“House of Cards”

Mar. 15, 2013

“House of Cards,” a Netflix original series from David Fincher and Beau Willimon, dissects the lives of cutthroat politicians in present day D.C. Leading the cast are high-powered Washington Congressman Francis Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (played by Robin Wright). When developing a design strategy for the series, which was adapted from a novel by Michael Dobbs and a BBC miniseries, Costume Designer Tom Broecker used the British program as a springboard before saturating himself in research on-site in D.C. “I watched the first episode just to get an idea of what the show was like and what the tone was, who some of the characters might be,” he says. “I knew our version would be different, so I didn’t want to get too attached to their version — plus, our politics are different from theirs.”

Broecker consulted with Fincher (who wanted an overtly “D.C.” feel) and spent time observing and photographing government employees in the capitol, noting trends in their suit and palette preferences. After developing a generally monotonous, navy and gray D.C. vibe, Broecker turned to developing the wardrobe of a politician’s wife. “There is a certain level of sameness as to the way people dress in the government,” he notes.

To capture Claire Underwood’s self-assured persona from the get-go — “steel on the inside, understated elegance on the outside,” Broecker ordered an overhaul of a simple black dress, (the very first dress she wears in the series). He selected a one-shouldered design with a built-in, boned foundation and a zipper running up the back (as the script specified on-camera zipping and unzipping action). Broecker ripped the seam apart on the shoulder, playing and pinning with the top until he created an elegant strapless cut. Then he reinforced the structure of the bodice by adding to the foundation. “I wanted the dress to do all the work—to look like it floated on her,” he says. “One of the things I like about the dress is the play between the internal foundation—the core, the bones of the dress, the steel-metal, hard internal structure—and then the external black silk, the soft, elegant, classic [feel].” Broecker topped the dress with clean, quiet accessories (diamond studs and a simple floating diamond necklace by De Beers) to avoid detracting from the simplicity of Claire’s dress.

“This dress says she is confident and knows how to dress for the occasion, knows how to be a politician’s wife and yet stand out at the same time,” Broecker adds. “It tells us that she knows what looks good on her, and that she knows about dressing without stealing focus.”

The “House of Cards” Season One finale aired last month, but audiences can watch the series via Netflix on-demand anytime. The second season is currently in production.


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