Rutgers alumnus thrives in world of costume design
With a 2010 Emmy nomination for best costume design, CBS’s “The Good Wife” has been recognized for its elegant display of fashion.
The man behind the actors’ wardrobes is Rutgers alumnus Daniel Lawson.
“What’s kind of great about the show is that the clothes really stand out,” Lawson said. “The story supports the clothes, and the clothes support the story.”
Lawson, who has been designing for television since 1992, was also the costume designer for NBC’s “Third Watch,” which aired until 2005, among others.
With less than six days to prep a script before shooting and 70 to 100 costumes required per episode, Lawson must rely on his personal fashion expertise to complete the vision.
Each actor on the show has a closet full of clothes, and it is his job to pick which ones they will wear in any given episode, Lawson said.
He attends costume meetings with the director and assistant director of the show, where the script is delved into scene by scene in order to create a look that matches the moment.
“My job as a costume designer is to convey what the writers want to convey and to support what the actors do,” Lawson said. “I always start with the script.”
Vickie Esposito, associate head of the Design Program in the Mason Gross School of Arts, said Lawson has the unique ability to comprehend what a character, if he or she were real, would choose to wear.
“[Daniel] is able to attractively costume an actor while keeping it within the needs of the character,” said Esposito, who has known Lawson since he was a graduate student at Rutgers and remains close with him today.
Lawson was honored with being the first television designer to receive the Theatre Development Fund Irene Sharaff Award, which fellow costume designers vote on.
When he first started making a living as a costume designer, Lawson had the modest goal of being able to put food on the table.
“I have more than been able to do that,” Lawson said, who has also teamed up with a London designer to create his own line of professional women’s clothing called 35.DL.
Lawson’s clothing line is all about empowering women through the clothing they wear.
“When I started ‘The Good Wife,’ I felt that the leading ladies were a little masculine in their looks,” Lawson said.
He created 35.DL to show that women can be powerful while remaining feminine and chic in their appearance.
Lawson also designed a collection of high-end costume jewelry, which is displayed within designer Joan Goodman’s PONO line. He sometimes also displays his clothing and jewelry on the cast of “The Good Wife.”
In spite of such success, Lawson remains modest. When asked what his biggest accomplishment as a designer is thus far, he said it was his good reputation and ability to work well with people.
“I seem to have gotten a reputation of being a good guy to work with,” Lawson said. “I find that to be a great accomplishment in a difficult business.”
Lawson continues to stay connected with the Rutgers community, where he learned how to be a team player. Rutgers provided him an invaluable combination of class and work with practical experiences.
“It wasn’t all theory — we got our hands dirty. We were constantly designing,” said Lawson, who received his undergraduate degree in theater from Northwestern University.
“I had an amazing experience at Rutgers.”
Esposito said Lawson is one of the most gracious individuals she has ever met, and his ability to remain humble is a great example for others. When Esposito recently wrote letters to alumni, the first person she heard back from was Lawson.
“I think that part of his success is that people simply like him,” Esposito said. “He has plenty of talent, but his outgoing enthusiasm really helps him to relate to people.”
Lawson believes a crucial part of educating students is offering a first-hand glimpse into the business world.
For this reason, he helps other Mason Gross students obtain internships with “The Good Wife” and has been doing so since he was costume designer for “Third Watch.”
“As much practical experience as you get at the school, it’s not exactly the same as it is when you go out into the professional world,” Lawson said.
In the future, Lawson aims to continue fostering strong creative relationships with those he respects and holds in high regard. An ongoing goal for anyone working in the arts, Lawson said, is to continue to make a living while being creatively fulfilled.
George Stauffer, dean of the Mason Gross School of Arts, said Rutgers students could learn a lesson from Lawson’s hard work and kindness.
“Daniel is an incredibly focused, intense costume designer who brings great passion to his work,” Stauffer said. “At the same time, he is a generous person who is eager to help and support his peers on design projects.”