By Cassy Salyer – March 6, 2013
To say that Lyn Paolo is an experienced and accomplished Costume Designer would be a gross understatement. Throughout her illustrious career, which has gracefully spanned more than two-and-a-half decades, the English designer has received four Emmy nominations, taking home two wins for the post-WWII drama television series, “Homefront” in 1992 and 1993. She was also nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award in 2001 for her work on “The West Wing.”
Paolo’s career began after she moved from England to Los Angeles in 1986. She fell in love with the entertainment business and was instantly drawn to the visual art of costumes and design. In the beginning, Paolo worked mostly on commercials and music videos, but it was her work on “Homefront” that solidified her love for Costume Design, she says.
Though “Homefront” was loved and fiercely supported by adoring fans, the series was cancelled by ABC after just three years. It was then that Paolo, already a two-time Emmy winner, began to further establish herself by serving as Costume Designer for NBC’s second longest-running drama, “ER.”
Over the course of 15 seasons, Paolo designed costumes for more than 325 episodes.
“The early years on ‘ER’ were harrowing,” she recalls. “Just the sheer volume of characters, situations and extras was daunting. Many people look at that show and do not consider it to be a difficult design project, but to tell all of those stories for everyone who was pushed through the ER doors on a gurney was difficult and time consuming.”
As is often the case, the harrowing challenges associated with working on a show like “ER” helped shape Paolo into a seasoned veteran who has learned not to sweat the small stuff.
“Early on in my career I was really upset with myself over a decision I had made and my producer told me to breathe,” she says. “He said, ‘it’s not brain surgery, we will survive for another day and next time you will get it right.’ He was correct.”
In 1999, Paolo tacked “The West Wing” on to her list of design duties—a series that she holds especially near and dear. “I loved working with [creator] Aaron Sorkin and that cast was spectacular,” she says of creating costumes for the likes of Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen and many others.
Her work on “The West Wing” led to her fourth Emmy nomination in 2000 and she continued to make a name for herself as one of the most sought after Costume Designers in the business.
Paolo’s 2000s have been filled with more TV series and movies, among them “The Company Men,” “The Sunset Limited” and “L.A. Confidential.”
Since 2009, Paolo has been designing costumes for TNT’s ensemble crime drama, “Southland,” based on the lives of several LAPD police officers and detectives. She also serves as the Costume Designer for Showtime’s comedy-drama “Shameless,” which follows the Gallaghers, a dysfunctional family living in Chicago’s South Side Canaryville neighborhood.
“Both ‘Shameless’ and ‘Southland’ are based on raw realism and the harsh realities of life in two different cities in America, and we try to reveal that harshness through the costume design decisions,” she says.
Her most stylish current project is ABC’s “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, head of a crisis management firm in the oft corrupt world of politics. Although the show is based in Washington DC, yet another version of a harsh city, the realities of life are hidden behind a facade of civility while scandalous things, as the show’s name implies, are happening behind the scenes. Paolo has been praised for finding the perfect balance of chic, feminine looks for Olivia that still convey an image of power. According to Paolo, “Scandal” has more glamour than the other shows she is currently working on, but the glamour only masks the realities of living in DC and breathing the political air.
With a list of credits that seems to go on forever, Paolo still says each project is individual unto itself and brings its own challenges. While she tends to adjust her methods depending on the project, the core of her process remains the same: get to know the script inside and out, research (a part of the process she loves), make color decisions and then get to work on the actual design.
Paolo cherishes the collaboration in the early days of a production and says that the most rewarding aspects of her career are the people and having the opportunity to see a vision come to life in a finished product. Her advice to aspiring Costume Designers is to do your research on each and every show, never think that you have “made it,” and always keep learning.