The Truth Behind the Character- Costume Awareness

As I take my first real steps into the thankless field of costume design, it has been brought to my awareness  by a fellow, senior designer, that costume design is one of the least recognized of all the parts of a production, especially in film. May I say, I am not surprised. Every costume shop or crew I have come in contact with or heard of, has been under budgeted, over scheduled, and under appreciated. Costumes are treated like a commodity by the actors, and yet they remain an utter necessity. The time logistics of styling, or building an outfit is always ludicrously underestimated by other directing portions of the production team. Costuming also requires more than just ideation and construction, it also requires intense organization and maintenance. You can be bullied, stepped on, used and often pushed to the side, ignored by viewers and overshadowed by the ego of the directors and actors. It is, at times, a very thankless job. And often, if you are good, your work is almost invisible. Why? It is a common saying that  good costuming  is when the viewer doesn’t notice it. The costume is as much a part of the character as his speach or manerisms.  They should never detract from the character by attracting too much attention from the viewer. Costumes should never stand alone. Just like fashion in our daily lives reflects our inward voice, conscious or unconscious, costumes play the same integral part in character development.  They are the voice and the psychology of a character,  and they can be symbolism tools as well. They can invoke nostalgia  through contextual references to which we personally identify and are often how we remember a character or even the actor who plays them. Think, James Dean – red jacket, blue jeans, white shirt or  Dr. Who: each reanimation brings with him new character quirks and costume ID.  Even Marilyn Monroe can hardly be separated from that white “Seven Year Itch” dress.

A recent acquaintance gave me this very real, very recent scenario to which she was privy. At the comic con – I believe here in LA- the new Wonderwoman costume for the upcoming Superman Vs. Batman movie was revealed. Talk and recognition went in many directions: the actors, the director. But even though the designer of the actual costume was there, not a word was made in reference to him. The funniest part was that many of the  characters we identify with in the contemporary superhero world have been, partially, designed by him.  Anybody know his name? No? Well, you’ll find out as we progress.

This has lead me to begin a new series of weekly posts about costume designers in order to bring awareness and recognition for the hard work they put in. Not to mention the integral vision which they help to develop and translate on the screen or stage.  If it wasn’t for costume designers and the quiet and often tedious work they do, the characters we know and love, would be much different. Each week I’ll post about one designer, some of their background and some of their identifying work. Hopefully, by the end of this project, I will have created a nice little forum of information and inspiration for both viewers and fellow costumers alike.

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