DIAZ, DARBY STANCHFIELD, JEFF PERRY, TONY GOLDWYN, KATIE LOWES, KERRY WASHINGTONMellie is your classic First Lady. Obviously, she’s experienced some hardships since last season. How has her style changed and will we continue to see her style evolve?

This season it has been so much fun to dress our First Lady, the amazon Ms. Bellamy Young in her “F-It” Mellie clothes. I was in London when I first read the script and was perplexed about where to go in terms of the costumes. Several e-mails and many 3AM phone calls later, Shonda signed off on the look.

I really wanted Mellie to appear eccentric, as she really did not care what anyone thought of her any more. I had so much fun seeing our usually perfectly turned-out First Lady walking around the set in her Uggs and sweat pants, while sporting an amazing robe. It makes us all happy that this version of our First Lady ended up being one of our Gladiators favorite Halloween costumes this year.

Of course, we also have to talk about Quinn. How has Quinn’s style changed as she’s gotten tougher and more assertive on the show?

Quinn started out on the show as being the perfect, preppy office intern who wore Peter Pan-esque collars and shift dresses. Of course, Quinn really didn’t exist! Now our new Quinn has gone to the dark side, dressing in dark leather jackets and graphic t-shirts. Oh, and boots are essential for getting the job done.

Team Fitz or Team Jake? Just kidding. How do you approach dressing Olivia’s leading men?

I will never choose – I love them both! Fitz has to appear in the classic political uniform. As such, it is often rather tricky to tell the story with his character. However, we do try to make sure that his suiting fits perfectly and he’s more fashion-forward than the suiting you would see in DC. We have a wonderful relationship with Brooks Brothers and they custom-make Tony’s suits for us. I know our Gladiators absolutely love it when Fitz is casual and out of those suits. For all our Fitz fans, get ready because there is quite a bit more of those casual looks coming up in the near future!

Jake has also undergone a huge transition. From wearing his Naval uniform to fashionable Dolce suits, and then to rocking his B613 “urban, spy chic” look, Jake definitely continues to evolve in his sense of fashion.


The women of Scandal are tough as nails. How do you feel wardrobe plays to their fierce nature? How do you think their images and wardrobe have impacted the way women dress?

I think our female characters are amazingly strong and supportive of one another on the show. Whenever they are in trouble, they eventually find each other again. I love how each of the characters has her own personal style. Although those styles may change as their characters change, each character remains distinct from one another. Keeping this distinction is tricky and tough to maintain, but it is essential.

I hope that everyone who watches the show not only enjoys the ride, but also enjoys the fashion. I strive to ensure that our costume choices help the audience gain a better sense of the amazing characters that Shonda Rhimes and her writing team have created. I hope that the women out there watching the show can get ideas for how to dress in their work or personal lives, without having to conform to the traditional professional stereotypes. I also really enjoy talking to our Gladiators via Twitter and looking at their clothing choices, whether it’s before a fun event or a job interview.

WashingtonScandalAre there any particular styles and silhouettes that you’ve noticed trending as a result of the show?

Gosh, I think that Olivia’s palette has certainly caught on in the fashion world! I saw a an all-white color palette everywhere I looked last year. This season, I hope that both our love of gloves and capes, as well as sensual loungewear, will spark a few new looks out there.

What fabrics, materials, and color combos really have you excited for the holiday season?

I am always obsessed (and impressed) with cashmere. Honestly, when I am walking through a store I feel like I tend to pick clothing by touching the fabric – and cashmere never fails me! I am also in love with cream, gold, or champagne-colored silks. Warm and soft, I love the glow that these colored silks give to the skin. I can’t get enough of them on the show!

What do you love about working on “Scandal” and your job in general? How have you changed your approach to dressing the cast since the first season?

Fortunately, whether I am dressing Olivia Pope on Scandal, Bradley Cooper as a chef, or Bill Macy as Frank Gallagher on Shameless, I consider myself to be truly blessed as a professional. Working with amazingly talented people who are creative and innovative is a true joy. I have always enjoyed being a costume designer and right now (thanks to Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers who handed me this amazing show) I am having the time of my life!

One last question – what’s your best piece of fashion advice?

Buy what you love. If you find one thing that works, get it in every color and do not be a slave to fashion!


Be sure to follow Lyn Paolo, Costume Designer for Scandal on Twitter @lynpaolo!

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