With Empire's explosive return to television last night, one thing was clear—the Lyons have received a major high-fashion overhaul. The person behind the Lyons' respective wardrobes? That's all thanks to the work of Paolo Nieddu who, through some careful planning, is able to outfit the cast in designer duds without having to fork over a fortune.
Without a doubt, the cast's biggest style star is matriarch and all-around boss b***h Cooke Lyon (played by Taraji P. Henson). But when the show started out, she was far from her runway ready looks. While Nieddu initially planned to put Henson in "python trenchcoats" and Stella McCartney, show creator Lee Daniels had different ideas.
"[Daniels] was like, 'I want it to come from a real person, because she’s not a celebrity.' And so that was really challenging — how to find pictures of real women in clothes that aren’t so high end, and then take that and stylize it."
Thanks to Instagram hashtags like "#tbt1996" and #leopardprint," Nieddu was able to find the right aesthetic and garments to blend with what would ultimately become Cookie's luxurious aesthetic.
For most productions, the team will borrow clothes more than they'll buy them. But because of the pace of shooting, Nieddu says that they have to buy samples more often. That said, the team does rely on blessings from labels—mostly because of the show's less than $45,000 budget. Fortunately most of the guys have pieces that can worn a few times. over. Jamal's (played by Jussie Smollett) $800 Saint Laurent Paris dress shirt and Lucious' (played by Terrence Howard) lineup of 10 suits are easily reworked and reworn as necessary in order to help save money on the bottom line.
In regards to Season Two's first episode, which kicked off with a "Free Lucious" concert, each of the Lyons had a wardrobe worth writing about. From Jamal's "clingy Ann Demeulemeester henley" to Hakeem's (played by Bryshere Y. Gray) Moschino cargo pants and Hood By Air boots, Nieddu pulled out all the stops.
But far and away the most extravagant outfit (and entrance) came with Cookie, who descended on to the concert stage in a gorilla costume—only to reveal an insane Gucci dress. According to Nieddu, Daniels originally had Cookie in a "Free Lucious" T-shirt, but was swayed after he saw the dress in person.
"I had the dress FedExed over and I showed it to [Lee Daniels] on the hanger and he was like, 'The dress is fabulous.' I didn’t care that it was a few seasons old, and André Leon Talley totally ad-libbed, like, 'Gucci, last season!' But I thought that was kind of great."
Read the full interview over at WWD.