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Olivia Pope never wears earrings that dangle—that would seem too frivolous for the high-powered political consultant. Still, she’s petite, topping out at 5 feet, 4 inches, so she tends to wear long, beaded necklaces that help lengthen her frame.
If, as they say, clothes make the man, then jewelry makes the woman. At least that seems to be the case on television, where Pope lives.
Yes, Olivia Pope is a TV character. As played by Kerry Washington on ABC’s pulpy D.C. drama Scandal, she is a powerhouse crisis manager whose personal crises (she’s having an affair with the president of the United States) often rival the political ones she’s hired to make disappear. This woman is elegant, fierce, and emotionally intense, and her jewelry tells us all of those things—even if the message is conveyed subliminally.
Three-ring 18 mm polished brass cufflinks in platinum finish; $435; Montblanc, Murray Hill, N.J.; 800-995-4810; montblanc.com
Halfway through Scandal’s just-concluded second season, the storyline leapt about 10 months ahead. That’s when costume designer Lyn Paolo, who chooses every piece of clothing and jewelry that Washington and her castmates wear, decided it was time for Pope’s jewelry to evolve. As the character’s scenarios grew even more highly charged, her bijoux became more geometric, with harder lines to reflect the toughness that Pope was developing. “Those connections might be only in our heads,” muses the self-deprecating Paolo. “I wake up at three in the morning obsessing about the details.”
It might be just a TV show, but Scandal—and other series with strong female leads, like Girls, Revenge, and The Carrie Diaries—can have a big influence on the jewelry women wear in real life. At the very least they inspire admiration: There are Pinterest pages devoted solely to Olivia Pope’s jewelry. But a good placement that suits a beloved character can help nudge a young designer’s wares into the mainstream.
First it takes getting on the show—no easy feat. “We get a lot of inquiries, people wanting to send us their jewelry,” says Paolo, who previously worked on The West Wing and ER. “But we’re very specific. We have rules for each character, so often it doesn’t work out.”
Sometimes a designer’s work has just the specificity they need. Early on, to dress Mellie Grant, Scandal’s first lady (played by Bellamy Young), Paolo used pearls from her own collection or strands with custom-made clasps of diamonds or rubies. “Most designers don’t have that clasp anymore,” says Paolo. Grant is very different from Pope: Imperious, possessive of her husband, and devious, she’s also regal. “We joke that the angrier she gets, the bigger her hair and pearls get,” says Paolo, who needed a plentiful supply of the gem—something she found in the work of Los Angeles designer May Yeung, who specializes in pearls. “I think we have every piece she’s designed,” says Paolo. “You cannot have enough pearls on a show about Washington politics.”
Yeung has since seen an uptick in her online sales, which she traces to the series. “When I get an order online, I can tell if it’s because of Scandal,” she explains. “If a new customer is ordering the same strand of pearls the first lady was just wearing, my suspicions are that she saw it on the show.”
The designer’s wares wound up on the show because she contacted Paolo on the advice of a friend who’s an executive at ABC. “I wouldn’t do it unless I had that introduction from someone saying it’s just right for them,” says Yeung.
Who you know is often the key, as the experiences of Jenn Rogien, the costume designer for HBO’s Girls, can attest. Samantha Faye, Erica Weiner, and Katelin Gibbs are three designers whose work came to Rogien’s attention through mutual acquaintances. “A friend came to visit me on the set wearing a piece by Erica Weiner. Lena commented on it,” says Rogien, referring to Girls creator and star Lena Dunham. “Erica heard she was a fan and she sent some pieces over for the show.” Rogien has featured a number of Weiner’s pieces, including a pair of Dogwood earrings on Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). It’s exactly the kind of accessory that has come to define the lovably neurotic character, who also wears jewelry by Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, H&M, and Forever 21. “She’s tricky,” Rogien says of Shoshanna. “We want her to read as a young girl without getting into caricature.” As Shoshanna has started to mature, she has worn some of Gibbs’ more sophisticated pieces.
Rogien has developed a signature look for each of the girls. Dunham’s character, Hannah, wears quirky necklaces that are, Rogien says, “a hodgepodge of designs, from a tiny robot charm to an apple—that one’s Marc by Marc Jacobs. A lot of them were thrifted,” she says of the practice, common to TV costume design. “Embarrassingly enough, some of them were from my personal collection—things I used to wear at her age: a fruit necklace in season one, a wooden fish necklace in season two.”
Marnie (Allison Williams) is the show’s most conventionally pretty character. “She usually has the classic required elements: earrings, a ring, and a bracelet,” says Rogien, who turns to youthful classics by J. Crew or trendier elements by TOMTOM.
And then there’s Jessa, the show’s well-traveled eccentric, whose jewelry reflects her worldliness. Rogien picks up a lot of Jessa’s rings, bangles, and handbags at the Brooklyn Flea, where she lands many vintage finds and more tribal pieces, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco, and Tibet. Still, even for Jessa, friends come into play. Suzannah Wainhouse, a jeweler known for her skull rings, is a friend of Jemima Kirke, the actress who plays Jessa.
Not all TV placements happen because of a well-placed friend. Sometimes all it takes is good old-fashioned chutzpah. Designer Magdalena Stokalska drove from Boston to New York City expressly for a Fashion’s Night Out event where she hoped to meet cohost Eric Daman, the former costume designer for Gossip Girl. “I’m a big fan of his work,” says Stokalska, who didn’t know about Daman’s next series, The CW’s The Carrie Diaries. She showed him her friendship bracelets embellished with vintage-inspired crystals, studs, and spikes, and he knew that they would be right for the new show, a 1980s-set prequel to Sex and the City.
Though Daman also worked on that hit HBO series, he says the practice of designers sending unsolicited promo jewelry to series’ costume designers really blew up during Gossip Girl. “It was a jewelry explosion during that show,” he says, recalling that the accessories seen on Serena (Blake Lively) and Blair (Leighton Meester) sparked the trends of “overly layered statement necklaces and headbands.”
For The Carrie Diaries, young Carrie Bradshaw’s jewelry taste is “idiosyncratic,” says Daman. “It ranges from 1950s-inspired Bakelite beads to super-cute fruit earrings and estate-style brooches.” Recently she wore a double-strand necklace from H+M made of oversize light-green iridescent octagonal beads that “she could have repurposed from her mom’s jewelry box.” Daman sources much of the rest of Carrie’s whimsical jewelry on Etsy. “Top Shop [has] also been great in the chunky-bead department.”
When Jill Ohanneson was dressing actors for the pilot of Revenge, she turned to ABC’s vast costume house, where she picked from jewelry that had accumulated from many years of past shows. “I went in and just took out a ton of high-end jewelry,” she says.“I didn’t even know who most of it was by.” Perhaps some of it went all the way back to Dynasty, a show whose high style and trashy storylines Revenge evokes.
Once the prime-time soap was picked up to series, Ohanneson borrowed antique jewels from Kenneth Jay Lane to dress Madeleine Stowe, who plays the glamorous and powerful family matriarch Victoria Grayson. Ohanneson also went shopping at department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Barneys, and Saks, where she purchased pieces by her go-to designers including Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, and Pamela Love. “Those stores have studio services departments that allow you to take things out on approval, but they don’t let you do that with jewelry that’s so high-end,” she says.
Alexis Bittar is another designer whose work Ohanneson has used quite a bit on Revenge. In fact, Jay Hartington of Marissa Collections in Naples, Fla., has seen a marked increase in demand for Bittar’s geometric earrings and bangles in the past six months—though he can’t say for sure whether Revenge is the reason. “Our client is pretty sophisticated. If they’re buying it, they’re not going to mention it’s because they saw it on a TV show,” says Hartington, laughing. But he is in favor of anything that helps promote designers and get people talking about them, even if they don’t always know who designed a particular piece they’ve seen on television: “If people are seeing red enamel earrings on TV, they come to us and they get a version of it.”
Revenge, about a young woman’s journey of retaliation for her father’s dramatic fall from grace, is set in the Hamptons and, Ohanneson says, has probably 30 to 50 percent more jewelry than most of the other shows she’s designed, which include Dexter and Six Feet Under. The focus on high-priced bling has sparked an appetite for jewelry from the show’s producers. ABC recently licensed a diamond and sterling silver collection inspired by the series and main character Emily’s (Emily VanCamp) sentimental infinity symbol. “It’s more for the audience than anything I would ever actually put on my actresses,” says Ohanneson, adding that she wasn’t part of the creation of those pieces. “At the end of the day, whatever helps promote the show, I support.”
A pink riverstone necklace seen on The Carrie Diaries ($216; magdalena-stokalska.com)
Meanwhile, Ohanneson gets to have fun with jewelry for the men—a rare opportunity on TV. “This year I’ve been introducing Josh Bowman to the tie bar,” she says, referring to the actor playing party boy Daniel Grayson, who’s resisting his legacy as the firstborn son of the billionaire family. “We’re also doing the collar bar underneath the tie,” she says, citing another 1980s throwback.
She sources tie bars from Ferragamo, and cufflinks from Montblanc, Hugo Boss, and (don’t judge!) Donald Trump. “I think men’s jewelry is starting to be interesting again,” she says. Who knows? It might be the next big trend to get stoked by TV.