'House of Cards' Costume Designer Tom Broecker Talks Beltway Style

House of Cards Robin Wright Episodic - P 2013

House of Cards Robin Wright Episodic - P 2013

Don't look in D.C. for the understated, conservative styles worn by Robin Wright on "House of Cards" — head to New York, like the show's designer does.

Robin Wright’s House of Cards character -- Claire Underwood --  has a wardrobe that any good professional woman worth her weight in sensible stilettos would kill for. Seriously. It’s that chic, calm, cool and collected.

To play the calculatingly ambitious wife of Senator Francis Underwood ( Kevin Spacey), Wright  wears predominately neutral-hued tailored styles from American labels including Calvin Klein, Theory, Banana Republic, Zac Posen, Marchesa and Ralph Lauren, with an occasional bit of Gucci and Armani mixed in. In the photo at left, she wears a Zac Posen dress and Antonio Berardi belt and carries a YSL bag. The Netflix political series costume designer Tom Broecker -- who has been designing for Saturday Night Live for 16 years and created Liz Lemon's iconic  blazer/hoodie 30 Rock combo -- talked to THR, about Claire's polished power dressing..

The Hollywood Reporter: How does her clothing telegraph Claire’s inner workings?

Thomas Broecker: She’s really a modern day Lady MacBeth. You can’t root for her but you also can’t dismiss her. Everything about her controlled, tailored, precise, studied, with nothing out of place. But it's not stuffy. It’s also not terribly feminine, but there is a sexiness to it without being vulgar or overt. She dresses the way an attractive powerful woman over 40, married to a senator and running a non-profit wants to look.

THR: Does Claire even own a pair of jeans?

Thomas Broecker: No. She only wore  pants twice in the first season and that was because it was on a Sunday. She’s wearing a blazer, mannish slacks and Chanel boots. These people are facades and they put on their image when they leave the house. There is nothing casual about them. I felt like Claire had an armor – her uniform -- around her to maintain the public face. 

THR: How often do you shop for Claire? Are you able to shop locally in Baltimore or DC?

TB: I’m always shopping; every day, every moment, six or seven days a week. There’s nowhere to shop in Baltimore. In D.C., there’s a Nordstrom but they don’t carry the styles you can find in New York. Most of Claire’s clothing Is from New York. So I have to shop for her in New York, on the weekends or if I have a day off, I shop. If I have an afternoon off, I'll take the train up and shop and come back that night. It’s funny because DC is only a few hours from NY. But you go down there, D.C. is a completely different world, even from Chicago and Philly. They have a very specific way of dressing inside the Beltway. Plus I have to buy everything because we have to alter for Claire. So I can’t return it. I can borrow for background but not our principals.

THR: Kevin Spacey’s public image is also very controlled. Tell me about his suits.

TB: Each one of his shirts takes eight hours to fit him perfectly, including changing the collar, altering the sleeves and cuffs. He wears the grays and the blues. Kevin wanted to do a nod to the original British version of the show so we dealt with a Saville Row company, Gieves & Hawke, for all his wardrobe and had it all tailored for him.

THR: Which episode did you pick for Emmy consideration?

TB: I chose the first episode. We were looking at this season as a 13-hour movie.  We really have to design it that way because many people will watch all 13 hours at once. II knew I could only pick one hour so I chose the first. There are three parties and the Inauguration, so there’s a lot of visual stuff happening. And I actually designed the black dress that Claire wears in the opening sequence on New Year’s Eve.

THR: Let's talk  about the dress and why you had to make it.

TB: It had to zip up (Spacey helps her do that) and it had to have an exposed back. We also knew it would have to be strapless and dressy and we just could not find anything just like that. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just make it?’ The dress really harkens back to the famous Dior silhouette. But it’s heavily corseted so it looks like it’s floating on her, with a gorgeous waist, a slightly asymmetrical neckline and a tight gorgeous skirt. You can barely see the dress in the episode. But it was nice because all the internal underpinnings helped inform the audience about her controlled character even though they could not see it.