By Tomboy KC | Photography by Christopher Brown
If you’re anything like us, the minute House of Cards dropped on Netflix you put a “Do Not Disturb” message on your phone, door and computer and entered total binge mode. Not just because you needed to see what Frank Underwood would do next (the man is insane), but because you needed to see what Claire Underwood would wear next. We must admit, we are done with the entire season already (oops!), but what we aren’t done with is talking about the clothes. Which is why we reached out to Los Angeles based House of Cards costume designer Johanna Argan to keep the love alive.
This past week we stopped by the set of Argan’s current project, Amazon’s Hand of God, to talk styling, personal inspiration and everything Clair Underwood.
TKC: How did you get your start in styling?
JA: I sort of fell into it. I was working as an assistant buyer for a really popular NYC boutique at the time and tons of stylists would come in and shop for their clients. I, of course, got to know some of them and was intrigued by what they did. I had been wanting to leave my “Devil Wears Prada” job and it so happened one of the stylists who came in was looking for an assistant. I bet you can guess what happened next… I actually quit my job, started working for the stylist and never looked back. And that’s how it all began.
TKC: Would you consider one moment in your career as your “big break?”
JA: When Kevin Spacey let me come on one of his films to be his personal costumer. That’s where I was introduced into costume designing.
TKC: Who have been your greatest supporters or mentors?
JA: I really have a great mom. She always told me I could do whatever I wanted (I know, it sounds cliche) and I guess when you hear that all your life you believe it. It made me not afraid to try different things and helped me find my way. I would say most of the people who gave me my first jobs like Kevin Spacey and stylist Ann Caruso are still great supporters to me.
TKC: What do you find to be the most exciting thing about what you do?
JA: Every season when the new collections come out it’s like Christmas morning. Or when I find just the thing I was looking for to complete a look for a character I’m creating a look for.
TKC: You’re the costume designer for House of Cards (we’re obsessed with Claire’s wardrobe, btw), can you describe your process with a show like this?
JA: Working on a show like House of Cards is really an opportunity of a lifetime. It has just as much cache for it’s fashion as it does for it’s writing, directing and acting. The clothes have really become a character of its own, especially Claire Underwoods. She’s a contemporary fashion icon for the D.C. power woman and career women in general.
As far as my process goes, I first get an outline of where characters begin, their story arcs and ends in a given season. I work with the show runner, directors and actors and get their take on what will help them tell the story and I go from there. I do research and look for inspiration in real life politics, corporate power players, the fashion runways, to past fashion designer looks from the likes of Christian Dior or Givenchy or past icons like Bobby Kennedy and Jackie O’. It all depends on what I’m looking for and what the story is trying to tell.
TKC: Have you styled other shows or films? If so, which ones?
JA: No, I have not styled other shows. House of Cards was the first of it’s kind, which was a first for me. It’s not quite tv, but it is an episodic being shot like a film that streams online once it’s released. I’m currently working on another show that will air in September for Amazon called Hand Of God and have done a few films (Killers, Catch 33, Shrink, Trucker, and Fanboys).
TKC: Do you style for Editorial? If so… which do you prefer?
JA: I do some editorial. It’s fun but I prefer costume designing for shows over editorial. I love telling a story with clothes. Taking a writers characters and making them come to life in the way I can help tell a story.
TKC: How would you describe your personal style?
JA: Minimalist chic.
TKC: Do you have a work uniform of sorts?
JA: I would say my work uniform is a white t shirt with a blazer and my Isabel Marant Dicker boot or my Chuck Taylors. Charlotte Gainsburg and Emmanuelle Alt inspire me.
TKC: Does your personal style influence your work at all, or vice versa?
JA: I would say yes. For me, less is more. I don’t like things to have a time stamp on them. I like things to be classic and timeless. I don’t do trends or big statement jewelry very often and I don’t like busy patterns on or off screen. But of course, sometimes a character in a story calls for more.
TKC: Is there a particular designer or look that you tend to favor?
JA: I just die for Ralph Lauren. He has the feminine with the masculine thing going on. I always think Katherine Hepburn and Bacall when I see his stuff. Strong and feminine all in one.
TKC: On the flip-side, are there any trends that you absolutely loathe?
JA: Crop tops and bandage anything!
TKC: What’s your first fashion memory?
JA: My dad teaching me how to sew doll clothes for my Barbie with the scraps of fabric he would bring home from the garment business he worked for in NYC.
TKC: If you could only buy one item this Spring, what would it be?
JA: Any Aquazzura cutout sandal.
TKC: What is one item that is safe to buy on a budget?
JA: Any trend on a budget. They come and go.
TKC: One worth splurging on?
JA: Givenchy Pandora box bag.
TKC: Name one beauty product you couldn’t live without.
TKC: Coffee or tea?
TKC: Lipstick or lipgloss?
JA: Mine is the perfect combo of gloss and chapstick.
TKC: If you had a motto, what would it be and why?
JA: I woke up like this. Basically love yourself.
TKC: In high school you would have been voted most likely to…
JA: Be your friend.
TKC: What advice would you give 22 year old Johanna?
JA: Nothing worth having is easy.
Working on a show like House of Cards is really an opportunity of a lifetime. It has just as much cache for it’s fashion as it does for it’s writing, directing and acting.