Throughout Scandal’s seven seasons, we’ve seen countless iterations of Olivia Pope. We met our heroine when she was uncorrupted, innocent of political crime, wielding a literal white hat. We’ve seen her love-struck and romantic, parading Oscar de la Renta gowns across the White House. We watched her evolve into the murderous, corrupt head of B613, trading in her pastels for dark hues and elbow-high gloves. And in the show’s final season, we’ll see yet another version of Olivia, according to costume designer Lyn Paolo.
“I feel like there have been episodes where she literally was a different person in each scene,” Paolo told InStyle. “In the first three seasons it was truly more about being a gladiator in a suit and wearing a white hat, but as time evolved and her relationship with her mother and her father became dark and also her relationship with Fitz changed, there have been so many evolutions.”
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Those many subtle shifts in character, she said, inform her design process. “Shonda [Rhimes] paints a different picture every week, and then I have the fun of trying to make that be visually beautiful while also telling the story,” Paolo said. “I read the script five or six times and I make notes in the script about what’s happening here, what are we trying to convey, how are each of the characters feeling. I can then make copious notes about what each outfit, what each costume needs to reveal to the audience.”
Kerry Washington, who brings Olivia to life on the small screen, collaborates with Paolo every step of the way. “I love hearing their thoughts because after all, other than Shonda, who knows Olivia Pope better than Kerry, or who knows Fitzgerald Grant better than Tony [Goldwyn]? Between Shonda and the actors, it’s sort of symbiotic now. They’ve lived in that person’s skin for so long that I’m always very aware of ensuring that their opinions are heard.”
Even Washington must have been shocked, though, at the turn that Olivia takes in the show’s final season. According to Paolo, the crossover between Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder sees a very “casual” Olivia Pope outside of Washington, D.C., leaving the pomp and circumstance of the White House behind.
“She doesn’t have her own company anymore, and she’s outside the D.C. world. Especially when she transitions into Annalise Keating’s world, you’ll definitely see a different Olivia there,” Paolo said of the upcoming two-episode crossover.
Does “casual” Olivia imply a return to her morals as well? The costume designer hopes that we’ll see the reemergence of her white hat before the show wraps for good. “I keep telling Kerry, ‘I don’t know if I like this Olivia right now.’ And we have a good giggle, but yeah, I think she will. I hope she will,” Paolo said. “I don’t think even Kerry knows. I don’t think any of the actors have any clue how the show is going to end.”
White hat or not, Olivia Pope’s accessories game has always been on-point. From Prada bags to Manolo Blahnik pumps, the D.C. fixer knows how to polish an outfit. And according to her costume designer, you don’t need to break the budget to get the look.
“It’s really just about the silhouettes and the color palette. You don’t have to spend that kind of money. Buy something that is complementary to you. Don’t be a slave to fashion,” Paolo told InStyle. “Always have everything fit to your body. And then the accessory part I think is the fun and the easy part. What we play with with all of the accessories is having a pop of color, so you’ll notice Kerry will literally be in black head-to-toe and then we’ll just pop a bright red bag. I think that’s just fun, as opposed to having your bag match everything. I love the idea of having a splash of color here or there.”
As for Olivia’s style (and attitude) this final season, Paolo has one word: “fierce.” Tune in to see an all-new Olivia Pope dominate the screen when Scandal returns to ABC on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 9 p.m. ET.