I am drawn to powerful women who prefer pearls to diamonds, dresses to pants and pencil skirts to mini skirts. Some of these women are real, such as Jackie Kennedy or my godmother Dominique. And some are fictional, such as Catherine Banning or Claire Underwood, who is my latest fashion obsession.
Courtesy of Netflix
For the third season of this hit Netflix show, Robin Wright asked her personal stylist Kemal Harris to style Claire Underwood. Thus, Harris enters the picture and takes over Claire’s wardrobe from Tom Broecker, who was costume designer for Season 1, and Johanna Argan who styled all characters during Season 2 and continues to style the rest of the cast in Season 3.
An evolution of Claire’s style makes sense at this juncture in the story. In Season 3, Claire is in a very different headspace. During the first two seasons, she was working hard, always fighting to get to the top. Her wardrobe reflected that — mostly black, very structured pieces, Claire was always ready for battle.
Courtesy of Netflix
In Season 3, she is at the top of the ladder — she is in the White House. Her style illustrates this slight break in her struggle: Everything is a bit softer, a bit more feminine. Instead of her usual black armor, Claire is wearing softer colors, softer fabrics and fuller skirts. Thanks to Kemal Harris, costume designer and red carpet stylist.
Now represented by The Wall Group, Harris is from Vancouver BC. She studied fashion design there, and from the start was interested in the styling aspect of fashion. Working with photographers, she eventually made her way to New York City and Robin Wright became her client. Harris styled her for the red carpet and other events. “The red carpet is very competitive, you can’t wear anything that has been worn before, the focus is on trying to get exclusive looks from designers that are right off the runway” she says. Dressing a fictional character is very different. “There is so much more to consider than if anyone ever worn this dress before… the story arc, the setting, the lighting, the time of day” Harris explains.
Stylist Kemal Harris Courtesy of Kemal Harris
What if you wanted to move from fiction to reality? What are the fashion lessons we can learn from Claire Underwood in Season 3?
1. Claire’s clothes fit her perfectly. Indeed, it is all about fit. Harris had a mannequin built to Wright’s exact measurements so as to be able to tailor outfits to her exactly, without her having to be there for all the fittings. Harris explains: “We tailor almost every piece to her fit; not everyone can afford to do that of course, but having a great tailor makes all of the difference.” Buy one less pair of shoes and instead have your pants and dresses tailored.
2. Claire is not much of a pants girl. Pencil skirts. Full skirts. Fitted dresses. More feminine, and somehow more powerful.
3. Claire is even less of a prints girl. She prefers solid colors. Harris laughs: “We did one striped blouse in Season 3. That is as far as we went. Anything beyond that is too flamboyant for Claire’s character. She is so classic.”
4. Claire’s idea of color remains muted. Deep burgundy, hunter green, violet, light gray, oatmeal. Otherwise, her color palette is black, white and charcoal.
5. Claire is not into jewelry or accessories. If she has to choose, she chooses pearls over diamonds. A single strand of pearls as a necklace, sometimes a single strand bracelet. And of course, her Cartier watch. That has been her trademark from the start. Harris adds “the Cartier team is such a delight to work with, they let me look through their archives for inspiration.”
6. Claire does not own a pair of jeans, or sweatpants. Her version of casual are pants with cuffs (when she does wear pants), and a cashmere sweater. Or a pair of black silk pajamas.
7. Claire’s preferred sleeve length is three quarters. So much so that Harris often has to alter the sleeve length of the outfits to fit this rule. And oh how powerful does this look with long black leather gloves?
8. Claire only wears stilettos — Manolos and Louboutins, specifically. You will not see her in a wedge or flats. Unless she is running of course.
9. Claire loves a statement purse. YSL Sac du Jour is her go-to, although an Hermes Kelly bag does make its appearance. As does a Ralph Lauren beaded clutch.
10. Claire likes contemporary designers. In addition to classics such as Ralph Lauren, Armani, and Burberry, she wears up and comers such as Altuzarra, Jason Wu, Derek Lam.
I ask Harris to describe Claire’s style in three words: “Timeless. Decisive. Feminine.”
Timeless requires no explanation.
Decisive because every look is a complete statement. There’s no flip-flopping on the style direction, there is an underlying strength in the cut and fit. The message is that of a powerful woman. Nothing is superfluous, nothing is fussy. She makes bold choices like the Ralph Lauren gown for the State Dinner based on her poise and confidence.
And feminine: Not the first word that jumps to my mind when I think about Claire, yet so very accurate. Feminine, not in a “mini skirt” kind of way. More in a “my clothes fit so well you can’t help but see my figure” kind of way. No one would ever mistake Claire for a man…
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