Johanna Argan Receives First CDGA Nomination For “House Of Cards”
Johanna Argan had some pretty large shoes to fill. Last year, “House of Cards” season one costume designer Tom Broecker won “Outstanding Contemporary Television Series” at the 2014 Costume Designers Guild Awards. Argan took over the reigns for season two. Her work guiding the Underwood’s style as they climb the political ladder has resulted in the series’ second consecutive CDGA nomination, and Argan’s first nomination.
Variety 411 recently caught up with Argan and asked her a few questions about her nomination and experience with the show.
Variety 411: How did you get connected to the second season of “House of Cards” after the departure of Tom Broecker?
Johanna Argan: I was taking time off from work and spending time with my 8 month old baby girl at the time when I got a call from my agent that the show was looking for a new designer. It so happens that I have a professional and personal relationship with the lead actor Kevin Spacey who happens to also be an Executive Producer on the show. I called and asked if I could be consider for the position.
411: Did you closely review the wardrobe trends established in the first season of the show and build off of them? Or did you follow basic color themes and patterns without too much concern with the first season’s styles?
JA: I was a big fan of the show and watched every episode as soon the show was released. Tom Broecker established such an elegant and specific foundation for me to work off of when I came on. The establishing director David Fincher who is also a producer on the show set the color palette for the tone of the show. So I had a great place to start.
411: In the first season, Claire’s clothing had a lot of sharp angles and geometric cuts. This season a greater amount of curves and softer fabrics were introduced. Can you explain the direction you were taking with Claire and her wardrobe shift?
JA: I wouldn’t say we totally departed from Claire Underwood’s structured silhouettes but we introduced some softer fabrics to show Claire’s vulnerable moments – the cracks in her armor so to speak.
411: Looking closely at the various men in “House of Cards”, some characters have very square fits, while others, including Kevin Spacey, are far more tapered. It’s interesting to note the differences in ties as well. Were you making strong statements about the men in the show by the tailoring of their suits?
JA: Yes there a certain characters I went more tapered with to distinguish them, especially Frank Underwood. I wanted to set him and his inner circle apart from the rest of the political players in the storyline. It was to show a power struggle between the inner players of the story line. The ties, the ties. I’m really particular about the width of ties. I drive my shopper and assistant crazy. There are no skinny ties or super wide ties on my show unless there is a reason. My tie requirements are 3.25-3.5 inches wide. I just feel for our show it’s a more balanced look for the environment they are in.
411: Frank’s clothing seems very consistent. Are there subtle changes that you introduce into his clothing as he continues to become increasingly corrupt the further up the political ladder he climbs?
JA: We play with the fabrics of his suiting, and collars of his shirt will be very distinct. Ties will remain consistent. Let’s say Bobby Kennedy was an inspiration for Kevin and I.
411: How much of the work seen in “House of Cards” is built, and how much is sourced from rental and/or prop houses?
JA: A good amount of Frank Underwood’s suiting and shirting are built, and some of Claire’s pieces as well. The rest is shopped or sourced depending on the types of characters that are introduced to the show.
411: Working with crowds of military personnel and guards: do you create specific patches, badges, and ornamentation for the clothing? Would these be outfits that you rent?
JA: We do a lot of rentals when it comes to military personnel and the uniforms that are required for specific scenes. My team and I do extensive research to make sure we get it right and even work with specific consultants to make sure we have every detail just so. We do create most of the patches and work closely with props because with these types of costumes since our worlds cross over into each other.
411: Speaking of research, how did you prepare yourself to tackle the world of the political elite – both in office attire and personal attire worn at events and at home?
JA: The internet is a wonderful place. I have watched a ton of documentaries about the White House. I have also gone to D.C. to get a feel of what people look like walking the streets.
411: Do you have ample prep time for each episode? It seems there would be an awfully lot of tailoring needed to ensure the clothing on both the men and women fits exactly and has proper hems, etc. that one would expect of top levels of government.
JA: I have a wonderful tailoring staff. We don’t always get the time we need and sometimes we have last minute adjustments, but my team makes it happen.
411: Moving into season three, will we see some interesting transformation in the lead characters through their clothing – in textures, style and palette?
JA: You will definitely see some subtle transformation as our leads get into some intense situations inside and outside the White House. The palette remains in tact as the tone of our show does as well.
411: Describe your feelings about receiving your first Costume Designers Guild Award nomination – was it a complete surprise?
JA: First it was a complete surprise. I am so honored to be recognized among such talented artists. I can honestly say whatever the outcome, I’m just happy to be in such great company.