"She goes chic very fast": "Poker Face" costume designer on creating Natasha Lyonne's iconic outfits

Trayce Gigi Field told Salon about the "fashionable-ish" Charlie Cale, from the boots and vests to that horse head

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published March 11, 2023 11:00AM (EST)

Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in "Poker Face." (oto by Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)
Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in "Poker Face." (oto by Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

Rian Johnson's comedy-mystery-drama series "Poker Face" gets a lot of things right.

First, there are its case-of-the-week-style murder mysteries, which never fail to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Then, there are the seamless gags, which provide some comic relief in between each incident of brutality. And most importantly, the quirky costumes give the Peacock show a retro-cool vibe reminiscent of popular detective shows from the '70s (think "Columbo" and "Get Christie Love!"). 

In the series, Natasha Lyonne's Charlie Cale basks in the spotlight with her impressive lie-detecting abilities and her killer Western-inspired wardrobe. She can make a pair of black booties look effortlessly badass, an oversized printed cardigan look chic and a pair of simple black skinny jeans not look cheugy. Keep in mind, she does this all while on the run from a ruthless security hitman (Benjamin Bratt) following the suspicious death of Charlie's casino boss Sterling Frost Jr. (Adrien Brody).

Each episode follows Charlie taking up odd jobs in a new city, where she also solves a series of murder cases. In Texas, she works at a popular BBQ joint and befriends a possibly racist dog. She then finds herself working as a merch seller for a struggling (and murderous) heavy metal band. Later, she works as a dinner theater waitress and finds herself embroiled in drama with two feuding actors.     

"There's a little bit of a desert vibe."

It's in these instances when Charlie's innate ability to detect lies comes in handy. There's no case that's too difficult for her to tackle. Sure, it may take her some time to put the puzzle pieces together. But in the end, she'll always solve every one of her mysteries — and do so with a perfectly curated wardrobe.

To wrap up such a stellar season, Salon spoke with "Poker Face" costume designer Trayce Gigi Field, who explained Charlie's most iconic outfits — including her horse costume in Episode 8 and her body-con sequin dress in the finale — and shared a few details on what's in store for Season 2.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.

The vintage fashion on the show reminded me of the fashion typically seen in detective shows of the '70s and '80s. There were times when I forgot that the show is set in the present day, especially when looking at Charlie's personal style. Did you receive any notes on what Charlie's look was supposed to be? Or, did you have free rein?

I've worked with Natasha in the past and I knew that she was playing Charlie Cale. So, I had both the actor and the character in mind. My process is that I like to go through a bunch of books, and a bunch of old catalogs and the Internet — it all just kind of depends on what kind of character we are creating.

So, for Natasha, you read the script and you realize a few things that come to mind. She's in the desert, right? So, there's a little bit of a desert vibe. She's also in Nevada. So I was like, "Oh, maybe a little Western." And then Natasha and I are both into vintage, so I combined a little bit of '70s inspiration. I created a mood board and then presented that to Natasha and Rian, and they both were on board with it. Even the brown leather jacket, which is kind of her staple, was on my original mood board. It's kind of cool. I knew that was her piece right from the beginning.

At the end of the pilot, Charlie suffers a gunshot wound and is running for her life. I'm sure she didn't have much time to pack a bag of clothes and yet, her outfits still look incredibly stylish. I'm curious how she's sourcing her clothes? And did you take that into consideration when building Charlie's wardrobe?

"What also was extremely important was repetition. ... She wears the same belt through every episode."

I always strive for authenticity and I always have a backstory in my mind for how something works. Through Episode 1, Charlie lives in a trailer and she's got that Banana Republic sweater. She's just kind of like a free-for-all kind of person. So in my mind, she has a bunch of jackets and maybe some old T-shirts in her car. I mean she goes to work every day and then she changes into a cocktail waitress uniform, so she just has some stuff from her car that she throws on. And then during her road trip, we were like, "Oh, maybe she stopped at a Goodwill or a thrift store and she bought a T-shirt for $5." That was the idea behind her being able to change clothes.

What also was extremely important was repetition. She's living out of her car, so you'll see that she's wearing the same T-shirts a bunch throughout. There is a vest she repeats. A jacket she repeats. She only has two pairs of shoes. It's not like we went crazy. She wears the same belt through every episode. There's a lot of consistency. It was also important to Natasha and I that Charlie be fashionable-ish but also, based in reality.

Poker FaceNatasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in "Poker Face" (Karolina Wojtasik/Peacock)

Where did you source Charlie's clothes from?

Kind of just like all over, you know. I like to find smaller brands and then use those kinds of pieces just because they're not at a Bloomingdale's. It's like you want the clothes to be accessible, you want them to be interesting. I used a company called Classic Rock Couture, which I think is great. They have a lot of '70s inspiration. I used another one called Stone Immaculate, which is very '70s influenced. I was just sourcing things that I felt were right for the character.

One of the things I always talk about, as a creative design theory person, is that I inherently have a feeling when something's gonna be right. The brown jacket is her YSL jacket and although it's expensive, in my mind she got it when she was gambling. So, she bought herself some key pieces. She probably bought her Dolce Vita boots then too. And listen, the belt is from a vintage store. 

One of my favorite things to do is to go to a vintage mart, it's kind of like an antique mart and each booth is owned by a different person. There will be days where I'll just go into every single booth and look at every single piece. And that's how I end up finding some of these really fun, interesting pieces. It's a treasure hunt.

In each episode, we see Charlie tackling a new murder case as travels across the United States. How did the different settings and background influence her outfits?

Where she is and what she's doing influences her outfits. When she's doing stunts, we have to have multiple options available. In one instance, we had to recreate Charlie's black vest with the cream rickrack. There was only one and we needed it for a stunt, so we recreated it for that. I think it's important to protect the actress or actor in what they're doing. Sometimes you have to hide stunt packs and things like that — it's all movie magic! 

"The thing about Natasha is she just wears clothes so well. She goes chic very fast without even trying, which I love."

Overall, where she is, what the weather is like and what job she's in all influence Charlie's looks. Like in the BBQ episode, she's in Texas and she's in T-shirts and a ball cap and she has Western boots on. When she's a janitor at the old folks home, we made her look as interesting as possible. She's wearing Dickies. It's something the brand issued her, but we then tried to put her own spin on it. So, she had her glasses that flipped up and she's wearing a jacket from the lost-and-found and an "older lady sweater," which I got on Amazon. It all looks really cool and vintage on her. The thing about Natasha is she just wears clothes so well. She goes chic very fast without even trying, which I love.

Charlie is often seen wearing a brown leather bomber jacket with a pair of black skinny jeans, a pair of aviator sunglasses, and a vintage Western silver-buckle belt. What I found really interesting are her black booties. I don't think booties would be my go-to choice of comfortable shoes. Why did you choose that as Charlie's preferred footwear?

Well, first of all, I have a little style. But mostly, Charlie didn't know that she was going to be on the run. She wears the clothes that she would normally be dressed in — her brown leather jacket, her tank top and jeans. So, we stuck with what would be authentic, which is those she had. I think it's easier to justify a T-shirt than it is to justify a whole new pair of shoes. So, we just stuck with that. It felt real.

Poker FaceNatasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in "Poker Face" (Peacock)

Let's talk about Charlie's horse costume in Episode 8, which Natasha directed herself. What's the significance of having Charlie wear the horse costume that looks like it's straight from Jean Cocteau's "Testament of Orpheus"?

Natasha wrote it. She's extremely intelligent. She's extremely well-read. She is a cinephile. So, all of these things come into play when she's creating the world. So that was the inspiration, the Cocteau horse and she was like, "Tracy, you got to make a horse!" And I was like, "Uh, what?" And that was before I saw the script. When I saw the script, I was like, "Oh, of course, OK, no problem!" 

The costume needed to be a sinistery-looking horse, but it also needed to have all these other elements that were workable for the script. Charlie has to be able to crawl on the floor and run around. She takes it off in one scene or, at least, takes off the armhole. There's a lot of physical comedy. The costume is made out of lightweight foam. The hairs are faux hair, but it looks very real. The tail is actually made out of palm leaves, which are spray-painted black. And this is all very lightweight but also, incredibly realistic and creepy. I feel like it all came together. When you see it on screen, it looks pretty cool.

Interestingly, the costume has elements of Charlie in it — it's retro, cool and plays into her Western aesthetic. What were some challenges you encountered when designing the costume? How did you make the look more comfortable for Natasha so she could run around in it?

One of the challenges was that the costume is rather hot inside. I wanted to make sure Natasha was comfortable, so I had a fan built into it that would blow cool air onto her when she was wearing the costume. That was one of the elements. Also, we were trying to figure out a way to actually get the head off in a scene. And that ended up being a little cumbersome because of the weights. You know, people don't always realize when you're doing costume designing, it's something in the fitting where you really figure out how to make it all work.

Poker FaceNatasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale and Luis Guzman as Raoul in "Poker Face" (Karolina Wojtasik/Peacock)

Can you talk more about Charlie's casino look in the finale and the dildo ring that she can't get off of her finger? The body-con dress is form-fitting and covered in sequins and yet, Charlie is able to run in it and crawl into a laundry cart. How did you find that balance between looking party-ready but also, comfortable?

That's another one of those inherent things that was addressed from the beginning. It was the first dress I bought. It was the first dress I tried on her and it was perfect. But, as Natasha and I are very similar, we had to do our due diligence. We tried on 50 other dresses, and I'm not kidding. But that one really fit the bill. It was long-sleeved, so she could crawl and run. It was stretchy enough but still looked really sexy and held its shape. And it was the pop of color that we needed. So, it's one of those things where just kind of all came together. I wish I had a better story other than we knew it was the one and then we used it. And the shoes are Prada. And you know, I really just feel like it all came together. And it's not like the character's aesthetic to wear dresses like that, but I really do feel like if she was going to wear a dress, it fit the bill. It kind of just was perfect.

Poker FaceNatasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in "Poker Face" (Peacock)"Poker Face" has been renewed for a second season! What's next for "Poker Face" Season 2? 

I definitely already have some ideas for sure! You know, without having a script, it's kind of hard to actually know what I'm going to need. But she's still Charlie Cale, and I'm sure she'll still be super cool. And you know, we're not going to deviate from that. So yeah, I already have some ideas and I think people are going to be into the clothes yet again in the upcoming season.

"Poker Face" is currently available for streaming on Peacock. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon, covering Culture and Food. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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Costuming Fashion Interview Natasha Lyonne Peacock Poker Face Rian Johnson Trayce Gigi Field Tv