Primetime Style

10.23.12

Inside the High-End Fashion Sensibility on CBS’s ‘The Good Wife’

Dior! Proenza Schouler! Vivienne Westwood! Prada! Jace Lacob talks to Good Wife costume designer Daniel Lawson about how Alicia, Diane, and Kalinda’s evolving high-end styles showcase their character development.

Within the cavernous warehouse that is home to the costumes for CBS’s sophisticated legal drama The Good Wife, there are apparently 600 women’s suits at any given time, waiting to be worn by Juliana Margulies’s Alicia Florrick and Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart.

“I probably have in the vicinity of 300, 350 for Alicia, and probably 250 suits for Diane,” said the show’s Emmy Award-nominated costume designer, Daniel Lawson.

Given The Good Wife’s setting—the white shoe Chicago law firm Lockhart/Gardner—it’s to be expected that there would be quite a few designer suits on the racks for the two lawyer characters. But that astronomical number points to Lawson’s meticulousness and passion about the show’s strong use of fashion, which includes such notable labels as Proenza Schouler (embodied by a gorgeous jade green jacket worn by Margulies’s Alicia in the fourth season opener), Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood, Akris, L.K. Bennett, Ralph Lauren, Ferragamo, and others.

Lawson, who previously worked on HBO’s Bored to Death and NBC’s Kings, came on board The Good Wife after the show’s pilot and has been responsible for defining the clear styles of all of the characters through some fashion-forward pieces, explosive bursts of color, and tight looks for each of the ensemble cast, from the slick tailoring on male characters like Matt Czuchry’s Cary Agos to the juxtaposition of leather and chiffon on Archie Panjabi’s legal investigator, Kalinda Sharma.

Inspiration can come from a walk around Manhattan, runway shows, fashion magazines (“I looked through a lot of law magazines, and that was a bit of a snooze,” said Lawson), or even Facebook profiles. He also looks to the show’s production designer, Steven Hendrickson, the creators—husband and wife team Robert and Michelle King—and the actors themselves for inspiration. “If what I’m doing isn’t supporting what they’re doing, it’s for naught,” Lawson said. The actors were excited to learn how far Lawson wanted to take the show aesthetically, he recalled. “All of the actors were pleasantly surprised that the show went to a slightly elevated level of reality as far as the fashion,” he said. “It’s kind of rare that a lawyer show has started to become known for its wardrobe.”

With so many costume changes per episode, the wardrobe for the show continues to expand exponentially. “I’m constantly buying more,” said Lawson. “That’s something that I think is good for the show. We do repeat pieces from time to time, but we also have a healthy influx of new things to keep it looking fresh. New, new, new.”

The show’s wardrobe recently got a bit of a real-life crossover when Kate Middleton and Margulies’s Alicia wore the same L.K. Bennett peplum jacket. “I thought it was really flattering,” said Lawson. “Kate Middleton definitely wore it first, although we had ordered it before we saw her wearing it. Both are very strong, beautiful women, and Alicia should take that as a real compliment that royalty is wearing what she’s wearing … We love that label.”

It’s become one of many designers closely associated with a particular character. Alicia is often in Dior or Prada. Diane has frequented the Ferragamo section of her closet, particularly in Season 2. Kalinda is often attired in Elie Tahari, Derek Lam, Karen Millen, or Dolce & Gabbana. But Lawson said it’s not a matter of keeping designers relegated to certain characters.

“It’s always exciting when you find a piece that’s outside the go-to’s,” Lawson said. “Alicia’s worn Vivienne Westwood. Prada, she does a lot; Ralph Lauren, L.K. Bennett, Dior. A lot of Dior this year … But one of the major tools we have in our box here is that we almost never use anything as it is. We always alter it, change design details. We just had this Armani jacket that Alicia wore that’s coming up in the 10th episode: we took off peplum, we lowered the waist, we added a contrasting piece there, we added darts to it that were visible darts that you see from the outside. I always pride myself on being able to look at something and saying, ‘Well, if we shorten the sleeves and lengthen the body, change the lapel, and change the buttons, it’s perfect.’”

Lawson has excelled at mirroring the individual character’s development and growth within their wardrobes, which is no easy feat. Alicia has transformed from the wife of a disgraced politician enmeshed in a sex scandal into a powerful and accomplished attorney whose clothes reflect her ambition and drive, as well as the aura of privilege and independence around her.

“Alicia has really evolved,” said Lawson. “She was a politician’s wife, so she dressed that way. Then the whole scandal happened, and they lost the house, and she had to move into an apartment, and go back to work…We didn’t want to make her frumpy at all. It really became about mixing and matching her wardrobe, having really minimal jewelry, and reworking a politician’s wife’s clothes into a working woman’s wardrobe.”

Alicia’s promotion at the end of Season 2 led to a further transition with her wardrobe, even as she embarked on an affair with her boss, Will Gardner (Josh Charles). Those mix-and-match looks evolved into pieces from Alexander McQueen, Etro, and Dior. “She was doing much better and coming into her own sexually. We transitioned into more ensemble outfits, things that were more head-to-toe looks, and we added more jewelry to it…I always want to be aware of her body and what she’s wearing. I wanted her feminine. I think that was really important with all three of the ladies, to have them maintain a sense of femininity in a man’s legal world, and it was really important to me that we hang on to that. Why can’t they be feminine and be strong?”

Last season, Alicia’s wardrobe contained a deliberate “slight nod to the ’40s,” said Lawson, one that played up the feminine form. And in Season 4, it’s about demonstrating how far she’s come and where she might go next. “I started with the Proenza Schouler jacket [because] I wanted the audience to think, “Oh, well, we know what color she wears,” and suddenly have her in a color they’ve never seen her wear before. It’s sort of me saying, ‘Keep watching, because you think you know everything and you don’t.’ There are surprises coming up, and this jacket is just the first one of many.”

Stylish and sophisticated, Baranski’s Diane Lockhart was conceived as being a Michigan Avenue type, Chicago’s answer to the Upper East Side, but her muted palette in the pilot quickly evolved to a more lush but still professional look: Ferragamo, Escada, or even a vintage Givenchy leopard-print jacket from Baranski’s own collection. “She’s got the money to wear these amazing labels,” said Lawson. “[Christine] has always been known for playing comedic roles, or fashion roles like on Cybil, and she said, ‘I want to come across like a real lawyer. I don’t want to be just a walking fashion Barbie.’ In the pilot, she wears two gray suits, and I was like, ‘OK, I think we can do better than that’…I wanted her to have a very solid foot in the traditional, as well as having a solid foot in the modern, and mixing those two.”

Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda Sharma doesn’t fit in anywhere, least of all in a high-end law firm where the attorneys are all in suits. Her sensibilities tend more toward, say, an Agent Provocateur bustier than business wear. “It’s all about contradictions: strong and soft, and leather and chiffon,” Lawson said. “When she first started, [Panjabi] wanted to wear jeans and she wanted to wear slouch boots. I just remember the first sitting with her, and I said, ‘No, let’s look at skirts. Why can’t she be strong and in a skirt?’ She and I really worked together with figuring out this odd layering of clothes on her that, again, emphasized the feminine but also emphasized strength. It’s something that has been really successful with her.”

Kalinda’s style is among the most singular on television, a juxtaposition of textures and sartorial influences, and her embrace of leather jackets and boots has created an iconic look for viewers. “One of the big things that I wanted to do with Kalinda was not have her look like one of the lawyers,” said Lawson. “She needed to look like she belonged there, and yet she didn’t belong there.”

“She’s always such a mysterious character. Anything mysterious with wardrobe helps with that, and I love constantly shaking it up,” Lawson continued. “Sometimes she’ll have some trippy chiffon blouse with a leather vest over it, and a ruffle skirt. And then the next time it’ll be a leather skirt and a harder top. Just always keep them guessing.”

As for what is coming up fashion-wise on The Good Wife, Lawson was tight-lipped, but he did drop a few hints about some designers we can expect to see during the fourth season.

“Designer-wise, I’m mad about Dior, I really am,” said Lawson. “We’ve got a little Fendi action coming up. Akris has been really fantastic for me, and we’ve got some hot Moschino action. I’m so lucky.”