We chat with House of Cards costume designer Johanna Argan about outfitting Kevin Spacey for the newly released fourth season of the Netflix series.
As the long-standing stylist for Kevin Spacey, it was only natural that costume designer Johanna Argan joined his acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards to dress him up as the mesmerizing Commander-in-Chief Frank Underwood.
Here, we chat with Argan on how she got her start working with the legendary actor, the way she conveys power through clothing, and the one particular costume request from Spacey.
How did you start working with Kevin Spacey? Johanna Argan: Kevin and I met through my daughter’s dad, who is Kevin’s business partner, back when I was working in fashion in NYC. It sort of just happened because I had relationships with designers for brands that I worked with, and I was also trying out assistant styling at the time. He needed clothing for some press and it grew from there, especially once I migrated west to California. I figured out quickly I wanted to work in film and TV. Streaming didn’t exist back then.
What is the process like for outfitting a character from the start to finish of a season? JA: It all starts with the scripts, then character breakdowns of each one of their story arcs. I work with the writer, director, actor, director of photography, and production designer to make it all come together. We have a specific color palette we live by, so you will never see ROYGB on our show… okay, we did it once in the Pussy Riot video in season three, but that was specific. My fittings are the most important physical part of my process. There, I fine tune with an actor what they are trying to get across in their character. In essence, it has to look effortless. My clothes can never distract from the story—they have to be a subliminal part of it.
When it comes to creating costumes, how do you convey a sense of power through clothes? JA: Power might as well be a character on our show. It’s all about structure and fit for the men and women who are trying to be the power players on House of Cards. I think a person trying to show a powerful presence cannot look sloppy in the least. It’s fine details like the collar of a men’s jacket being lowered, making sure the lapels don’t buckle. For the women, I don’t want the skirts to shift too much when [they] walk or ride up in the waist. Having something fit you the right way almost automatically changes the way you carry yourself.
What pieces did you put Spacey in for the fourth season? JA: Every season I think about how each character evolves. For me, it’s important to try to be as realistic as possible. [In] season three, I designed some suiting and shirting for Kevin. He loved that something was made specific to him for the show. But being in Baltimore, I needed access to more materials and faster turnaround for the amount of work that was coming in season four. I thought it would be great to collaborate with a designer and hand pick all the materials for the suiting, shirting, and ties. President Obama does it—why can’t Frank Underwood do the same? I had some designers approach me before, but they just weren’t right. Then came BOSS—well, I approached them. Execution was everything. BOSS quickly gathered materials, flew in their head patternmaker, fit Kevin, and weeks later we had our first delivery of made-to-measure presidential looks. Every detail was perfect, even down to the “F.U.” initials being embroidered inside his suit jackets.
Did Kevin have any favorite items or costume requests? JA: He’s super particular about his shirt collars. They are designed so they don’t spread or curl up at the points. I would say that is the most specific costume request. As for favorites, it always comes down to the tie with Kevin for Frank. BOSS custom made lots of great ones [for him] to chose from.