“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.
Walk me through a day as a costume designer –
The initial steps are in the prepping. These involve the paperwork and the research. On a prep day, I review the job and read through the script and the characters. I then do costume breakdown and the costume changes for each character. Next, I begin to go through image galleries and photographs, intensely researching the time period and finding things that inspire me. It’s ultimately a study of people, and I end up creating inspiration boards – one per character. I go over the logistics and the money with the producer and the overall vision with the director.
Once I have the sign off with the producer and director, the shopping begins. It’s like a treasure hunt! I do a lot of vintage shopping and I have my favorite spots, costume rentals when appropriate, and find clothes to modify in places like Forever 21 and H&M. I also collect scarves and will select them and other accessories from my own repertoire.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I like all of it! I’m not a big fan of the paperwork, but you really find joy in all of it. It teaches you to think on your feet and know your material completely and it’s very rewarding. My first job out of graduate school was to work as a wardrobe P.A. for Independent Film Director, Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress). I had to prep so many costumes, including steaming and laundering, but I appreciated every bit of it.
Tell me something that people wouldn’t know about costume designers?
People don’t really know or understand the importance of fit and measurement for wardrobe selection. I need to measure the actors and the times I haven’t done that, there was always a mistake. I notice that older males tend to be off on their waist measurements and don’t account for the new styles and designs as well as their own body changes through the years. Sizes change and I need to measure accordingly.
How did you get started?
I grew up in Florida and was interested in many different things. I began my school career as an archeology major and followed with an interest in biology. It was at the time that I attended Florida State University that I really found my way to costume design. For four years (ages 18-22) I was an aerialist for The FSU Flying High Circus! We did our own rigging and made our own costumes. As an acrobat I became aware that clothing is super-important: it transports an audience to a different world. The costumes are not only shiny and glittery, but they need to be strong and move well with your body.
… one day, I want to design for the circus .. that, and everything in between!
From FSU, I went to Athens, Ohio, where I attended Ohio University Graduate School. It was intense and highly competitive but a fantastic program! For my thesis project, we came to New York City to buy our fabrics and I fell in love with NY! It has a little bit of everything; theater and film and television.
What’s next for you?
I graduated three years ago and have been in New York since that time. I’m 28 years old, and I love what I do. In April, I will be working part-time with fashion designer, Han Feng. She splits her time between Shanghai and New York. It will be my first time working with private clients; I know I will be learning more about confidence with fit and I’m looking forward to that.” ~ Alexandra
And for me? Alexandra has promised me a chance to hang with her on one of her upcoming vintage shopping hunts! I am so excited! This is my chance to see a wish fulfilled. More to come with Alexandra …