"Scandal" Costume Designer Lyn Paolo On What It Takes to Dress Kerry Washington
Growing up in Sunderland, a small city in the North of England, Lyn Paolo had no idea that "costume designer" was a profession. Now, the 30-year industry veteran has a body of work that is essentially a list of our all-time favorite shows — "The West Wing," "ER," and the reigning champion of small-screen fashion, "Scandal." But early on in her career, the art of costume design was often unsung and overlooked.
"Like many people, it just never occurred to me to question where all those amazing clothes on shows came from," Paolo says. Thankfully though, for the sartorially-inclined television lover, those days are largely behind us.
After her time at University, Paolo moved to Los Angeles and discovered the world of styling by working on commercials and music videos. The two-time Emmy winner and mother of two says that the toughest part of costume design is indeed, starting out.
"It is a hard climb to learn your craft on a daily basis," Paolo says. "However, I am grateful for the years it took me to work my way up to be a costume designer because those years are the basis of my knowledge. I have worked in every aspect of a costume crew so I know what it takes for my team to get the job done."
You could say that. Paolo has racked up 44 costume designer credits since her days of assisting and supervising within costume departments. Along with her two Emmy wins for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Costuming for a Series, Paolo has earned four Emmy nominations and three Costume Designers Guild nominations for Outstanding Contemporary Television Series, for both "West Wing" and "Scandal."
The best part about Paolo's work, though, is that so much of it has been dressing fabulous, smart, savvy career women. C.J. Cregg, Abbey Bartlet, Donna Moss, Carol Hathaway, Kerry Weaver, Elizabeth Corday — the list goes on and on. When asked to choose a favorite, Paolo understandably couldn’t do it.
"That is a tough question; I have had such amazing characters and actors to dress over the years," she says. "But at the moment of course, my favorite would have to be Olivia Pope."
Speaking of television's most notorious work wardrobe, Paolo's styling of Olivia Pope is nothing short of iconic. A simple Google search of "Olivia Pope style" returns almost *four million* results. So many women aspire to Pope's style that The Limited recently tapped Paolo and Kerry Washington to collaborate on a ready-to-wear collection full of structured work dresses and dreamy coats.
While Paolo has said that she does not think of herself as a fashion designer, she says that creating The Limited collections was an amazing learning experience.
"I enjoyed every moment," Paolo says. "The Limited team — and especially their head Designer Elliot Staples — were all so collaborative and really concerned with ensuring that the Scandal line was representative of the show."
For the working woman who still hopes to dress like Olivia (who doesn't?), Paolo summed up her lead’s style in three words: intelligent, strong, and feminine. But ultimately, Paolo is a big proponent of embracing your own personal style. Rather than, say, "Go buy a white cape," her work-style advice is simply to be true to yourself. "Wear what you know works on your body and what tells your personal story," she says.
Because at the end of the day, it's not about inspiring the working wardrobes of an entire generation (although, you know, she is). Paolo is a master of her craft, which means the story always comes first.
"As a costume designer I am ultimately concerned with telling the story," she says. "I work to give the words that Shonda Rhimes has created a visual style. Shonda writes such amazing characters and her stories are so intricate and dense — I adore getting a script from our writers and I get really excited about making the words come to life."
A job that, of course, means working alongside Washington and Rhimes, perhaps the most inspiring women in pop culture right now. Unsurprisingly, it is just as much of a delight as you'd expect.
"We have an absolute blast working together," Paolo says. "It really does not feel like work at all. Going to work with these talented, kind, intelligent ladies is a joy. They make me better at what I do because of their leadership."
Whether you aspire to work in Hollywood or not, this seriously successful lady has a piece of advice for you: "Be resilient, and don’t listen when people say you cannot do it. YOU CAN."
For more wise words and behind-the-scenes fashion from the set of "Scandal," follow Paolo on Twitter @LynPaolo and Instagram @LynElizabethDesigns.
Photo Credit: Scandal ABC/Facebook