'Scandal': Kerry Washington Talks Fashion Strategy at Saks Fifth Avenue Event

"Scandal" cast
"Scandal" cast
 ABC/Lou Rocco

Kerry Washington and her gladiators in suits are back for a third season of Scandal, and fans of the Shonda Rhimes political "fixer" drama are tuning in not only to watch crisis management expert Olivia Pope at work (and play), but also to see what she’ll be wearing. The ABC breakout hit constantly ventures beyond the typical office blazer into sharp, professional workwear that is both fashion-forward and crucial to characterization.

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“People always run up to me in the street and say, ‘I want Olivia’s closet!’ and I’m like, ‘Me, too!’” Washington told The Hollywood Reporter, wearing a Prada dress and Stella McCartney belt to the season premiere party at New York City’s Saks Fifth Avenue on Oct. 2. To dress her character, she and Emmy-winning costume designer Lyn Paolo dissect each script to translate Olivia’s story into style. “We work very hard on creating the aesthetic for her -- there’s a great balance in that she wears power suits – she literally and figuratively wears the pants – but at the same time, the silhouettes and color palette are feminine and approachable. We try to balance her power with her femininity and make those things work together in concert.”

Saks Fifth Avenue filled its flagship windows with mannequin twins of the cast, dressed in memorable outfits curated by Washington and Paolo and designed by Oscar de la Renta, Saint Laurent Paris, Kaufman Franco, Giorgio Armani and Michael Kors, among others. Show quotes like “My world, my rules,” “Life is not a romance novel,” and “I wear the white hat,” adorned the displays, presented in partnership with Mercedes-Benz and also re-created at Saks locations in Beverly Hills and Chevy Chase, MD.

Rhimes never meant for Scandal to lift off in the fashion world, and attributes all credit to Paolo and Washington’s collaboration. “I literally write into the script, ‘Kerry is wearing a swimsuit that changes a world,’ or ‘Kerry is wearing a white hat that changes how people think of hats.’ But it’s really Lyn and Kerry’s job to find those things.”

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“There was this feeling that fashion tells a huge amount about who each one of the characters are, and how you can actually clock how they’re changing by what they wear,” added executive producer Betsy Beers of bringing Paolo on board. “It’s such a great way to get insight as to who these people are, that it felt like an opportunity that would be missed otherwise. Starting with Kerry wearing her Olivia Pope white hat suits -- one of the things we talked about very early on is that she’s this amazingly strong woman who can wear these incredible soft, gorgeous fabrics … It’s just been really fun to watch the fashion grow, and people catch on.”

Paolo, who pulls costume inspiration by “hoarding” magazines and day-to-day photography shots, revealed that Olivia’s signature shade was a happy accident. “This whole thing about her being in white -- it was just this crazy idea I had before I went to see Shonda to discuss the show,” she explained. “People were asking me to do a procedural, and I didn’t want to do another woman in a plain, gray suit. It’s not fun for me! I wanted to do something fun.”

Though showrunner Rhimes is not inherently fashion-minded -- “let’s face it, I’m a girl who would be wearing pajamas 24/7 if given the opportunity!” she said -- she does own Olivia’s white hat from the season 2 finale, and carries the same signature Prada handbag. Rhimes personally favors the sleek First Lady outfits of Mellie Grant (played by Bellamy Young), while Beers prefers the quirky chic picks of Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield).

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The suit-and-tie combinations of Scandal’s leading men -- including President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and crisis lawyer Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) are also celebrated in the Saks Fifth Avenue window displays.

“I can’t really get into my character unless I put the shoes on and feel how they feel on my feet, how he walks, how I’m gonna stand -- It’s a big deal,” said Scott Foley. “If something fits a little better, I know it’s more of a formal scene, and it affects the way I talk a bit and who I’m talking to and the language that I use.” Joshua Malina noted that since Paolo was also the longtime costumer of The West Wing, “she’s been throwing me into suits for ten years.”

Expect season three to push the limits of both the characters’ motivations and their styles. “You’re going to be impressed -- we’ve redefined [some characters] because they’re completely different people this year,” Paolo teased, also mentioning that Olivia’s armor will include more leather gloves and chic capes.

Besides tousled hair and dark eyeliner, look out for luxurious rings and vintage Chanel belts on a newly chic Abby. “Abby has a beautiful makeover this season, so I’m just enjoying every second!” said Stanchfield, dressed in George Hobeika for the premiere fete. “There’s one wool coat that I’m wearing in the first episodes – almost an eggplant color from Donna Karan’s fall collection. It wraps around and has a tiny little waist. It’s the most luscious coat -- in fact, I didn’t want to take it off.”

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Also transformed is Quinn, whose edgy wardrobe will emulate her darker aspirations. “At first, Quinn was really the person playing by the D.C. rules of fashion – grays, blacks, navy blue suits and button-downs,” said Katie Lowes, wearing Rachel Roy, of her character’s shift from cookie-cutter Capitol Hill outfits to newly blood-splattered shirts, thanks in part to Huck (Guillermo Diaz). Her favorite outfit so far is the leather-trimmed Burberry trench coat from the rainy season three promotional shoot, but Quinn isn’t as buttoned-up in upcoming episodes. “Let’s just give you a hint -- there are fishnets involved!”

As for Olivia’s highly coveted wardrobe? Washington admitted she constantly eyes her character’s Prada bags. “In the season finale, she wore this gorgeous white Tom Ford that I was obsessed with, but there is a navy [Alexander] McQueen jacket that she wears in the first episode that is just gorgeous.”

Scandal airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC. Hit the comments below with which character’s wardrobe is your favorite, and come back to THR's The Live Feed for the weekly Scandal Case Study after the episode airs.

Twitter: @cashleelee

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