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Calling all Scandal fans: an interview with Costume Buyer, Kristine Haag.

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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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The best costumes in film of all time part one

There are hundreds of iconic and much-loved costumes in film, whether it’s from a period-drama, a Hollywood classic, a musical or a modern-day favourite – there are so many it’s difficult to narrow them down to just a few … so here’s On Screen Fashion’s part one of the best costumes in film of all time.

One: The Seven Year Itch

I don’t think there’s anybody in the entire world that isn’t familiar with this costume … probably the most iconic costume in the film industry. The beautiful blonde bombshell herself Marilyn Monroe is in an ivory cocktail dress and in this particular scene, standing above a subway in New York which is also classed as one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. The style of this dress was popular in the 1950s and 1960s with the design being very revealing due to the halter neck, plunging neckline and pleated skirt which meant the legs, arms, shoulders and back were bare. The dress was designed by costume designer William Travilla and last year sold for $5.6 million at auction.

Two: Moulin Rouge

Nicole Kidman starring as Satine in romantic jukebox-musical Moulin Rouge wears this stunning costume while working her job as a cabaret actress/dancer at a night club. The silver rhinestone covered bodice has a black rhinestone covered bow tie  with silver star detail on her hips, fringe detail also on her hips and fringe detail dipped at the back. The top hat is made from black beaver-skin (dislike!) with black braid around the brim alongside silver diamantes. Costume designer Catherine Martin wanted the clothing to communicate the feeling of the late 19th century/early 20th century while also interpreting the looks for a modern audience. All of the dancers costumes are very different due to inspiration being taken from buckets upon buckets of research from divas of the ’40s and ’50s.

Three. Atonement

Keira Knightley’s green dress has actually been described as the best film costume of all time in a poll conducted by Sky Movies and In Style magazine. Although I disagree with this title, it is undoubtedly a beautiful costume and one of the best costumes of all time. The dress was hand-made by costume designer Jacqueline Durran and the emerald-green colour was specifically chosen to represent temptation and to coincide with this novel extract it is adapted from – “As she pulled it on she approved of the firm caress of the bias cut through the silk of her petticoat, and she felt sleekly impregnable, slippery and secure; it was a mermaid who rose to meet her in her own full-length mirror.” Director Joe Wright worked alongside Jacqueline to make sure that the dress was true to the book and this dress was produced which is made from green silk and flows as she walks as if she were underwater. There are actually three different dresses in the film, all of the same cut and design yet the shades of green are altered slightly to reflect Cecelia’s (Keira Knightly) emotion which meant over 100 yards of white silk was dyed in order to create the desired effects.

Four: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

If a costume could incorporate simplicity, chic and elegance into one it would be this one worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1960’s romantic comedy, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She’s made the LBD or little black dress a fashion staple in every women’s wardrobe and all these years on, this dress alongside her glamorous accessories is very much an iconic costume in film history. The slim, basic black dress was designed by French aristocrat Hubert de Givenchy, or more commonly known as Givenchy which has become a timeless piece. The sleeveless satin sheath evening gown is floor length with a fitted bodice embellishment at the back with a distinctive cut-out and the skirt slightly gathered. The dress is very classic and the finest example of British glamour – it isn’t too revealing due to the length of the dress and the elbow-length black gloves yet with the shoulders on show it showcases definitive femininity.

Five: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

There is a clear transformation from the first Elizabeth film which is shown in the way that Cate Blanchett is draped in very different costumes. It’s 27 years later, around 1585 and she’s become a powerful, confident monarch who has very obviously had a journey in the way that she presents herself. Not focusing on historical history, the director Shekhar Kapur wanted the colours to be very different from the first Elizabeth film – he wanted them much lighter and feminine, highlighting the emotional journey with Elizabeth wearing blue, the colour of yearning yet not traditionally associated with England. Costume designer Alexandra Byrne got her inspiration from both research of the Elizabethan period and modern fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood. The extraordinary scale of the skirt is deliberate, it’s to distinguish the space around her – you are not to be physically close to the queen therefore the skirt of the dress was much a much harder corset shape during public occasions.

To be continued …

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