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Dress the Part

L.A. Costume Designer Lyn Paolo, the woman behind Olivia Pope’s fixer fashion, talks Scandal’s sartorial influence.

Wearing white in winter, gloves for all occasions, Rising Lotus Yoga, BuzzFeed

Being late because of traffic, dresses that aren’t tailored, power-dressing like it’s the ‘70s or ‘80s

“Olivia Pope is a very busy lady—I imagine that she has little time to shop,” says Scandal’s costume designer, Lyn Paolo. And running the crisis management firm Pope & Associates means an unofficial uniform is par for the course: “Last season everyone talked about her gloves and her suiting,” Paolo says. “This season, the focus is on her coats.” In the way that Janie Bryant’s costume work for Mad Men quickly became a red-carpet reference, Scandal’s more modern, feminine wardrobe has had the fashion world’s attention since the ABC television show premiered in 2012. Unsurprisingly, the D.C.-based drama has designers chomping at the bit to dress Kerry Washington’s petite but powerful frame. Burberry, Michael Kors and Tom Ford are among the luxe labels with previous airtime, and viewers can expect to see more of Pope’s monochromatic grays, blacks and whites in heavy rotation when the series returns Feb. 27: “The focus is always on trying to create a look that works for Washington, D.C., but that has an edge,” says Paolo, who also admittedly uses color to reflect character emotion. Working within the dress code of our nation’s capital is practically in Paolo’s DNA—though British, she outfitted fictitious politicians on The West Wing. And sure, both shows share a city, but as Paolo notes, “they take place in very different worlds.” She adds, “Olivia Pope is not confined by being a politician; she works outside of the White House, which allows me to dress her in a more fashion-forward, although still subtle, way.” While often attending Fashion Week runway shows and pulling from the racks of top designers like Ralph Lauren and Dior, building a fashion plate isn’t Paolo’s main concern. “My job is to tell the story that [Scandal creator] Shonda Rhimes has created. I love helping to tell that story,” she says. So, is the fixer’s closet trending in D.C.? “I have no idea if Scandal is having an effect on style in Washington. You will have to ask a politician!”