Kerry Washington Talks Dressing Olivia Pope and That Two-Piece Prada Look
“Classy,” “elegant,” and “intelligent” are a few of the words Kerry Washington uses to describe Movado, the luxury watch brand for which she’s served as an ambassador for nearly 10 years. But those adjectives also apply to Washington herself and her TV alter ego, Olivia Pope. The actress, who’s been working with Movado since 2005—seven years before she landed her breakthrough role as Pope on the hit show Scandal—is a rarity in Hollywood. Aside from portraying an entirely new female archetype on television—one who doesn’t sacrifice her femininity and vulnerability for strength, respect, and success—Washington is equally inspiring off camera, working with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and The Creative Coalition to promote arts in the States.
When it comes to the art of fashion, Washington has become known for facing the red carpet with as much fearlessness as Olivia Pope faces Capitol Hill—and with a much larger color palette. She’s often breaking up the parade of predictable gowns with bold, unexpected hues and cuts. Take, for instance, her sequin-piped orange Prada dress at last month’s Emmys or her pregnant-belly-baring two-piece look by the house at this year’s SAG Awards. Now, with Movado’s latest campaign for fall, Washington has taken her fashion sense to a new level, collaborating on the overall look and feel of the ads with help from Mario Testino’s former assistant, photographer Alexi Lubomirski, stylist Erin Walsh, hairstylist Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, and makeup artist Carola Gonzalez. Ahead of the campaign’s October debut, we caught up with Washington to talk about her new role as ad stylist, reinventing the power suit for Olivia Pope, and that two-piece Prada moment.
You’ve been a brand ambassador for Movado for almost 10 years. How has the relationship with the brand changed over the years?
I always thought of the brand as really classy and elegant, so I was really excited about the opportunity to work with them. It’s been an amazing almost-decade. It’s a brand that represents quality and elegance and intelligence, and I’m so grateful to be associated with the brand and their core qualities.
Did it feel like a natural transition to start styling this time around?
I wouldn’t take credit for that. We kind of all did it together. When I’m getting ready for red-carpet stuff, it’s a real collaborative art. I think it’s the same when it comes to editorial and campaigns. You want to work with people who are really talented, so everyone comes together and you come up with something great.
How does the styling on this campaign reflect your personal aesthetic?
Well, we did different looks. For some of what we did, we went with a more casual aesthetic, like really clean and crisp, a lot of whites and neutrals—jeans and T-shirts but with a little more edge, a little more of my everyday personality.
As an actress, do you feel like you can bring something to an ad campaign that a model can’t?
I think everybody brings something different to the table. But I think anybody who is invested in the process understands that you’re telling a story about a product and a brand through images and aesthetics—clothes, hair, makeup, lighting, and color, all of things that come into play when you’re working in theater or in television.
Obviously you’re a natural in front of the camera for TV and film. When you started working in print ads, did it feel like a comfortable transition?
I’ve had a big learning curve. I come from the theater and that’s how I was trained, and even that’s not natural. I wouldn’t call myself a natural. I studied too much to be a natural—I wish I were a natural.
Well, you make it look like you’re a natural.
That’s good. I’ve been really lucky to work with awesome photographers, photo editors, and amazing stylists, so all those things helped me learn along the way. But I’m always looking to learn more. That’s part of the fun of what we do—the technology is always changing, the fashion is always changing, our bodies are always changing, so you have to keep evolving.
How do you relate to Olivia Pope’s style?
Lyn Paolo, our brilliant costume designer, and I worked really hard to come up with the Olivia Pope aesthetic because we understood that the character had to be a really powerful woman. We wanted to find a way for her to look strong but also feminine. We worked really hard on the silhouette and the palette to redefine our understanding of what a power suit could look like. In a lot of ways, when people think of a power suit for a woman, it looks a lot of times like dressing for a man. We wanted to reinvent the idea of a power suit for women. It’s been a blast; it is not how I dress at all. I do work for the White House and I work in Washington, and when I’m there, I do not dress like Olivia Pope!
But it was fun for me to bring a lot of my fashion understanding to creating the look with Lyn. One of the first houses to ever lend me clothes for the red carpet was Armani, and I wear a ton of Armani on the show, so that’s been a wonderful full circle. I’ve been able to bring my relationship with a lot of different houses and my knowledge of different collections and designers onto the show. We’re always studying what’s new. Last season I went to the CFDA Awards with Erin Walsh and Lyn Paolo. Lyn and I met with a lot of designers in New York to make sure we could have access to the newest collections when they’re hitting stores or right before, so we’re kind of ahead of the game on this show.
Olivia has become known for her primarily white color palette. How did that decision come about?
We really wanted Olivia to stand out in the crowd in Washington. There’s kind of a uniform in Washington of black and navy and gray suits, so we thought if we could make her palette light neutrals, creams, light pink, tan, light gray, and white, then it would be clear that she is her own woman and that she works for herself and follows her own rules.
There’s also the metaphor of wearing the white hat. White is the symbol of justice, which Olivia stands for. The palette was also born out of the idea that people come to Olivia on the absolute worst day of their lives, when they’re in a state of panic and crisis and they need her to fix it. So Lyn and I both felt it was important for Olivia to wear calming colors, colors that made people feel calm and open and honest and at peace.
Out of all of the projects you’ve worked on, which character’s wardrobe has been your favorite?
That’s impossible to say! It’s impossible to answer because I care so much about wardrobe when it comes to characters. In everyday life, how we dress expresses so much about who we are and what we’re feeling and what’s going on in our lives, so what a character wears is really important. People walk up to me all the time and say, “I wish I had Olivia Pope’s closet.” I say, “Me too!”
But when I think back to my wardrobe for Save the Last Dance—I had so much fun with that character because she was a young woman who wanted to be a fashion designer. She was a real fashion risk-taker—and a real makeup risk-taker. I always loved my clothes in Ray because I love being able to act in period wardrobe and lose [myself] in a different time through the clothes and shoes and jewelry. So it’s hard to pick a favorite.
Do you have a favorite red-carpet moment?
I have a few. I loved the gown that Jason Wu made for me for the Oscars this past year. Jason is a very dear friend of mine, and we’ve been so supportive of each other through the years. He never had a gown at the Oscars before, so it was special for him and special for me because I was extremely pregnant and it was important for me to be working with someone whom I loved and trusted. And the color of that gown was so great.
The two-piece Prada that you wore to the SAG Awards when you were pregnant definitely made a statement. How did that look come about?
I tried it on and I loved it. I knew that it was going to be outside the box and really special and unique, and I had so much fun wearing it. I felt really excited about my growing belly and I’m still excited about the bright color. I wanted to have fun that night, and that dress looked like so much fun.