There comes a moment for every good prestige television hit when a show’s characters ascend beyond the confines of their fictional universe. Their emotional arcs inspire rabid idolatry, their one-liners become instant memes, and their style choices are dutifully chronicled across the internet. Midway through its fourth and final season, Succession is approaching the apex of this phenomenon, more omnipresent in the pop culture conversation than ever.
That’s especially true when it comes to dissecting the wardrobe of the Roy family and its cohort. The clothing choices on the series have been credited with highlighting the bland misery of the ultrarich while also popularizing the latest “stealth wealth” fashion trend.
Whether viewers are poring over Succession’s costumes for ridicule or research, the show has undoubtedly brought the 1 percent’s muted palette of navy blues and ecrus under the microscope. We have costume designer Michelle Matland to thank for that. As an industry veteran whose past credits include such titles as The Hours and The Stepford Wives, her shopping strategy is to embody the minds of the characters completely—or, in the case of Kendall Roy, execute the highly specific vision of Jeremy Strong. As she’s worked on the show over the past four seasons, her costume choices have offered a detailed map to the exorbitant shopping habits of the ultrarich. And taken together, they emphasize that those obsessed with pursuing wealth often overlook the creative possibilities it allows for and get stuck in status-driven sartorial prisons of high-priced cashmeres and silks.
I caught her over Zoom last week to ask her about the style evolution of Shiv, Kendall, and Co., her tricks to stay on budget, and the capacious bag that launched a million memes.
This fourth and final season has seen a sartorial reset for the characters of Succession, and that’s probably most true of Shiv. How have you approached dressing her this season? To what extent did you want to hint at her pregnancy?
As for hinting at a pregnancy, I didn’t know, nor do I think she did when we started the season. By the time I found out, [Sarah Snook] was about three months pregnant—or a bit more maybe, I’m not even sure. We had to reconvene with the writers and Jesse, the directors, et cetera, and Sarah, of course, as to how to proceed: whether we were going to keep the pregnancy as our secret within the show, or if the directors and the writers would choose to add that piece of news, which is obviously what happened.
When we decided that it was going to be part of the story line, what it meant was we simply had to adapt Shiv and what that would mean to her. So we simply made it part of the new tale that we were telling about her, and the conflict that she probably would have at that point in time, because she and Tom were sort of a little at each other, not certain what the commitment was going to be. So that would complicate the telling of how she would be affected by it.
What about Kendall? He seems to have a bit more self-confidence about him, which was underlined in the opening of this season’s fifth episode, where he did the same commute to the Waystar Royco office as in the pilot. Do his clothes this season reflect a regained sense of self after hitting rock bottom?
Absolutely. No. 1: He has evolved probably more than anyone from Season 1. He started as a corporate [guy], the son of [Logan], then he went through the bottoming out, so we had to see that. Then he was on the fence about what he wanted to do with his new creation of himself, whether he wanted to stay in the corporation, whether he wanted to become a partner with his brother, whether he wanted to take over after his father. And so now, he is much more whole and more certain of himself and what he wants to do and who he wants to be. I think you see a comfort zone in him.
How does that translate to his clothing?
Well, no. 1, Jeremy [Strong] is very, very knowledgeable about fashion style and labels. And because he is such a committed actor, he brought that part of himself to Kendall, and his clothing is all super high-end, top of the line: Cucinelli’s, Loro Piana, Tom Ford.
[Editor’s note: Strong told GQ in February that Loro Piana sent him a custom jacket and Richard Mille sent him a watch for Succession’s fourth season.]
Whatever it costs, Kendall would wear it, because he’s not looking at the money. [Jeremy] brings very strong opinions about fashion and labels to the character. He knows what that wealth looks like, and he incorporates it into his performance.
I feel like he’s a little bit more buttoned up than when we saw him in his true emo phase.
For sure, but he still listens to Jay-Z and still has his hip, nuanced clothing. It reflects his having become more of himself, stronger in his person.
Speaking of, how did you go about designing the custom flight jackets that Kendall has made for the product launch of Living+? From what I understand, that idea began with a text from Jeremy, after he read the script for Episode 6.
We used Tom Cruise’s bomber jacket in Top Gun as the direct inspiration for the jackets. We replicated the patches as best we could using Waystar and ATN logos in place of the real thing. The patches were custom-made at a shop in Brooklyn called BQ Sports.
Another theme thus far in the season is the handful of women who have found themselves vaulted to positions of power by virtue of their proximity to it. There’s Willa, who graduated from being a sex worker to being the wife of a presidential candidate. There’s Kerry, who learned the hard way how ephemeral Logan’s Midas touch could be. And then there’s even someone like Greg’s date, Bridget, who’s on the lowest rung of that spectrum. Do you see a through line in any of these character styles?
For Willa, she has changed in style from Season 1 in terms of hair, makeup and costumes, jewelry, the kinds of boots that she wore, the length of her skirts, the fabrication of the dresses and the patterns from the beginning. She’s transformed into what she feels is the right hand to a Republican, which isn’t really what it would be, but she doesn’t know any better.
So her costumes are just this side of maybe a little inappropriate. We wanted to keep the Willa who we know and love, but just make her a little bit more straight. She’s trying to fit into what she believes is the uniform of the wife of a possible president. She’s still got the Willa in her, but she’s just a little bit more refined, and a little less hippie wild child.
What about Kerry? I noticed she was wearing a lot of jewel tones, like she was ready to fill in as an anchor on ATN at a moment’s notice.
That’s one of my favorite costumes. Yes, she really desires to be this newscaster. She really feels that this is her chance to find herself—now that she and Logan have this relationship, she can utilize it, but obviously even that backfires. So it’s sort of a sad journey for her. Everything that she thought might work out has not.
Was there maybe an overconfidence in those power suits she was wearing?
They’re just on the left side of right. They’re not really appropriate for what she’s attempting to become. And the clothes just reflect how she’s not quite in the loop. The silhouettes and the colors are a little bit too much. She’s loud and proud, and it doesn’t quite work. And against the compensation for her delicate position, everyone else has sort of a classic look—simplicity, very clean cuts, minimalist. She is slightly outrageous in comparison.
What about Greg’s date, Bridget?
We wanted her to look like she didn’t fit in, whatever was going to make her stand out in the crowd. And in this crowd, anything that was too present, too obvious was going to get her kicked out of this house.
It must have been so fun for you to find that “gargantuan” bag.
I had a good time. That’s a wonderful little moment.
Maybe I’m revealing that I’m not a bag expert here, but was that a Burberry bag from a few seasons ago?
It was new season, but still, yes. But we knew it had to be ostentatious. We knew that it had to define what someone who is, let’s say, middle class, might aspire to help tell their story that they are moving on up. She carries this bag because she thinks it makes her look important and it backfires. We knew it had to have some sort of logo, and we didn’t want the logo to be so rarefied that she wouldn’t be able to buy it. So our goal was to drop it down to her standards of what she thinks is the most glorious and refined—but it isn’t.
Matsson has become more of a central character over the last few seasons. I’m curious if you draw from current-day CEOs when you dress him. I know there’s maybe a hint at Scandinavian style, but he also looks like a rich gamer slob.
Well, that’s intentional, as well: that he is not interested in impressing anyone, and just a sweatshirt and a tank top is all he needs to put on. It’s Scandinavian-slash-hipster.
He probably sends Ebba to the sporting goods store and picks up three sweatshirts and a pair of sweatpants for him, or they’re on order. They come in from the company, which he probably has part ownership in.
Which characters do you think have evolved the most in terms of style?
To be honest, all of the characters—because of the writing—have evolved and gone to tremendous places that I never would’ve thought. I was just along for the ride. For example, Gerri started out very straight, very suited, simple Armani suits, and just very tailored, and she became modernized as her character developed. And Shiv started out in politics and didn’t want to be associated with her family, and ended up coming all the way back to fighting for the succession of her character. Kendall started in suits and ended up where he is now, which is entirely a different painting, a different palette.
The only person I think who’s kind of stayed the same is Connor. And that’s because he chose to. He chose to not evolve. But they all, quite honestly, have developed into characters I didn’t foresee until we got to them. The journey is the job, and you just have to travel with the actor and the character to tell the story they want to tell.
When you’re out shopping, how do you approach buying clothes for a character?
I do a thing which I call Etch A Sketch Head. I get into, let’s say Saks [Fifth Avenue]. And let’s say Shiv has a story line that’s new. I shake my head—you know how an Etch A Sketch works—and try to get me out of my head and put Shiv into my head. And then I go shopping so that I’m formally outside of myself. I’m no longer looking from Michelle’s point of view, but I’m looking from Shiv’s point of view, or Gerri’s point of view, and hopefully it gives me some inspiration and it clears me of thinking from my own perspective.
Wouldn’t that be dangerous from a budget perspective?
Well, that’s true. [Laughs.]
Do you have tricks for staying within budget?
Yeah. For example, Shiv is wearing a Tom Ford tuxedo in one of the scenes [at Connor’s wedding], but she’s wearing a top with a gold chain attached to it, which was like $47. So you mix and you match. In the scene where she’s in the browns and the tans, the pants were like, I don’t remember, silk, but the T-shirt came from Zara. So you can find something that equates to the thing that you’re trying to emulate. You can cheat certain corners. Some things you can’t—sometimes it takes a $300 pair of pearl earrings instead of the $10 copy that you find at Macy’s. You have to think it through so that you don’t blow a budget. Certainly on a show like this, it’s hard to consistently put things out there that look like what they need to.
Throughout the years of dressing everyone, is there one outfit or accessory of the whole series that stands out to you as one of your favorites?
It’s really impossible for me to pick a particular look because the costumes are only there as representations of the characters. My job is solely to provide another piece to the puzzle of telling this story, which is Jesse [Armstrong]’s story and the actor’s story when they get onto the set.
So it’s like anything: If you pick the prop, which is for a man, the Cartier watch, let’s say Tank Watch or something, it’s just one little pencil sketch of who these people are. But it is nice, I will say, when an actor, like a Jeremy, for example, finds something that he can really sink his teeth into as a piece. A tiny, tiny little nothing of a piece, like the cashmere Loro Piana baseball cap.
When we can find something that gets that character to the place where they need to go, that’s always a thrill.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.