In 'Poker Face,' Natasha Lyonne Solves Murders in a '70s-Meets-'Big Lebowski' Wardrobe
Costume designer Trayce Gigi Field also explains how the accidental detective bought her Saint Laurent leather jacket.
Warning: Spoilers for episodes one through five of 'Poker Face' below.
In Rian Johnson's "Poker Face," casino cocktail server Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) becomes an accidental "mystery of the week" detective — in the vein of classic gumshoes like "Columbo" and "Murder, She Wrote" — thanks to her innate ability to discern if someone's telling a lie.
But unlike her hidden talent, Charlie's fashion self-expression is totally an open book.
Lyonne, who also co-produced and directed an episode of the series, has likened Charlie to The Dude from "The Big Lebowski," the Pendleton sweater-wearing, White Russian-drinking, pot-smoking, chilled-out protagonist played by Jeff Bridges. "Somebody who's kind of taking it easy, but just can't stand bullshit, sees the truth and sees the lie and has got to follow it until the end because they love a puzzle too much not to," she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Costume designer Trayce Gigi Field even introduces Charlie in a The Dude-esque chunky knit that the human lie detector throws on right after rolling out of bed.
Charlie wanders out of her trailer into the Arizona desert morning sun and resigns to a new day, settling into a folding chair and cracking open a can of Coors Light.
"[Charlie's style] feels thrown together, but also cool and stylish — [it's] just who she is," says Field.
Charlie's signature aesthetic was developed through an organic working relationship with Lyonne, who, of course, boasts an effortlessly cool sense of style off-screen, too.
"Natasha is awesome. She's really into her character, but we also know she's really fashionable and into clothes," says Field, who made sure to have "lots of options" available for the duo to discuss in fittings. "Really just being able find the right energy is important, for her and for me. She's just super collaborative."
We sat down with Field — who found out via text that she was nominated for an NAACP Award for "A League of Their Own" while winding down our interview (congrats!) — to discuss Charlie's retro, on-the-run style and Easter Eggs to look out for as the A-list guest star-filled season comes to a close. Read on.
Charlie's '70s-Meets-The Dude' Aesthetic
Sipping a morning brewski, Charlie relaxes in her comfort clothes before changing into her more binding burlesque dancer uniform — custom-designed by Field — to serve cocktails at the Frost Casino. Her trusty "The Dude" sweater, actually an aged-down contemporary Banana Republic knit (above), establishes a vibe, along with her worn-in T-shirt, brown workwear-style shorts from Hammies and slouchy Southwestern-print boots from Blazin Roxx). Later, a flummoxed Charlie wears a tan "Lebowski"-esque terry robe, with triangle prints, over her striped pajamas to grab a beer from a nearby gas station.
"That's something she's had forever and keeps her cozy," says Field. "It's a '70s Christian Dior robe that's actually part of my vintage collection of 25 years. It just felt super right."
Field kept her color palette in "'70s-feeling tones," like marigolds and rusty oranges on soft vintage-style shirts. While stumbling onto the truth about the murder of best friend and colleague Natalie (Dascha Polanco), Charlie wears a mustard ombre tank by Classic Rock Tour, paired with oft-repeated blue flared front-seam jeans by Stoned Immaculate.
"Charlie is part '70s, part Western, part 'desert' vibe," says Field. "We just wanted to make sure that that was all conveyed through her clothing."
Her High-End Designer Leather Jacket
"It's a Saint Laurent jacket," says Field of Charlie's go-to brown leather bomber (above). "It's so buttery. It was actually one of the pieces that were on the original mood board [for Charlie]. I'm glad it got in."
The style fits right into Charlie's '70s-inspired wardrobe, and there's a realistic explanation behind Charlie owning a designer piece. Before her cocktail serving job in the casino, Charlie was using her sharp perception for deceit to clean up at the high-rolling poker tables around town. So, she may have splurged a bit with her winnings.
"When she was gambling for money, she bought herself some a couple of good pieces — that was one of them," shares Field.
Her On-the-Run Uniform
Charlie draws the ire of the heard-but-not-seen casino boss and his henchman, Cliff (Benjamin Bratt), who chases her across the country. With a gunshot wound, Charlie hits the road with the clothes on her back — thankfully, including the Saint Laurent — and whatever happens to be lying in the trunk of her Plymouth Barracuda.
"Oh, you know, she had a small bag packed in her car..." says Field, offering a reason for a fair amount of statement pieces she has access to, that she pairs with her on-the-run uniform of black skinny jeans by Ayr, a vintage Western silver-buckle belt from Worship in Glenford, New York and booties by Dolce Vita.
Charlie's wound bleeds through her '70s-esque short-sleeve button-up from Urban Outfitters, featuring a not-so-lucky horseshoe print, so kind trucker Marge (Oscar nominee Hong Chau) generously offers up a clean black shirt (above).
"When she's on the road, it's more solid T-shirts or solid-y sort of things, because that's either all she had or all she could come by," says Field. "You didn't want her to be too fashion-y, just because it's not real and authentic."
Her Chameleon Style
Despite her supposedly limited wardrobe options, Charlie does end up sartorially — and perhaps unconsciously — blending into her new environments.
After Marge is wrongfully accused of a veteran's murder, Charlie seeks help from truckers at a diner in New Mexico. Her trusty "Arizona"-logo-ed snapback fits in with her new allies, while also serving a purpose.
"The hat just keeps the sun [out of her eyes]," says Field. "It's all genuine and comes from a real place. So whenever it was appropriate for her to wear it, we put it on. Also, because Natasha loves hats."
In Cleveland, Charlie encounters a one-hit-wonder punk metal band led by riot grrrl Ruby Ruin (Chloë Sevigny), clad in leather bustiers and liquid leggings — which were mostly excellent vintage and not from Hot Topic.
As Charlie tries to suss out the demise of the band's sole songwriter, she's selling merch in a suitably heavy metal embroidered vest (above). "I was on the hunt for good, fun vintage pieces like that," says Field.
Later, Charlie crowd-surfs in a perhaps Ruby-influenced — but still very '70s — caramel leather bomber jacket (top) from the aptly named brand Classic Rock Couture.
With Cliff still in pursuit in episode five, Charlie takes Marge's advice and finds a cash-paying "side-hustle" doing odd jobs at a retirement community. She befriends two caftan-clad former revolutionaries, Irene (Judith Light) and Joyce (S. Epatha Merkerson). Impressed with their spirit and rebellion against the patriarchy, she immerses herself in their hippie-era style with a green suede fringed jacket over an old band tee, which displays the questionably named "The Droopy Hues," featuring 20-something Irene and Joyce on the album cover (third from top).
Feeling at home with the cantankerous seniors, Charlie also adopts some geriatric swagger, like a nubby olive green "granny sweater," as Field describes it (below).
"Is that Elaine's cardigan?" asks nurse Billy (Darius Fraser), in horror, as Charlie explains she plucked it from the lost and found — after Elaine died wearing it.
"She's gone full 'Cocoon,'" he says, referencing the 1985 retirement home-set comedy-sci fi film, while shaking his head and walking off.
Field also suggested a beaded glasses chain for Charlie to attach to her flip-up sunglasses — another accessory favored by grandparents across the country. "It's all about the visual storytelling, right? So wherever Charlie is, it rubs off on her a little bit."
Sartorial Easter Eggs on the Bad Guys
"Very early on, you can always pretty much tell who the murderer is — but it's up to Charlie to figure it out," says Field, who does love her clever costume Easter eggs. (See: "The Afterparty".) "They have a vibe or a sense to them that they might be dangerous."
She points to the sneering casino owner's son, Sterling Frost, Jr. (Adrian Brody), whose "slightly dated, vintage-y" suit jackets are always accented with a bold pocket square and a statement brooch — "a little bit of flair to tip you off that he may not be the nice guy he was portraying," says Field.
Or, take fratricidal BBQ scion and attempted dog murderer Taffy Boyle (Lil Rel Howery), in his on-theme cowboy hats, bolo ties and vests: "You could tell that he was a not nice person, like after he kills his brother and shows up in the darker color. It was really important to try to convey some sort of sinister-ness."
"Even with Cliff, his uniform was dark colors," Field says. But, "with Charlie, it's more how she wears her clothes. It's hard to explain, but when you see her, it's more of a vibe than an Easter egg this time around."
A previous version of this story mistakenly said Charlie's Banana Republic sweater was vintage.
Never miss the latest fashion industry news. Sign up for the Fashionista daily newsletter.