The Politician Season Two recently made its debut on Netflix, roping us back into Payton Hobart’s (Ben Platt) political melodrama. Now taking on the Big Apple and running for a seat in New York State Senate, Payton goes head-to-head with the incumbent Dede Standish (Judith Light) and her Chief-of-Staff Hassadah Gold (Bette Midler). Backed by his campaign staff of former friends and foes–Alice Charles (Julia Schlaepfer), Astrid Slaon (Lucy Boynton), McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss), James Sullivan (Theo Germaine), and Skye Leighton (Rahne Jones)–Payton schemes his way through the election, much as he did for student body president at St. Sebastian in the first season.
While the politics and egos in the Ryan Murphy-created show drive the plot, the characters’ wardrobes also serve to underline their stories. From a more mature Payton to the independent Astrid to eco-warrior Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), each character’s signature style has been upgraded for Season Two. Costume Designer Claire Parkinson and her team returned to outfit the cast, playing on specific actors’ strengths and their cohesion as a political body. Payton’s penchant for turtlenecks and Gucci suits, for example, shows he means business without assuming the uniform of the politicians before him. Here, Parkinson tells CR all about the costuming process for Season Two, including designing suiting for Hassadah, shopping sustainably for Infinity, and making Payton into a not-so-average politician.
In Season Two, Payton and his friends are a bit more grown up. What was the process like for figuring out how that evolution would be reflected in the costumes?
“We were really fortunate in Season One that we already had tackled that with Episode Eight, because it ends three years in the future. We had figured out how the evolution was going to take place for each character. We knew that Astrid’s identity had changed a lot from coming to New York. She had grown up into a more kind of rock ‘n’ roll New York downtown feeling. We knew Payton was going to be more politically inclined, though still bold and wearing these monochromatic looks. We needed more suiting, less sneakers, and more dress shoes. We wanted to keep it aspirational, elevated, not your typical politician. For Alice, she definitely was reinvented as more of a First Lady and less of the high school sweater set pastel girl of her youth, a more serious woman with more confidence.
We then went through the Season Two script and looked to the writing to help tell the story that [we were] going to tell through the clothing. Then in the prep stage, we look at everything from street style to runway to editorial to vintage photography, and icons like Gloria Steinem for McAfee and Princess Di or Jackie O for Alice, and we draw inspiration from all those things to come up with each character’s evolution.”
Were there any politicians or public figures you looked to for Payton’s wardrobe?
“We always look at JFK for Payton and his out-of-office looks–he wore beautiful cable knit sweaters and lots of creams and blues–but we also look a lot at designers’ collections. We go through the look books, look in person, feel the fabrics. We did a lot of fashion and street style research, but less of politicians because he is a very aspirational character. It’s not necessarily very grounded in the reality of everyday.”
Now that the show is set in New York City, how did that affect the approach to costuming?
“The character of New York is real on the show. In Episode One you see it when Astrid and Hadassah start walking down the street and there’s a brick wall behind her with graffiti and all the graphics. We wanted to make sure that we kept that bold color that we used in Season One and bring that from California to New York, but make some changes. For Payton, we still did a lot of blues, reds, and greens, but we also used some grays and browns and brought in other warmth that we didn’t use as much as in Season One. Same with Astrid. We used more New York black, and colors that were a little more ’80s: electric pink and purples and blues. We also did a lot of accessorizing for every character that we don’t ever get to do for every character in L.A. since it’s so warm here. We really loved the chance to do blue tights on Astrid or beautiful sweaters and lots of layers on everyone. We got to use a bold colored coat for Sky, Alice in cream patterned tights, and Hadassah always had beautiful scarves.”
Each character has their own distinct style, but they also look cohesive as a team. What were some of the elements that helped create that affect?
“We had a lot of fun with complimentary outfits and colors. We look at the tone of the scene, what’s happening, and the location, and then we collaborate and say OK let’s put Astrid in light pink today, Alice in a yellow…We make a collage of who’s wearing what so that the scene works in a cohesive way, like a painting. There’s a lot of thought behind what colors and also what shapes we use. If this person’s wearing a two-piece, let’s put this person in a one-piece. It’s a really exciting show to costume design because there is such a large cast and it’s quite an ensemble. You get to paint that picture and there are so many looks in every episode.”
Bette Midler and Judith Light play Payton’s opponents, and together they have a more classic political look. What was the process for costuming them?
“For Hassadah, we discussed the character’s style with Bette, and talked about the shapes and the colors that she gravitates towards. She’s very petite, and we didn’t want to use a lot of the suiting that we found in stores–they either weren’t the right color or the right fit–so we looked at fabrics with her and designed a lot of her looks. We wanted to make suits, but we always with a flashy flair to them, something a little more pop-y than your traditional suiting. We made a full teal outfit she wore underneath a Burberry trench in Episode One, because it was a shape you can’t find and we wanted it to be very streamlined and tailored to her body. I would say it was almost 50/50 making the clothes for her. Her character is so bold you have to complement that with her style, so we did more jewel tones. We also wanted to push the boundaries in terms of jewelry for both of them. We wanted Bette to always have statement pieces, and Dede as well. We used a lot of brooches, vintage costume jewelry, and even borrowed jewelry from my mother. Bette would bring her own jewelry sometimes.
Because Dede’s a politician we did more neutrals, but still with pops of red and blue. She loves to push boundaries and has a confidence to her that we wanted to reflect in her clothing. She wore a lot of black and white and it worked because it had that kind of sex appeal. Although she’s a politician, she’s still a mature, sexual woman. That’s very obviously part of the story and we wanted to tell that narrative through the clothing as well.”
One character that has a complete transformation from last season is Infinity. What story did you want to tell through her costumes for Season Two?
“Infinity’s character is so animated, and we wanted to reflect that in her clothing. This season, we looked at her passion for the environment and we made it a priority for the team to source environmentally conscious, although still pop-y, colorful, playful. We bought a lot of vintage for her and used upcycled and sustainable brands that we love working with. We used a Batsheva dress when she’s having the meltdown in the Beijing hotel room, because it was youthful, childish, like a princess dressing up, kind of similar to how her grandmother dressed her in Season One. There was a montage in Episode Three where she wore maybe 15 outfits. For every single one we wanted to use vintage, sustainable, or something recycled, so we went to stores like The RealReal or Edith Machinist. We found a vintage Fendi that had flowers all over it and beautiful green Chloe pants she wore in a lot of the episodes.”
You mentioned working closely with Bette on her wardrobe. Were there any other actors that were really involved with the costuming process?
“Every single fitting we do is like a collaboration, it helps the actor become the character. That’s a huge part of their job, trying to figure out who this person is. Certain actors come with a pretty keyed-in sense of who their character is. Ben very much becomes Payton when he walks into a fitting. We can do what used to be a three hour fitting in a half an hour because we discuss what makes sense for this scene because of X,Y, and Z. Lucy has a strong sense of style and we riff on that with the costumes where she has that cool London vibe. Lucy wears a lot of black, a lot of tights, and chunky shoes, so we had a conversation about what parts of her style worked for Astrid. A lot of times you also see a style evolution happen off-camera, because we’ve done fittings with actors for two seasons. You’ll start to see something really cool, like Theo, who plays James, got a really strong sense of fashion in their personal life from season one to two and was thoughtful enough to say, ‘Thank you for helping me gain more confidence in my personal style.’”
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