That Red Dress in ‘The Diplomat’ Finale Was So Important, It Was Written Into the Script

The Netflix series' costume designer told IndieWire about taking Keri Russell from Theory suits and Vince tops to full "Funny Face" moment on the steps of the Louvre
The Diplomat. Keri Russell as Kate Wyler in episode 108 of The Diplomat. Cr. Alex Bailey/Netflix © 2023
Keri Russell on "The Diplomat"

Kate Wyler was always going to end “The Diplomat” wearing a red dress.

The instantly iconic look in the Netflix series’ season finale finds Keri Russell’s newly appointed diplomat to the U.K. attending a gala at the Louvre in a flowing red gown, evoking none other than Audrey Hepburn in “Funny Face.” And that particular look was written into series creator Debora Cahn’s script from the beginning.

“Red was always in Debora’s script,” “The Diplomat” costume designer Roland Sanchez told IndieWire. “Debora laid it all out. She’s very in tune. She’s very costume oriented and there’s reasons why she does things for these characters.”

Working from the script, Sanchez found a red dress from Galvan London that fit the bill. But then the location scout brought bad news. “[The dress] was originally a burgundy. But we were shooting in a burgundy room the exact color of the dress, so we needed a different red,” Sanchez said. The solution? They recreated the dress with some alterations (an adjusted neckline, a longer train) in the “beautiful, saturated red” we saw.

The red gown is an exclamation point of Kate’s transformation from grudging ambassador to political animal ready for the spotlight after years of supporting her egocentric husband, Hal (Rufus Sewell) — not to mention her burgeoning attraction to British foreign secretary Austin Dennison (David Gyasi). The Kate we initially meet is no-nonsense, and, as she repeatedly tells everyone trying to mold her into something a little more glamorous, she wears black suits for a reason.

Keri Russell Theory suit Vince blouse suit The Diplomat
David Gyasi and Keri Russell on “The Diplomat”COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Her reasons are the same as those of real-life diplomats: Incessant travel. “Deobra did quite a bit of research with actual diplomats, and they have to be on the move at any given moment,” Sanchez said. “So most of the time, we kept Kate in a low-heeled boot and paired it with a non-nonsense black suit by Theory and Vince blouses. It’s a practicality piece for that character.”

Far less practical is the white dress to which Kate acquiesces shortly after her arrival at her new home, in an effort to subvert attempts to have her fired by playing into “the Cinderella thing” for a fashion photoshoot. (She has a very busy first day on the job.) The moment Russell wears the dress and appears, awkward and in heels, marks the moment you realize that “The Diplomat” is not just a juicy political thriller about a woman juggling a tense job and tenser marriage. It also has a wicked sense of humor.

Keri Russell's white dress on The Diplomat
Keri Russell on “The Diplomat”ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

“All of that stuff is out of Kate’s comfort zone,” Sanchez said of the moment. “Kate is used to going to foreign countries and the Middle East and having to deal with things there. And now she’s a diplomat in the U.K. and this is all out of her comfort zone. And that white dress — it’s a stunning sculptural piece we found in Harrod’s. I think it was the only white dress that I pulled.”

But while government officials (even those who do photo shoots for British Vogue) have a buttoned-up approach to dressing, one fabulous supporting character gets to swan in halfway through the season and offer a startling dose of pure glam.

The Diplomat. (L to R) T’Nia Miller as Cecilia, Rufus Sewell as Hal Wyler in episode 105 of The Diplomat. Cr. Alex Bailey/Netflix © 2023
T’Nia Miller and Rufus Sewell on “The Diplomat”ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

“Debora gave me something really fun to design for,” Sanchez said. “There’s a point where we meet Dennison’s sister and T’Nia Miller is this gorgeous, statuesque, beautiful Black woman. What a great character to design for, she’s fantastic.”

Cecilia — recovering from a suicide attempt and wryly wandering the grounds with weed and wine during a furious conference — allows us to see a different side to Hal, even as she provides critical information to Kate. “It sort of throws everybody for a minute,” Sanchez said. “Who is this butterfly? She certainly infatuates Hal in those scenes. We built the wrap dress but we found some things shopping in London. And we used a lot of vintage jewelry.”

The entire series is marked by precision in the clothes that immediately conveys not only character but what that character is going through at that moment on that day. For Sanchez, the collaboration with the actors is part of the joy of the job. “When I bring pieces to the table and I’m in the fitting room, it’s that ‘Aha’ moment,” he said. “That’s what I look for in the fitting. That ‘Aha’ moment when the actor understands why they’re wearing this wardrobe and they relate it to their character.”

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