Q&A: 'Scandal' Costume Designer Lyn Paolo Previews Olivia Pope's New Style, Talks 'Smellie Mellie'

by Antoinette Bueno 7:21 AM PST, January 29, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

ETonline talked with Scandal costume designer Lyn Paolo ahead of Thursday's winter premiere to get the scoop on what viewers can expect when it comes to Olivia Pope's flawless style in season four, and to find out what it was like dressing Bellamy Young during her infamous "Smellie Mellie" stage.

Read on for our exclusive chat with the award-winning costume designer!

ETonline: Can you tell us what kind of outfits we can look forward to when Scandal returns on Thursday?

Lyn Paolo: Gosh, that is tricky without giving the story lines away. I will say that you will see a lot of the characters on the show in new and startling new ways. You will still have those classic Scandal looks but there is a lot happening in Olivia's world that will be unexpected.

PHOTOS: Ranking All the Looks from The Limited's 'Scandal' Collection

Who or what is your inspiration for dressing Olivia Pope?

Photo: ABC

Gosh there were so many variables early on in the process of creating the image of OP, but honestly the words that Shonda Rhimes put on the page ARE the real inspiration for Olivia.

Do you base any of Olivia's wardrobe on her mood or what's happening on the show?

Absolutely. The challenge now is not to foreshadow events too soon within the story as our Gladiators have become so good at spotting what the costumes are reflecting ... If Mellie is in green they instantly assume there is going to be a scene with Fitz and Olivia, or if Olivia is in something dark our fans start tweeting with a lot of OMG's.

Describe Olivia's style.

Olivia's style evolves depending on story and mood, that being said we always strive for strength and femininity together not an either or ... a combination of strong, assertive and feminine all together.

Photo: ABC

What's your reaction to fans' overwhelming obsession with Olivia's outfits?

I love hearing from our Gladiators and I am truly enjoying interacting with the fans. It is lovely to see how the understanding of what a Costume Designer does is growing with our fans.

Do you have any advice for women trying to create Olivia's look?

Know your body, find what looks good on you and stick with that. Always be true to yourself and you will have the OP swagger.

Which Olivia outfit would you want Michelle Obama to wear?

That is a tough one as I am such a huge fan of Mrs. Obama and her style. I would hope that she and the President can have a wine and popcorn break once in a while so I would love to imagine Mrs. Obama relaxing with her family in an Olivia Pope casual look at home.

How much fun was it to dress Bellamy Young during her "Smelly Mellie" stage? What kind of thought went into that?

Photo: ABC

Actually, I was in London working on a film when this incarnation of Mellie was written. Bellamy and I talked a great deal back and forth discussing ideas and I was in contact with Shonda about the look because we wanted to get it just right. I had found some images that I loved and after Shonda and I talked we decided this Mellie should feel eccentric ... not dirty or disgusting. She just did not care what people thought of her anymore. So we combined aged items with super elegant robes by designers like Meng, Natori and Khristine, to give that devil may care/I don't give a damn attitude that Bellamy brought to Mellie.

The loungewear on the show has been amazing. Can you give us tips on how to stylishly pull it off?

The loungewear on the show is one of my favorites to put together. The idea of Olivia when she was "relaxing" intrigued me early on in the process. It seems to me that her mind does not relax and although she should be comfortable in her loungewear, it should still feel as luxurious as her day wear and almost feel like a uniform. I love mixing different designers, La Perla pants, Theory shell and Donna Karen, The Row or TSE knit wear. The loungewear is something I would love to bring to our Gladiators at some point in the future.

How does it feel to be nominated once again for a Costume Designers Guild Award for Scandal?

So grateful and thrilled to be chosen by my peers again. It is just the icing on the cake after such a wonderful season on the show and also having the wonderful experience of working with Kerry on the line for The Limited.

Scandal returns to ABC's Thank Goodness It's Thursday lineup at 9 p.m. ET.

VIDEO: Check Out Kerry Washington's 'Scandal' Inspired Clothing Line

Check out the video below for a timeline of sex on Shonda Rhimes' shows, from polite kissing to full-on Eiffel Towering.