I’m not even going to pretend that I am not naturally inclined to get rather obsessed with shows. But there are shows. And then there are shows. The Good Wife absolutely had me at hello and has not missed a single beat. No shark jumping, no mistakes, no dull episodes. It is one of the most perfectly crafted shows on TV. Hyperbole? In this case I don’t think so.
So I was crazy excited when I found out that as part of my year long partnership with Dryel I was going to be able to interview the Emmy-nominated costume designer for The Good Wife, Dan Lawson. I may watch the show for the riveting plotline, but believe me, I have noticed the clothes. I am not a working woman, so suits aren’t really my jam, but I know stylish when I see it and man is that cast stylish. Dan is so talented that he has even developed his own line, 35-DL.
I will confess, I probably should have spent my time interviewing him about how to build a great work wardrobe, how to keep yourself looking professional but stylish, or how to keep clothes looking their best. But because I am such a fan girl I pretty much spent time asking him about characters on the show. Oops. We’ll get to the non fan girl questions at the end of the interview.
Here is my interview with Mr. Lawson:
What is your background that led you to costume design? Well, I studied costume design in college. Then, of course, one gets out of school and starts questioning everything. But I absolutely knew costume design was my calling when I saw the Merchant/Ivory film, “A Room With a View”. I was truly moved by the story that the clothing told in that movie. I was such a nerd, I even wrote the costume designer to say how much I loved her work. Of course, she didn’t write back, but I knew that was what I wanted to do nonetheless.
“Fashion” really came into play later when I started working in television on such shows as “One Life To Live”, “Lipstick Jungle”, “Kings”, and of course, “The Good Wife”. TGW in particular was the perfect marriage of costume design and fashion for me.
I studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. It was a dream to get to attend that school. I started out thinking I was going to act, but that quickly went away when I realized that I just got way too nervous any time I had to be on the stage.
Then I discovered that as a costume designer, I kind of get to play all the parts in my head and think about all the characters and their feelings and situations and story arcs, etc. I had a director once tell me that he loved working with me because I paint using fabric and clothing. I love the idea of that.
Anyway, I then got my MFA from Rutgers University in theater design. I spent the next couple of years designing very off-Broadway and regional theater productions. I got to assist one of the great legends of costume design, Patricia Zipprodt during the first season of Tony Randall’s National Actors Theater in NYC, which was an amazing experience. Eventually, I had the opportunity to assistant costume design on ABC’s “One Life To Live” and although I had no TV experience, the designer hired me because I was enthusiastic and very willing to learn. From there I went to designing indie films and assisting in prime time TV. Finally, while I was associate costume designer on NBC’s “Third Watch”, I was promoted to costume designer and that was pretty much that.
I did have the incredible luck and opportunity to assist, in my opinion, one the greatest costume designers of all time, Albert Wolsky, on “Across the Universe” and “Revolutionary Road”. Albert really changed the way I thought about costumes and how I approached design. He continues to be my mentor and idol today.
Have you worked on other things besides The Good Wife? I designed for regional theaters and off off Broadway shows. I have been the assistant costume designer on movies like “Enchanted”, “Across the Universe”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”, “Revolutionary Road”. I have worked on “Law and Order”, “OZ”, “One Life To Live”. I have designed numerous pilots along with TV series.
Most of the cast of The Good Wife is in suits most of the time. How do you keep that from getting stale? I keep it fresh because I let the story dictate where the wardrobe goes. The characters’ looks are always changing as the stories change and that keeps the wardrobe alive; it’s like another character on the show.
How do you match the look of the character to what is going on in the plot? When I read the script, sometimes I know immediately what piece I want to use in a scene. Other times, I have to research and really think about it. For me, it’s all about telling the story. So when I shop or go through the closets, I’m always thinking about what will tell the story in the best way. Of course, there are lots of elements that come into play when designing costumes – some things conceptual and some things are based in reality, things like what the weather is going to be, what color are the walls, is the actress tired of wearing a skirt all the time, do I need multiples for a stunt or photo double, what’s the budget, etc. The list goes on and on. A lot of these things I just think about automatically.
Kalinda has a decidedly sexier look than the rest of the cast but still has to look professional. How do you keep that balance? I ask myself if she looks like she stands out (in a bad way). I like to keep her look as “high end” as the lawyers, but since she is not a lawyer, I want her look to delineate her and make her seem like the role she is playing. She definitely has a more overt sexual vibe to her and it’s important to play that without having her look cheap or trashy. It’s amazing what a hint of cleavage and high leather boots can do for the imagination. I think people think they see a lot more skin on Kalinda than they actually do. It just seems like she’s showing more because of how the actress plays the role and because of the sensual materials used in her costumes.
How would you define Alicia’s style outside the office? Upscale casual and probably a little conservative. Jeans and a good sweater or blouse. She even goes into that preppy world a little.
Are most of the clothes the cast wears custom? Or off the rack? Most of the principle men’s suits are custom made. Some of the ladies things are custom. Certainly the pieces that come from my line, 35•DL are custom. I also partner with companies who will specialize looks for me for the show. Akris will do that. Style Paris will do that. number 35 and 35•DL certainly do. Karolina Zmarlak will too. On the other hand, I think we are pretty good at shopping and sifting through all the stores to find those unique pieces that help define our characters and tell the story.
How many outfit changes does a character go through in a typical episode? The number of outfits per episode is completely dependent on the episode. This season Alicia has had episodes where she has only had one look for the whole episode. She has also had episodes where she has had 12 or 13 changes. I would say in a given season, Alicia usually has somewhere between 150 and 200 outfits. We do 22 episodes. So the number of changes adds up quickly!
If you could only pack 5 items in your fashion survival kit, what would they be?
Female: the perfect skirt (pencil or “A”); a versatile blouse; a well-heeled pump that is comfortable (not an easy thing to find, but well worth the effort of looking!); a nicely maintained bag – not a backpack; a simple, elegant earring that goes with everything
Male: a well fitting suit; a white dress shirt with a nice crisp collar; a good leather belt; a classic dress shoe that is comfortable; and, like the ladies, a nicely maintained bag – not a backpack
Why did you decide to start using Dryel on set and how has it helped you? Dryel has become a great alternative for us to dry-cleaning and laundering because of how safe it is to use on our clothing. Since it won’t shrink, fade or stretch garments, it is the perfect cleaning item to use between days of wearing the same costume, even between scenes on certain days. It also saves us money because we aren’t sending the dry-cleaning out as much as we normally would. It’s also a great product for freshening up those thrift store finds that come with that special “thrift store” funk.
It was interesting to me that he uses Dryel for the exact same reasons I do. Although I must admit I never thought about it for getting the “funk out”. But it really does leave your clothes smelling fantastic. So much better than that weird dry cleaner chemical smell. And it is so crazy easy to use.
I seriously found the interview fascinating and it made me realize how much thought goes into clothing in our favorite shows. I also asked him some top secret plot questions that I don’t want to share with you in case you take my advice and start binge watching the show. But if you are caught up you know I HAD to ask him about a recent plot twist that came out of nowhere. What a fun little perk of blogging!
Disclosure: I’m a Dryel Ambassador and have a year long partnership with them. I was compensated for my time in creating this post.