When I started the assignment I had no idea how satisfying it would be. I had volunteered to help my friend and costume designer Katherine during the preparation of the local high school production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I told her to put me to work in any capacity, that I simply wanted to be a part of the costume crew. When Katherine told me that she would like me to accessorize the female performers’ costumes I was thrilled. This musical is set in an office in the heart of the 1960’s and I would be accessorizing the students portraying young women who worked in the secretarial pool. Fashion in the 60’s was full of color and silhouette. Accessories were simple but bold. Outfits were color-coordinated and highly accessorized and a bit matchy-matchy; big button earrings, brooches, bright necklaces, and headbands rounded out the accessories. Continue reading
“There is no question that mentoring the kids is what brings me back year after year. I don’t need to make another dress.” ~ Katherine Winter, Costume Designer
As the costume designer for the award-winning Summit High School Theater Arts Program (Summit, New Jersey), Katherine Winter’s job is to design and create costumes for the full casts of the Fall and Spring productions. For over 13 years at the high school, with every production, every cast, every performance, Ms. Winter leaves her mark, her knowledge, and her passion with the students and the adult volunteers who work tirelessly with her on the costume crew. Because more than anything else, Ms. Winter believes that her true purpose is to teach, mentor, and elevate the young people with whom she works. It is a passion that started when she was a young girl using her mother’s Singer sewing machine and a desire to tell stories that is an integral part of Ms. Winter’s Irish heritage. Brooklyn, New York, was the original stage for Ms. Winter’s love of costume design; it all started with that Singer sewing machine and the strong need to create, always create, something entirely from scratch …
“I grew up in Brooklyn, the first generation of Irish immigrants. It was common for many mothers of the time to purchase sewing machines and learn to make their own clothes. As my mother, who was very fashionable, was learning to sew, she encouraged me and my brothers to learn with her. My brothers lost interest quickly but I became hooked. I couldn’t sew enough! I loved making things: buying the patterns and the fabrics, and creating most of my clothes! Every weekend I attended a Parish dance, and it became a ritual for me to make a new dress for each dance. As time went on, I made my own Prom dresses (I still have two of those dresses!) and most of the clothing I owned. Continue reading
Oh, Downton Abbey! So sad to see you go. The characters, the drama, the fashion! Yes, I will miss the fashion. Especially when things were getting so interesting. The fashion of the 1920’s is so much fun: the cloche hats, the long pearls, the dresses – simple, color-blocked, … all so very Coco Chanel. And the women were getting so interesting, too: strong and independent – the clothes reflecting this change.
Farewell, Downton. My fashion fave!
“I’ve really gone to town and found some incredible original pieces that I’m very excited about. Knowing that it’s the final season, I wanted to go out on a high and epitomize that mid-decade point that we’ve reached. The ’20s glamour and decadence, knowing that that way of life is waning.” Anna Mary Scott Robbins, costume designer Downton Abbey
I am in love with costume design and telling stories through clothes. Downton Abbey’s final season has just launched in the U.S., with the 1920s in full swing. The look of the show is extremely important, down to the smallest detail and the clothing is at the heart of the storytelling. In a recent Glamour Magazine interview with costume designer, Anna Mary Scott Robbins, Robbins describes the process of finding vintage pieces and the combination of making things from scratch and adopting originals for the characters, whom she knows so well: “You could troll vintage markets for months and months and months and it might not be exactly like it was in your imagination. That’s another reason you make something: It gives you control over the exact coloring of the silk, the cut, the detailing. I tend to have an open mind when vintage shopping and am constantly looking for things that could be for any of our characters. When I find them, I’ll buy them and stockpile them. I know the characters so well that I can buy things knowing they’ll be good for certain scene moments. Having a rough idea where the characters’ stories are taking them, I try to be prepared.”
Robbins, who joined the show last year for Season 5 has really hit her stride, just in time to see the characters embrace the movement of the 1920s. We all benefit from the perfect character studies and storytelling through fabric.
“Like I told you fifteen years ago – the next level is coming.” ~ Ari Gold, from the movie “Entourage”
The next level did come to Ari Gold, Jeremy Piven’s masterfully-played character in the film version of the HBO Series “Entourage.” In the recently-released film Ari has moved from agent to studio head and his wardrobe follows suit, so-to-speak. Costume designer Olivia Miles, who designed seasons seven and eight of the HBO series, dresses Ari Gold and ‘the guys’ in the film and has the responsibility of telling their stories with their wardrobes (in contrast to Ari, ‘the guys’ spend most of the film in t-shirts and more relaxed garb). Although Ari Gold wore suits during the television series, Ms. Miles gives him a fashion boost in his new role as studio head. His look is composed primarily of three-piece suits – many with double-breasted vests. Throughout the film he wears Italian designer Domenico Vacca suits exclusively, enhancing the aura of Ari Gold’s character. Says reporter Adam Tschorn of The Los Angeles Times: “The extra fabric from that look, as well as the occasional full-on double-breasted suit, creates an impression of impenetrable luxury armor that allows Piven’s character to unravel on the inside while still looking buttoned-up and in control on the outside.” Tschorn asks the question if this look will eventually reach the everyday person and influence the mass market. One can wonder …
“Women wear their Birkins like a shield. They hold it in front of their bodies. It says, ‘Don’t get near me.’ We had to have one, but it was another case of the cost of an Hermès bag is my whole budget. Again, though, they surprised us by saying, ‘Come up and take anything you need.'” Suzy Benzinger, costume designer, Blue Jasmine
On Oscar night, I start watching TV early. In fact, my family knows not to disturb me after 6pm. It’s the perfect evening for me, bringing together my favorite things – movies and fashion. And this year, to my delight, ABC’s Red Carpet Pre-Show featured short films, entitled Fashion and Film. In one, Suzy Benzinger, costume designer for Woody Allen’s film, Blue Jasmine, talks about how important Cate Blanchett’s Hermès Birkin handbag was to the story; in fact, Ms. Benzinger says the bag actually is another character, playing a prominent role in most scenes.
It’s what this blog is about; fashion playing an important role in our lives – our armor, our shields, ourselves.
Like me, you might have had your television tuned to PBS last night for the premiere of Season Four’s Downton Abbey. And like me, you waited, uncertain, to see how the show would go on after the incredibly sad demise of Matthew in a car crash the last few moments of Season Three.
Season Four starts six months after Matthew’s death. The year is 1922, ten years since Season One premiered with the sinking of The Titanic. Familiar faces returning, some surprises? Definitely. And welcome to the other member of The Grantham Household: the fashions of the times. I happily note the changes in the new fashions and I imagine we will continue to see the women dressed more comfortably and less constricted, with new elements of freedom and flair. Continue reading
“Being a costume designer is like going on a treasure hunt!” ~ Alexandra
Alexandra has my favorite job in the whole world and if I were starting out on my career path, I would want to do what she is doing: be a costume designer. She tells stories with clothes; sometimes the stories are pretty, sometimes gritty, but they are always about life and the way we live. We sat down today and talked about her adventurous life and her beautiful sense of curiosity ...
Tell me … what is it really like to be a costume designer?
Being a costume designer is different from being in fashion. It is telling stories about people, but it’s not all pretty and beautiful and high fashion stories. Sometimes you have to dress a homeless person or look at the darker side of life. Costume design can be overlooked but it is an essential part of the overall storytelling process and it is the little details that make the process successful. Continue reading