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Costume Designer Dishes Secrets for "The Closer"

There's a uniform of sorts for powerful women on TV: well-cut dark suits with designer labels. But there is one notable exception: LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson. That's the character played by actress Kyra Sedgwick on TNT's "The Closer." Johnson is a TV cop who prefers floral skirts and vintage jackets, topped off with bright coral lipstick. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde takes us inside Brenda's closet.

Kyra Sedgwick (in character on "The Closer"): Good morning, sir. I'm Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson ...

Kitty Felde: Kyra Sedgwick plays the classic fish out of water: an Atlanta transplant, now a deputy chief at the LAPD Her specialty: getting suspects to confess.

Sedgwick (in character): Could you please tell me your name? How about the name of the man who died?
Suspect: I murdered them, I killed them all.

Felde: But it's not just the Southern accent that makes Brenda stand out in a crowd. It's her clothes.

Greg LeVoi: You said you wanted to see Brenda's closet. Honey, there it is, there it is!

[Sound of walking, Greg LeVoi pointing out organization of closet]

Felde: Greg LeVoi is the Costume Designer for "The Closer." He says there are two main components to Brenda's look: perfectly tailored jackets from the 1940s and beyond, and soft, flirty skirts.

LeVoi: They're usually all cut on the bias, or have wonderful little hem detailing, because she sashays. Brenda sashays when she walks in her heels. And it's just so feminine and so wonderful to see a cop, a 2007 cop, female, in a man's world, be able to be feminine in heels, a little skirt, and a fitted jacket and still be so powerful to close these cases, so it's brilliant.

Felde: And oh, those fitted jackets! Grey nubby silk with cutouts in three different colors, another with a portrait collar and a series of art deco circles near one shoulder, almost like a corsage.

Sedgwick (in character): We're going to play good cop, bad cop.
G.W. Bailey: You're not going to make me be the good cop are you?
Sedgwick: I don't think that's possible, Lieutenant.
Bailey: How bad do you want me to be?
Sedgwick: Go for broke.

LeVoi: Usually these are all interview jackets, so she's sitting at an interview table – and if detail's down below, you don't see it. But this designer at the time, everything was up above. These were either luncheon suits or something to wear above a table, so you looked fabulous above this table.

Felde: Some of the jackets aren't perfect. They have stains or moth holes that don't show up on camera. And each jacket is completely taken apart, shoulder pads reduced, buttons and linings replaced, and then the show's tailor puts the suit back together to fit Sedgwick like a glove. Something Brenda couldn't be bothered with herself. LeVoi knows exactly why Brenda is attracted to this look.

LeVoi: She's out on a crime scene, she runs by a vintage store, Brenda not being a shopper doesn't know what a vintage store is, thinks it's a thrift store, goes in, sees a jacket that reminds her of her grandma, buys it, and that's how I rationalize it, "Oh, that's a piece of her history."

Felde: The look has inspired a blog on the TNT Web site where fans rave about a handbag or a jacket, or beg Greg LaVoi to tell them where they can shop for Brenda's outfits.

LeVoi: I'll buy a few new things for Brenda at the department stores now, but most of her clothes are seasons old. So I think that's what I think that's what middle America and women of America are seeing that she is real!

Felde: But finding those jackets is another story.

LeVoi: Online, eBay, eBay, eBay. I'll punch in Lilli Ann or I'll punch in Irene or I'll punch in ultra suede or I'll punch in vintage suits. After the show late at night, when I'm at home I'll start scrolling down and finding these things. I've been in bidding wars on certain things. I've gone up to six, seven hundred dollars, and then I've gotten them for $29, so it's hit or miss.

Felde: Even modern designers like Michael Kors and Moschino appear to have been smitten: both are showing retro-inspired jackets with flowing skirts this season. But Greg LaVoi is already planning the fourth season for "The Closer." Look for floral sheath dresses topped by hand embroidered sweaters or lime green doubleknit suits from the 1970s.

Sedgwick (in character): I'm Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson, thank you very much.