Succession’s Costume Designer Didn’t Mean to Start the ‘Quiet Luxury’ Discourse—But She Welcomes It
After four seasons of outfitting the Roys, Michelle Matland has a few opinions about ‘stealth wealth’ and what makes for a character’s perfect uniform.
Succession isn’t a show you can just turn off. Even after the click of your remote, the andante piano keys fill your ears, the one-liners rumble around your brain and timeline, and the characters stick with you like you half-expect to read about them in the news. The world of Succession doesn’t feel like it stops when we’re not watching, and that’s in part because, for some of the actors, there is little divide. (You’ve already seen the headlines about Jeremy Strong’s method acting.) But credit is also due to the show’s costume designer Michelle Matland, who enables the actors to fully sink into their characters — and makes watching the show such a visual feast.
In her tenure as Succession’s costume designer across its four seasons, Matland has created a fully dimensional world through wardrobe, and added terms like “quiet luxury” and “stealth wealth” to the cultural lexicon as a result. She’s also responsible for bringing to life the “ludicrously capacious bag” that’s still meme fodder. (Although she thinks people missed another joke with the rest of Bridget’s costume.) Ahead of the last three episodes of Succession, Matland spoke to W about The Bag, Shiv’s pregnancy looks, and Kendall’s Loro Piana baseball cap she had to scour the country to find.
Are you tired of being asked about quiet luxury, at this point?
[Laughs] I’m not tired of being asked—I wish I knew more about it, as well as the ‘stealth wealth’ terminology. I’ve been meaning to look up when that term became popular, because I’m pretty sure it didn’t exist before we started the show.
How do you feel about the show being associated with it?
It was never anything that we really knew about. We certainly knew about the fact that certain kinds of wealth were not only not interested in a logo world, but were antithetical in feeling about it and not interested in being a part of it. There’s some disdain for the logo world—the Versace, overt color palette, big names on your t-shirt. They seem to be at odds with one another and it has something to do with old money and new money.
This is a good segue into the capacious bag, with its loud Burberry print. What directions were you given for what kind of bag it should be, and how did you go about creating Bridget’s costume around it?
Well, the bag was written as you speak — capacious and overly large. The dialogue was mostly in reference to it, made by Tom and those around him. That’s where we got the knowledge of what the bag should be. As far as her costume, I thought it was outrageously funny that no one seemed to notice it, because the bag is the joke. But the fact that she didn’t realize that the bag didn’t go with her costume at all and her costume was totally inappropriate for this event, was equally entertaining, at least for me.
This scene is full circle from the start of the series where Tom is being piled on for his taste in clothing and his “boxy suits.”
That’s right. That’s why he can be so cruel, I think. He’s taken so much abuse for his cufflinks, his suspenders, his pocket squares, his boxy suits, his inappropriate gifts, his excessive attention to money. Then in the last episode he says, “I like money.” He’s come full circle in his own evolution, in his understanding to be one of the one percent. He always aspired to be like them, and he has finally come into his own. He’s now wearing super high-end Canali suits, instead of his Hickey Freeman off-the-rack. He wants that $25,000 watch that he went to buy for Logan, as obscene and ridiculous as it is. He no longer has to have self-disgust or self-disdain for wanting it. He can poke fun at others now.
There’s been a lot out there about Jeremy Strong’s involvement in creating his character Kendall’s costume design. What pieces have been the hardest to obtain for Kendall’s character?
Well, he is incredibly involved in his costumes. As a costume designer, I find it very helpful that we have an actor who’s that personally invested in his character. But, yes, there are things he will want that are seemingly unattainable.
One of those was the Loro Piana cashmere hat in the particular color that he wanted and the right size. We could not find that anywhere. We searched the country. We had them shipping it, and it got stuck in customs. All this for a baseball cap, which seemed outrageous. Then one day I went into the store to pick up something that I ordered and the saleswoman came upstairs with that hat in her hands. I couldn’t believe it. I almost fainted.
Which scenes does he wear that particular hat in?
He wore it in California. He wears it quite a bit. That’s the great thing. When Jeremy finds something that Kendall loves, he believes, like we all do, that he will wear it more than once. So it’s not an indulgence. It is a creation of the character. It’s part of storytelling.
How did the baseball cap become Kendall’s signature?
In the same way that the Bezos of the world have their uniform, a lot of individuals who come from this particular background have a uniform piece that gives them a comfort zone and a bit of veneer between their audience, their peers, and themselves. For Kendall, the baseball cap and T-shirts became an iconic image, and we stuck with it because it worked. For Roman, it’s the open-collared shirt and his flat front trousers. If you’re dealing with the kind of money and stress they are, I think it’s probably helpful to have a go-to, so your clothes don’t become a part of your problem.
What pieces did Jeremy Strong keep after the show wrapped?
[Laughs] I know certain pieces have tremendous meaning to him, like his talisman necklace—the Rashid Johnson piece he wears. It means a great deal and has history to him for the memory of Kendall.
Shiv’s pregnancy looks are such a departure for her character. What was the thinking behind her costumes this season?
When the pregnancy no longer had to be under wraps, we were able to allow Shiv the opportunity to travel that journey in her costumes. It wasn’t just the pregnancy that she’s dressing for, it’s her relationship with Tom, her relationship with her brothers, the loss of her father, and all that’s been going on in the corporate world for her. Her costumes are a party to this period of her life where things are extremely complicated.
What’s been the most memorable day of filming for you?
I do look forward to an episode that’s coming up: the funeral. I think it will be quite a visual and emotional extravaganza.
How did you and all of the actors say goodbye to these characters?
I think a lot of people haven’t. It’s going to be a long trip for these actors to put these characters away. They lived in them, inhabited them for years every single day. They took them to bed at night and, hopefully, woke up in the morning as themselves. Then they had to dive right back in and become these people again. It will be a while for them to let the characters go to bed.
Do you think there will ever be another iteration of Succession? Do you think the door is open or closed to that?
My opinion doesn’t count. I will say it seems highly unlikely that we’ll see these characters in a new world. I could be totally wrong.