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SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW WHAT A COSTUME DESIGNER DOES?

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Executive Director of the Costume Designers Guild, Rachael M. Stanley, has answered a few questions for HLV describing the job of the Costume Designer.

Could you start out by describing the scope of responsibility of the Costume Designer. They’re not a stylist…
A costume
Designer is a storyteller. They interpret the script and create a visual image of the written word.

Who’s on the Costume Designer’s team? In other words, what is the breakdown of labor within the Costume Department? For example, how much buying does a Costume Designer do or is that delegated to someone on their team?

The Costume Designer creates the look whether it is made from scratch or pieces bought at the store. The team can consist of an Assistant Designer, a Costume Illustrator, a Supervising costumer, a key costumer, set costumers, tailors, seamstresses, agers dyers, cutters, fitters, milliners etc.

Is the Costume Designer as responsible for the extras’ wardrobe as they are for the stars?  Yes the CD is responsible for the entire look of the project.

I imagine collaboration with the Director is key… How much in advance do you get to start on buying or designing costumes for a film? This varies from project to project depending on the budget, casting, script changes and so forth

How does a Costume Designer work with a famous fashion designer if the director or star wants, say, Vera Wang or Karl Lagerfeld to design one or two featured pieces for a film? The Costume designer is a collaborator, whether it is with the Actor, Director, Screenwriter or an outside fashion designer the final outcome is the most important aspect of the work. The character and the portrayal of the character take the highest priority. If a specific fashion designer is not right for the character than they won’t be used.

What’s the big difference between being a Costume Designer for TV vs. Film? Is it mainly pre-production time? the size of the image on screen is the biggest difference. The bigger the image the more detail oriented the Designer must be.

The amount of research I would guess is always part of the process. If you’re involved with a period project how does that add to the lead time? Or a show like GAME OF THRONES where it’s a fantasy based loosely on historical period clothes but completely re-imagined? Research is a vital part of the design process. Of course the more complicated the costumes and the bigger the script the more lead time is necessary.

I know that so many costume houses here in Los Angeles have gone out of business over the last 20 years. How has that effected the Costume Designer’s options for dealing with wardrobe in terms of renting vs. purchasing and with selling off the wardrobe after the film has wrapped? Is wardrobe ever offered to the actors and, if so, must the actor pay the company for the costume? There are a lot of aspects to this question and it changes on each project. Sometimes the actor has it in their contract to keep costumes. Sometimes they are sold off and sometimes they go back to the Studio’s wardrobe department. I am not that aware of large numbers of closures for the big rental houses.

When was the Guild founded and how did you, personally, get involved with the union?
The Guild was founded in 1953 by a group of 30 costume designers. I started as a Local 705 costumer and in 1990 I became a Costume Designer. In 2004 I moved into the guild office and became part of the union leadership.

And finally, when you watch TV or a great film are you able to separate yourself from the back-story of the costumes and just enjoy the show? If the costumes scream out at me then I feel the designer has failed. The costumes should always integrate with the rest of the film and blend in to move the story telling process forward.

Thank you Rachael!
Costume Designers Website
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