Sartorial: Cookie Lyon

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Taraji P. Henson is magic.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. She has been nominated for an entirely deserved Emmy Award — Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — by the Television Academy. And in this clip on EMPIRE Fashion: The Cookie Lyon Look costume designer Rita McGhee (also nominated!) says “Taraji is — she puts anything on and it’s magic. Just totally magic. She puts it on and it’s the character, living and breathing, and you can see yourself in her.”

Cookie Lyon is magic.

gif of Cookie Lyon adjusting her fur coat to get down to business

Cookie Lyon (nee Loretha Holloway), like ‘Cookie Lyon’ is distinctive. She presents herself in a very specific, very calculated way:

She’s a Lyon.
Cookie loves her animal prints and furs. Not only do these pieces match up with her (married) name — which is also her (the family’s) brand — they match up with her personality/presentation as a wild animal. One that was caged for a while, but can’t be tamed. A survivor and a queen. Fierce! but also soft.

three images of Cookie wearing animal print dresses and fur

The image on the left is what Cookie wears in her first appearance (in the “Pilot”, one of two episodes of Empire nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Costumes this year), getting out of prison, and it is meant to encapsulate Cookie and the story Cookie’s fashion tells before a word of dialogue or description. And she is wearing it to leave prison because she wore it to go into prison. This is not only how Cookie presents herself, it is what Cookie wears to give herself the courage to be herself. Tight dress in an animal print + voluminous fur coat IS Cookie.

an image of a younger Cookie wearing jeans and a fur coat

And the fur she wears in flashback scenes shows it’s a look she’s been cultivating all along.

She’s an original.
Or the original. Cookie’s place as ‘first’ is key the story she’s telling. In the clip linked above, Taraji explains that it’s important for Cookie to be wearing designer clothes before they’re released to the public. Fashion is as important to the recording industry, and therefore the series, as music is. Cookie is driven not simply to be fashionable but to define what fashionable is.

a screencap of Cookie wearing a sparkly pink dress and a fuscia fur stoll

Here’s Cookie in another tight dress + accompanying fur. She doesn’t limit herself to animal print, florals and geometric designs show up as well. But we barely ever see her in a solid color (her prison jumpsuit comes to mind). Cookie is complex.

the same screencap as above but uncut so as to reveal Anika, dressed much more conservatively than Cookie

And Anika pales in comparison. Note that they are wearing the same color scheme and silhouette, but there is so much more to Cookie’s look. Anika blends in with the wallpaper. Cookie stands out.

She’s in charge.
Everything about Cookie demands attention. She’s bold, and she pushes her sons to be the same. She is a force that cannot be contained no matter how hard the world tries.

a screencap of Cookie and Jamal wearing similar coats

In the second episode nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Costumes (“The Lyon’s Roar”) here’s what Cookie and her son, Jamal, wear to the ‘white party’ he later uses as his stage to come out. She loses the fur early on in the party but they enter together and they enter alike. Cookie is making good on her promise.

a gif of Cookie telling a young Jamal

Cookie has become a fashion icon because she was conceived to be one. Fashion is part of the story and Cookie has the best handle on how it works. In her hands, it’s a tool, used to craft her image, her story. She uses it to prove she is completely in charge of her destiny, and she encourages all of us to do the same.

Want to see more? Fusion posted screenshots of Every Single Outfit Cookie Wore in the first season of Empire. And Fox posted details of Cookie’s fashion on their website, including links to where you can buy the pieces or similar looks-for-less!

Anika Dane works at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She is a writer of words. A dancer of dreams. A pop culture blogger. A feminist and a fashionista. A Social Justice Klingon Warrior Princess who fell in love with the Skywalker family when she was seven years old. Mother of girls. Secretly a dragon.

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