The third time might just be the charm for Costume Designer Michelle Matland, who was nominated twice before for “Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special” for Angels in America in 2004 and “Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special” for Mildred Pierce in 2011. This year she is being recognized for “Outstanding Contemporary Costumes for a Series” for the wildly successful HBO saga Succession, which ended its four-season run in May.
The excitement is palpable for Matland, who has been costume designing the Roy family and their conniving cohorts since the series debuted on June 3, 2018. Even she was shocked to hear of her nomination, as she was walking down a New York City street to get her morning coffee and had to stop in her tracks to absorb the news.
Below The Line spoke with Matland via Zoom video from her home in New York, where she was taking a well-deserved break after an evening of shmoozing with fellow Succession designers, following a promotional Q&A. Turns out Matland, a self-described “chatty Kathy,” enjoys talking about her process of breaking down characters’ personalities to fit their clothing styles for the boardroom and casual wear.
She’s done just that for Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his charges, Roman (Kieran Culkin), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Kendall (Jeremy Strong), along with the expansive ensemble cast for all four seasons. She shares, in detail, the evolution of their wardrobe and why it changed, including addressing Sarah Snook’s real-life pregnancy. Michelle gleefully talks about the never-before-asked food fight scene, and, surprisingly, what inspired Kendall’s iconic flight jacket.
Below The Line: Michelle, you began in this business with the coolest gig. Tell me what it was like to costume Saturday Night Live for 10 years.
Michelle Matland: Well, as a non-costumer, I learned so much. I attribute Melina Root, who was the costume designer, She brought me in with a bunch of incredible people; Tom Broecker was with me. He is now one of the big names in the industry. He was also a producer on the show. He does every play you’ve seen on Broadway. Uber-talented.
So I came up through the ranks with them, and I learned everything that you can possibly forget that you needed for that work because we ran from Thursday morning until Saturday. And you know, because you saw the panic in the eyes of everybody running around you, it was an experience. I worked there for 10 years, and in the interim, I met all the designers and people that I ultimately ended up working with for lengthy periods of time. So it was a great learning curve. A wonderful experience.
Everyone that I work with now—for example, my wardrobe supervisor, Mark Agnes—worked there. I mean, anybody who’s been around New York for any period of time has been through those doors, whether it be an actor or a PA; you cut your teeth there, and you definitely never regret those long hours, the packs of cigarettes, the vodka you drank, and all of that. The after parties!
BTL: Yes, the legendary parties. Oh, that’s a whole other conversation. We’ll have to talk another time about that! So this is actually your third nomination for an Emmy. You must be freaking out.
Matland: Well, I didn’t even know about the other two until a pool party at Costume Designer Ann Roth‘s house. When it was the day after the Emmy noms came out, I happened to have planned this party with Ann and all of my buddies who I came up with and who they came up with under the ranks of Ann. They called us the “Rothchilds.” There were a group of us. We maintained friendships, and I spent weekends with them, and they’re still my go-to on the phone to text and chat. But I honestly didn’t even know about the other two until my girlfriend Donna said, “Michelle, we were both nominated for Mildred [Pierce], blah, blah, blah.” I didn’t even know. My scope was no farther than getting the job done, going home, and getting some sleep, you know?
BTL: So how did you find out you got nominated for Succession?
Matland: I was standing on the street on the way to the delicatessen down my block to get a coffee. My son called and he was shocked as I was, he thought this was never going to happen. He said, “Mom, I’ve been trying to get you on the phone.” I was talking to my friend. He said, “You did it. You were nominated. This is really cool.” And I stopped in my tracks. I was so surprised but really excited because it was such a team effort with my gang. I’ve been with these people for a very long time. They’ve put in the legs and the time with me. We are very close, like a family. It was such a beautiful collaboration with the actors. I don’t think any of us, the [Cinematographer] Pat Capones of the world, the (creator) Jesse Armstrongs, honestly, up to the top, will ever have an opportunity when we look back and say, It was not a precious time.
BTL: Who did you speak with in coming up with the clothing designs? Was it mostly with Jesse?
Matland: We really spent a lot of time talking and thinking about the journey these characters are taking and the arcs in their relationships. I think Jesse (Armstrong) knew that when the story was told. These actors are brilliant, each one independently, and it’s sort of like an ensemble that travels together. You know, like at Williamstown Theatre, where I worked, you see these actors doing different plays all the time and every night switching to another performance and being able to become that other character that they only played three nights prior. These actors have that ability, which is so rare as the journey goes on with the storyline. They’re not playing it the same way. Every episode for Jesse was an opportunity for him to provide these actors with new storylines, so you never knew what was coming.
BTL: So walk me through, Michelle, how their character arcs informed what their clothes were going to be for each character’s style and how it might’ve evolved through the seasons. Let’s start with Logan Roy.
Matland: Logan is one of the characters, along with maybe Roman, whose change is so subtle. It’s probably not seen by the naked eye. I mean, in terms of Logan, we know from the very beginning that he has nothing to prove. He lives in an armchair with a sweater, you know? He has a shirt; maybe he puts on a tie when he is representing his business. He is one of the 1% who has made it on his own terms. So I don’t think that his journey changes him all that much. I think his suits are made by the same man.
For example, Leonard Logsdail is one of our tailors. His shirts are possibly made by our shirt maker, Carl. He has his shawl-collared sweaters that come from the very identifiable vendors that make such things on the high end. He continues throughout. His only transition is from his in-home gear, which is casual, into his suiting, which is boardroom.
BTL: How has Roman’s looks changed?
Matland: Roman changed only by tonality. He started in the dark, and I think as his dialogue within himself, his sexuality, his performance or lack thereof with women, and his flirtations with (General counsel) Gerri, he lightens up a bit. His shirt is unbuttoned. He wears a polo shirt more often. He started in the dark tone, and we see him at the end in the light tone. And of course, the iconic T-shirt that everybody talks about that he found in his bedroom at his mom’s home (in the finale) that he hadn’t worn in years.
We had t-shirts from Cookies, Walmart, Target, Old Navy children’s, and Gap children’s that gave us a feeling because the premise was that he didn’t bring this clothing. He came beaten, criticized, and demoralized, and he had what he was wearing on his back. He went into the bedroom that he’s had since he was a tyke, and he found a t-shirt and shorts that had been there forever, and he put them on because it was his comfort zone. Ultimately, we all run home to mommy, even if we hate our mothers. That was kind of his backstory there.
BTL: With Shiv, how did her clothes progress, especially when Sarah Snook became pregnant in season four.
Matland: Well, Shiv’s character had already gone through three transformations before we got there. By the time I found out she was pregnant, we were already in transformation number four, so we then had to decide, and Jesse did in fact call me and say, What do you think? Do we pretend this never happened, or do we incorporate it into the story? My feeling was, and I think ultimately his, of course, because he didn’t take it from me, that if we could incorporate it, number one, from a designer’s point of view, it gives us freedom because we’re not hiding behind a desk and shooting from the neck up. Or giving her a big trench coat and tying it at the waist (to hide the pregnancy).
Also, I think as a storyline, at the point she’s had it with Tom, in that dysfunctionality, it was an opportunity to say, “Oh sh*t, now what do we do?” Jesse, of course, is so facile. It was almost like he’d known ahead of time, which he did not. (laughs) In all honesty. He just figured out a way to make it work with the story. She was also on the fence about it in her character line. “My marriage is breaking up. I’m battling for my position. I am so close to having what I’ve dreamed of my entire life. Do I give it up for a baby? Shiv is not a person who would take that lightly.”
She’s in the battle of her life with her siblings, and at this point in her career and her personal life, she doesn’t know. She’s still in hiding. So even if Sarah wasn’t hiding in terms of the pregnancy and it getting out and all of that, we had to take what appeared to be the best tack, which was to go with it, stay honorable to Shiv, and continue to tell the story that we had already engaged in.
BTL: How would you describe how her style changed up until that point?
Matland: We start with Shiv, who is, by choice, alienated from her family. She was in a democratic environment, governed by the people. She wanted to not be part of the 1%. How would she be able to assist the politicians she stands in for if they saw her as part of the elite? So she tried to dress as just a gal of the world, so she was, in theory, wearing clothing that would be acceptable to the masses in the position that she was in. So political, clean, but not upper crust.
Then she decides to leave the democratic world and go back into the family business. So she takes on this sort of Katherine Hepburn air. Large shoulders, masculine shapes but still with a feminine flare, high-wasted pants, belts The whole thing was done to be able to battle in the boardroom with the men, with her brothers. By season three, she has found comfort in the money and her establishment, and she goes back to the essence of Shiv, which is the sexual being. There’s flirtations. We see her clothing as more revealing. We see backs, shoulders, and waists. The masculine suit maintains itself. But there are moments where we see, for example, that she’ll have decoration, which was never her thing, like the gold chain shirt underneath the tuxedo or the dresses, which, as you know, dropped a little lower than expected.
We saw her figure, and we saw the essence of her sexual shift and her playing that so that she could in fact use her femininity over what her brothers don’t have. They don’t have that play with the men in the room, so she can use it as flirtation and, in essence, one-upmanship with a guy in a suit. In the fourth season, where things are not working out exactly as planned, she’s feeling strong. Her tonality has changed. She’s gone through every shade of gray, beige, dark blue, and black, and now I think the colors are somewhat more muted, and she’s in kind of a hazy moment where she’s trying to figure out, How do I play this?
BTL: Let’s jump to Kendall. Of course, he’s the most loquacious of all the brothers and wears signature looks. He’s got his baseball hat, he’s got his flight jacket. Where did those ideas come from for him?
Matland: With Kendall, and I give Jeremy (Strong) the credit. I love to tell the actors that no one throws clothing on an actor who doesn’t want to wear it. So you have to find the dialogue and the presence of mind to be able to stand up to an actor who, in the end, is wearing those clothes. They are the characters; they’re the last man standing, the last person on the screen. By then, the costume designer means nothing. So you have to make sure that everything that they put on becomes part of the veneer that they have for themselves.
For Jeremy to become Kendall in that moment, I always listen to him. The baseball cap we had talked about because sometimes his father is wearing hats. How much does he want to emulate him? How much does he not even know he’s doing that? The flight jacket, which he had originally thought was going to be like a jumpsuit, a head-to-toe piece, we had to pull back a little bit, but still in the same ideal that we are trying to tell this Top Gun story. So we basically stole the entire jacket! We changed all of the patches so that they were his, but it was direct theft.
The Gucci jacket at the birthday party was part of his height. Kendall is in charge. The suits that he starts with are typical wealthy men’s suits. Then he goes through a very dark period after the accident, with things not falling into place, where he becomes disillusioned, and we see him in all those Tom Ford jeans and the baby poo browns, whatever we want to call them, all of those natural tones. We took that straight through because that became the Kendall color and that silhouette became his, and we kind of followed it through the changes as he became stronger again.
BTL: One of my favorites is the food fight scene. Was that done in a way that you had to make sure, that whatever was being thrown on them would work on their clothes?
Matland: Funny, no one’s asked that question, and it’s a really good one. We were in Barbados. We had the clothing that we had in our luggage, and we knew that we had a finite amount of changes for whatever that costume was, whether it was Shiv in a bathing suit and a shift or Roman in a T-shirt and shorts and Kendall in his bathing suit. Whatever it was, it had to get through swimming and a food fight. We did not know how because these are organic moments that the actors do with Jesse with no control from anyone who has any inkling of how many pairs of shorts we have in the back room! So we tested and tested on a table in this glamorous villa, and if I tell you, the villa is off the charts. The prop master went to every market in town because it had to be a product that came from Barbados. It can’t be American ketchup, so it had to be all of these British products.
We tested every single thing on how it stained, whether you could get it out, if it could be washed out or scrubbed out, and we made combinations. We threw food at each other, basically, until we figured out what was safe and what wasn’t. Then they went into the kitchen. We did not know what they were going to concoct. They could have found a bottle of red wine in the fridge, taken it out, and used it. Basically, it became a free-for-all. He drank that concoction, if you can imagine. Everything they said was in there. Those were real things, not watered down and color-coded with little tubes from the United States. That was really disgusting.
BTL: How many takes were actually done in that scene or they had to do it once and that was it?
Matland: I honestly couldn’t tell you how many takes there were; I think it was a continuous take. I’m not sure if they ever went back. It was kind of a closed set. So what they did in there is what you and I are seeing for the first time when it lands on screen. I do know that they had tons of fun, and that frivolity, humor, and love are real, because, as you have to remember, these were basically the last scenes of this show ever to be shot.
What you saw between those three young people was a lifetime of stories, six years of daily dedication and great compassion for one another, and the journey that they had taken. They each had children during this project. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of acting going on, but they found a way to incorporate those moments into everything they put on the screen.
BTL: It seems like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for you, so what will you take away from the whole experience that will stand out forever?
Matland: Not to be gushy, that’s not my thing, but the thing I will take away as a practical professional is, “Listen, shut up.” Listen to what’s being said. Ask questions and answer questions. The collaborative process that we went through, from the very beginning till the end, was one where if I didn’t understand something in the script, I could tap Jesse on the back and say, “Do you have a minute?” He would find one if I needed to speak to the director. He would pull himself away quietly. Every department, from camera to sound, comes from my team, which is the best in the world. Everyone, down to the craft service gal, was trying to make the job less of a job and more of an adventure, and you don’t get that. That’s once in a lifetime.
All seasons of Succession can be watched via HBO’s streamer platform, Max.