Best of 2023: “Succession” Costume Designer Michelle Matland Breaks Down the Roy Family’s Signature Looks
*It’s our annual “Best of the Year” look back at some of our favorite interviews from the year.
Early this season on Succession, Waystar Royco executive Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) mocks the $2900 Burberry handbag carried by cousin Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) date as being “Ludicrously capacious…You could slide it across the floor after a bank job.” And in the show’s first year, Kendall (Jeremy Strong) bought a pair of $500 Lanvin sneakers to ingratiate himself with potential Silicon Valley investors, telling them, “I got these sneakers on the way down here because I thought you’d all be dressed like f*****’ Björk, and I wanted to make an impression.” But most of the time, the privileged anti-heroes of Succession reserve their trash-talk for personality flaws rather than fashion critiques.
Nonetheless, fans pay close attention to the clothes worn by Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and his offspring, with Instagram accounts like Successionfashion tracking the characters’ tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories in granular detail.
Credit for Succession‘s singular brand of corporate chic goes to costume designer Michelle Matland, whose credits include The Girl on the Train along with Emmy-nominated work on Mildred Pierce and Angels in America. She’s dressed all four seasons of the show, eschewing primary colors to curate nuanced variations in black, navy blue, and beige silhouettes tailored to reflect each character’s particular strain of inner turmoil.
Matland deconstructs the Roy family wardrobe, from the late Logan Roy to the youngest, Roman, revealing where she found Logan Roy’s signature cardigan sweater, explains why Kendall Roy likes baseball caps, and more.
Logan (played by Brian Cox): In the season opener, he’s wearing this amazing double-breasted sweater with brass buttons. Of course, it’s a cardigan sweater, which became Logan Roy’s signature look, as if he’s so powerful, he doesn’t have to bother with a suit and tie. Where do you source those sweaters, and what did you have in mind for giving him this casual look?
The whole point of Logan is he never has to be anything other than his comfort zone. One of his original sweaters came from a tiny shop in a little upstate town called Livingston Manor. One side of the store had gorgeous men’s clothing, and the other side had kitchenware. We knew right away this was for Logan. It fit [Brian Cox] perfectly, it was strong, and it was immediately right. Logan Roy doesn’t have to dress up for anyone because he’s the man. He is who he is, and he maintains that through the seasons. He’s King Lear, and he’s staying King Lear.
Kendall (Jeremy Strong): He likes baseball caps! What does that say about his character? And what are some other elements you’ve outfitted Kendall with that speak to persona?
The baseball cap was not an unconscious choice. It developed as a shell of protection. It fits his comfort zone as a way to hide and also as a way to set himself apart from the more formal culture associated with his position, his family, and his company. Kendall is very specific about what he wants — standard, iconic looks — and he has stuck with that throughout the series. One thing from last season, there was a Rashid Johnson necklace from the series called “Anxious Man,” which really says a lot and speaks to his character. And Kendall loves logos, especially if it’s a subtle, beautiful, understated logo. But he’s also gentle about getting those things and wearing them multiple times. It’s not like he’s looking into a logo designer; he just wants something very specific and character-driven.
Shiv (Sarah Snook): She’s got one toe in the world of politics but also sees herself as a shrewd businesswoman. Her pantsuits evidently resonate with viewers. Who in the real world, if anyone, did you take as a reference for Shiv’s sense of style, and what personal qualities did you want to express?
When we began Season 2, we thought Shiv was someone who is very much embodying Katharine Hepburn. We wanted to establish a look that was high-waisted trousers and very simple, elegant, and flattering. We created a timeline where she was very classy and clean looking. And this last season, she was very comfortable in her own life, finally much more available. At one point, she was trying to be in the board room, but now she is less board room.
Roman (Kieran Culkin): He shows up in this season’s first episode wearing a pastel shirt and pants. He’s in L.A. with Shiv and Kendall, and that southern California vibe really contrasts with the New York shots of businessmen in their dark suits attending Logan’s birthday party. By contrast, Roman rarely wears a tie. What are you going for with that open-neck look?
Roman is the most casual uniformed guy on the planet. He is just moving through the room. He has no agenda at all with anyone; he’s simply his own beast. We have a closet for Roman, and Kieran will rummage through it for hours. He’s very personal in selecting, and that takes a lot of time.
Connor (Alan Ruck): He’s always been a bit of an outsider. Do you deliberately dress him differently from the other three siblings?
He’s a presidential candidate now and dresses like one. Connor is much more professional and political than when the show first started. Connor has become official. There’s no particular meaning behind the vest itself.
Tom & Greg (Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun), aka “The Disgusting Brothers”: They exist outside the immediate Logan family but still play important roles in the story. You dress both characters in beautiful suits, and at times they almost look like twins. Was that intentional?
Yes, it’s intentional that they look similar. Greg is always following Tom, and we had every intention of giving them uniformity and showing this consistently.
What’s it like designing for creator Jesse Armstrong?
He is the most fabulous, collaborative, and involved person I’ve ever worked with.
Anything secrets to your success on outfitting one of the most fashionable series on TV?
I’ve been known from time to time to walk up to someone in the street and literally purchase the shirt off their back. I tend to source costumes from anywhere at any time. You might say I’m a 24-hour designer. And also, an important point that gets underestimated: through all my experiences over the years, the jewelry and the accessories, the scarves, earrings and necklaces, the rings — all of that is a constant treasure hunt and always pays off. You will be hard-pressed to find a character that isn’t wearing a distinctive piece of jewelry. I have drawers and drawers of jewelry; both refined and costume or personal pieces, and I don’t like them to go to set without something.
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Featured image: Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin. Photograph by Claudette Barius/HBO