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Welcome back to Look of the Week! Celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
The Umbrella Academy's second season swinging '60s location provides an ideal sartorial setting for Klaus (Robert Sheehan), who gets to embrace his penchant for hippie style and vintage threads. But no one looks more at home in this decade than the power-hungry Handler (Kate Walsh), who previously served high drama at every backstabbing turn in Season 1. A little brush with death can't slow down her high-fashion offerings, and Season 2 takes her mid-century aesthetic up a notch as she unleashes a new takeover plan.
Spoilers ahead for The Umbrella Academy.
Returning to the Commission should be a momentous occasion, but the Handler's demotion and desk change only make her grand outfit stand out more. Red lipstick and crimson heels paired to the tailed persimmon number with a cinched in at the waist and black vinyl trim doesn't deserve this reception. Not to mention the pinstripe hat that pushes the limits of what can fit through a door. Matching her scarf to this piece is the level of extra we have come to expect from this devilish character. If the Commission has a milliner, then the Handler is keeping them busy, as every single outfit incorporates headwear worthy of a Vogue editorial or royal wedding. Costume designer Christopher Hargadon is well versed in dialing up a villain's closet, having worked on all three seasons of Hannibal, and he brings that level of panache to this stylized world.
Managing the time-space continuum from the 1955 location of the Commission headquarters informs the direction of the Handler's exquisite tailoring, which sees her embracing the following decade's trends when she travels to Dallas to mount her scheme to regain power. Elements of the 1950s remain, but there is a notable turn toward outerwear silhouettes that reflect current first lady Jackie Kennedy. An audacious gold coat worn with her signature scarlet pumps ensures she stands out, even when she is blending in. Fashion is served, and the golden hue of this garment is a lighting dream. Other than her cherry boots, it is notable that her adopted daughter Lila (Ritu Arya) sticks to moody utilitarian black attire — unless the situation calls for an undercover look.
One such moment occurs in Episode 3 when Lila attends a fancy event at the Mexican consulate. She doesn't go to the same playful extremes as her mother, but she is just as deadly. Earlier in "The Majestic 12," a flashback montage shows Lila's assassin progression. Doubling as a Handler couture highlight reel, it includes a red polka dot number that alludes to the forthcoming bloodshed.
Later in the season, it is revealed via a flashback sequence that the Handler ordered the death of Lila's parents. Wearing a chic mauve and cream herringbone capelet suit and matching army garrison-style cap, the military influence is favored while she plots her next move. Never without a pair of fingerless opera gloves — also paired to her outfit — this character ignores the Chanel "before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off" advice. And for that, we are very thankful.
Always dressing to theme, even the Handler's quilted loungewear as she awaits her double agent daughter is decadent. Whether it is a game of bingo or delivering Five (Aidan Gallagher) the vital briefcase so he can travel back to the present day with his family, a bold style statement is made. On Instagram, Hargadon describes the latter purple ensemble as having "the vibe of an undercover French Resistance fighter."
Five has completed his mission to kill the Commission board members at the behest of his nemesis after she dangled a golden reward if the coup is a success. In exchange for his proficient assassin skills, she gives him the life-saving time travel suitcase device. Unfortunately, even though she is playing the role of an ally in this back alley she has set him up to fail. Giving him 90 minutes to gather the other Hargreaves kids is impossible when they are scattered across the city. Plus, she needs Five to stay close so she can blame him for the bloodshed.
Purple and red are two bold colors that run throughout her closet, which includes the Napoleonic get-up to mark her big return to the Commission. The over-the-top gold-accented military aesthetic is exactly what you would expect from a character who will stop at nothing to climb to the top. For a woman who loves to match the outfit to the occasion, this is a symbol of what kind of leader she intends to be.
Putting her stamp of sartorial authority even on the security team's uniform, she quips that she is "a sucker for a beret" when showing Lila the concept art — Hargadon even made a prototype complete with an embroidered collar.
"Is this a swearing-in or a coronation?" Lila asks when she interrupts her mother's fitting in the penultimate episode, which only hints at just how outrageous this garment will become. The Handler is not one for subtle minimalism, opting for opulence and accessories that even Marie Antoinette might consider too much.
Hargadon shared the sketch process of conceiving this ridiculously extravagant gown on Instagram, including how different aspects were incorporated before the final cage and sash details were in place.
French references aren't the only thread weaving through the Handler's Season 2 looks, which also includes a repeat spider jewelry motif. Playing all the angles, she constructs a web big enough to ensnare all her targets — well, until the final episode. Hargadon also shared the mood board used as an initial point of inspiration, which shows how varied his influences are. Despite the differences, the looks are bound by extremes and a love of bold fabrics and textures.
Feathers often suggest a softness, but on the above mood board, this texture reads more like armor. The Handler uses heightened couture to stand out, which also includes the literal battlefield in the Season 2 finale. She uses another animal to signify her strength in this sequence, wearing another striking garment with historical military origins.
The lavish custom-build trench coat has a touch of the Daenerys Targaryen with the choice of shoulder scales — that were painstakingly hand-sewn onto the show-stopping garment. Hargadon also notes in the caption below that this process was replicated on multiple coats to account for the action-heavy climactic sequence.
Standing in the field like a general, rather than brokering a peace treaty, she is marking a moment of betrayal. What better outfit to do it in than one that ticks all the signature Handler boxes? She has the extravagant hat, military theme, spider broach detail, and another flourish of red that she uses to kick off the bloodshed. She has weaponized Lila and has the backing of every single Commission assassin at her disposal.
Everyone is in on the all-black attire memo, including Lila, who has more in common with the Hargreaves siblings than they realize. While her leather jacket could be showing solidarity to her in mother in this scenario, it also produces a visual tether to those with powers. And while the Handler is wearing a killer ensemble for this showdown event, little does she know this to-die-for outfit will see her bite the bullet, quite literally.
The Handler has already come back from the dead once, and because The Umbrella Academy plays with the space-time continuum there is always a chance she might return to bestow us with more sartorial highlights. Although, if this is the last of the Handler, her swan-song costume is befitting of the high-fashion flex she consistently bestowed upon us. Proving once again that villains get the best threads — no matter the time period.