Albert Wolsky 1999

My first film was The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Besides Alan Arkin giving an Academy Award-nominated performance, the cinematographer was the legendary James Wong Howe, who was then nearing the end of his long and illustrious career.

Howe at that time had a reputation of being demanding and tough. He wasn’t. Howe was a perfectionist. Every setup was approached with a forceful attention to detail and worry. Worry that he might not achieve the perfection he was searching for. What came across as demanding and being a taskmaster was anxiety. Here was this artist who treated his almost last film as if it was his first.

Watching him was a lesson that I never forgot. I hoped that I would always work with the same dedication and intensity. I don’t know if I achieved Howe’s artistry. But I never stop trying. It’s the only way to work.
These are my thoughts to a new designer starting out in 2018. I don’t know of any better advice. I am so grateful and fortunate to have had such a good teacher.

Bob Mackie 1999

All jobs are hard when you start. Sometimes the things you think are going to be easy aren’t easy at all. It depends on the star, the producer, the situation. Sometimes it seems very hard and you just breeze right through. I never think about it being difficult. In fact, I like it when it’s something I’ve never done before. It’s a little scary, but at the same time it’s more interesting than just doing the same thing again.

My advice is I never think anyone should just start off as a Costume Designer. It’s good if you can work with somebody you admire. You might think, “Oh, this is not for me.” You just never really know until you’re in the middle of it all. I was lucky. I started out working in the studios with two or three really well-known designers, so it was fun to watch them, and they all worked very differently from each other. You learn in a hurry what not to do, and just watch. Use it like school.

In terms of a career highlight, I think you just can’t wait for the next one. And, at this point in life I like to work, but now you just get a little more tired. I’m doing a huge Broadway show right now that’s just making me crazy it’s so big.

Milena Canonero 2001

I don’t really have any advice. I can only say what I like to do. I like to create a concept for the overall look and then I deal with the look of each character. I like to start from the head, as one cannot imagine a costume without having in mind a face. The body and clothes come next. A Costume Design is the overall look of a character.

I think a designer has to have knowledge not only about the cut and the making of clothes but also the basic techniques of makeup and hair to be able to communicate better one’s own ideas and suggestions to achieve a harmonious look with the makeup and hair collaborators.

Ann Roth 2003

The career highlights are all the people that I’ve worked with since 1960 and they’re all related. I can start from The Odd Couple on Broadway in ’64 with Neil Simon and Mike Nichols all the way up until when Mike died two years ago. We all stayed working friends and cohorts. Those are the best friends I have. I always say if I got put in jail in Selma, Alabama, who would I call? The people that I work with. They’re really very dear to me.

My advice is that there’s not enough research, curiosity, museum-looking, and reading today. A Costume Designer should know the history … I’m an obsessive researcher. That’s one of the important things. You should know the difference between the balance of a frock coat in 1840 as opposed to the balance of a frock coat in 1870. Also, I worked with Irene Sharaff, and one of the many things I noticed about Irene was she was very secretive. If she found some fabric in Lower Manhattan or in New Orleans, she wouldn’t tell you. I’m not exactly like that, but what I learned from her was that you are constantly on the search for something that nobody else has found. Constantly. That’s sort of a fun aspect of the job, finding a treasure and not spilling it.

James Acheson 2004

Meeting and working with the Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci and his producer Jeremy Thomas was the highlight of my career. I was lucky enough to work with them on three films. Twice as Costume Designer (The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky) and once as both production and Costume Designer (Little Buddha).

Bernardo Bertolucci expected and insisted the heads of his departments join him in the creative process of filmmaking. We became his collaborators, his allies, his sounding boards and, most importantly, his friends. “My collaborators are like my lemons,” he once said, “every day I will come and give you a little squeeze for your juice and then I will come back the next day and give you another squeeze … in fact, I will squeeze you every day … until you are dry.” His unique poetic vision of the world and the projects we were involved in made huge demands on our commitment, creativity, and stamina, but he also illuminated our lives with his passion and brilliance. We enjoyed being squeezed.

Jeremy Thomas is the bravest and best independent producer in the world. His modest, gentle support, and infectious humour—even under the most difficult of situations—was remarkable. While he headed each of these projects, he has independently produced more than 50 movies. He was also their servant, creating the environment and opportunity for everybody involved in the process to do their very best work.

I am privileged to say that they remain my friends to this day.

Anthea Sylbert 2005

I’d like to say something to people designing now. My advice is that you have to put the story and the characters before your own ego and stop trying to get attention for yourself and your designs. You should serve the materials and the project first.

Robert Fletcher 2005

I think The Last Starfighter is one of the favorite things I’ve done. I thought it was quite ingenious and it had a good, wide-ranging sense of humor and I thought that the leading man’s performance was marvelous. Bob Preston was one of the nicest, most accomplished actors I’ve ever worked with and I found the costumes amusing. There was an entire congress of aliens. That was a lot of fun.

I’m still working as a matter of fact with a very good company here in Kansas City. I’ve done many, many things with them. The last gig I had before I “officially quit” was working as a sketch artist for April Ferry on Game of Thrones. The last thing I designed was some new costumes for Grease for the Starlight Theater here and a ballet to be inserted in The Wizard of Oz, “The Snow Ballet.” It’s after they lay down in the poppy field … My advice to young people is don’t stop. Just keep on and have faith.

Colleen Atwood 2006

I think the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a Costume Designer is the last year of my life when two jobs, Fantastic Beasts (the sequel is called The Crimes of Grindelwald) and Dumbo, overlapped much more than they were meant to, and they were both gigantic jobs. It turned out very positive for me, but the process of designing and managing two giant shows at the same time was a very difficult process. While you have a huge, amazing support system, you still have a life and people at home that need you and need your support. It’s a very challenging part of a designer’s life, balancing life with work when work is sometimes so overwhelming.

To me, working in London is as comfortable as working in LA. I have really good people there and it’s been the place where I work more during the last four years of my life anyway. I have a special-needs daughter at home. It’s been really great, but she’s a young adult. Worrying about her while I’m working is always there when I’m far away. It’s really hard and you know what you give up, but it’s the life we choose. I do think that having a personal life is really important for being a Costume Designer. I think it makes you better, happier, and gives you a more interesting perspective on the process.

Robert Blackman 2006

I think what I really should talk about is mindset, which is kind of finding pleasure in the challenge of trying to get work, and remaining very patient and very persistent at the same time, which is almost an oxymoron, but not quite. It’s being patient and yet always reaching out, trying to make a connection, trying to go about it in a positive way. Looking for someone to perhaps be a mentor, a more experienced designer who’s out in the world and will give you a hand up. And as we know, that’s not every designer, that’s not every person in the world. Some people don’t want the responsibility of doing that. I understand. But for me, those are the things that have kept me going. Of course, the other part of Costume Design is wanting to do the art, and having the art part remain as big a percentage of the entire job as you can. Each job is different, some jobs require you to be eighty percent political, ten percent psychological and another ten percent then is the art. But if you get the art quotient bigger, it’s a much more interesting thing to do. Right now I’m in one in which the art part is really about fifty-fifty. I’m very lucky right now.

Ruth Myers 2008

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to become a Costume Designer. And it doesn’t get easier! The idea of producing, and producing every single time, designs that are true, brave (and that’s probably my favorite word) can tell each different and nuanced story, and add to the scope and life of each production at the same time as negotiating the worlds of the director, producer, and actors to achieve your vision can be terrifying. For me, and I think many other designers, I also probably need the adrenaline that comes with this to jump-start. The rewards of seeing your dreams and designs become a living, breathing reality is truly the best feeling in the world. I cannot imagine going into this world, let alone staying in it, without incredible passion and resilience and a mad propensity for ridiculously hard work and long hours. As we all know, this is an all-embracing, 24/7 job, but also an obsession and not for the faint hearted. It’s also the best job in the world.

Marilyn Vance 2009

Because I design action films, they are all difficult, but look simple. Creating a real look is rewarding in a lot of ways because it’s a collaborative process, you have to talk to the director and the production designer. You have to round out the feeling of where we are, what it looks like. You can choose to complement the story, or not. You really get to build a character. You try to be authentic to the scripted character. You read the script because it is your map. That’s what tells you who the character is, and you work with the pieces to create that character. If you’re doing something present-day, it’s nice to not follow the exact fashion. Honestly, I think it’s really fun. It’s fun to see the impact those decisions that you probably made under the gun have because of you and your style and the way that you express a character.

Van Broughton Ramsey 2009

The hardest challenge I have had is Lonesome Dove. I was hired only three weeks before filming and we had to make multiple sets of everything. Also, it was my first time in television, having only worked in stage and movies. I had no idea how fast TV was, shooting five pages a day with multiple company moves from state to state. Thank God I had an incredible crew! My advice to new designers is to have an extensive knowledge of costume history and never, never design anything that you could not make, in case you are hit with the unknown. My favorite moment of my career was working on The Trip with Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams. Having a terrific history with Ms. Tyson and Ms. Williams was the greatest surprise of my career. Not only is she beautiful but what an incredible actress and caring human being. It was written by the playwright Horton Foote who also wrote my first film project, 1918.

Sandy Powell 2010

Quite often on every single job you do, there’s a moment when you think, “Oh, my God, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do!” Of course, you get over it, you achieve what you set out to achieve hopefully, and it’s funny how you never really remember. It’s like we’re programmed to forget pain, and so you kind of do forget it. That’s why it’s actually difficult for me to think of the hardest thing I’ve ever done. A hard thing is having to make a choice between two different ideas, and you love them both, and you’ve got to let one go. Or, a hard thing would be to achieve what is seemingly impossible on no time and no money, which we all do, all the time.

There are several highlights. One is the first film where somebody gives you the job as a Costume Designer. I was lucky and very young, 24 and in a sense that’s a career highlight. Of course, the first award you ever win is also a highlight. And being given a Career Achievement Award, although, you know, most of us think we’re too young to get those.

My advice to somebody starting out is, be prepared for really hard work, be prepared to be knocked back, and absolutely never lose faith in yourself, trust your instincts above all else. Trust your instincts above even what your rational mind tells you to do. I think your gut feeling is always the best one.

Julie Weiss 2011

One of my first films was The Freshman with Marlon Brando. We were slated to have four weeks to make Mr. Brando’s clothing/costumes. We had five days (daze). The costumes were finished on time. He went to the set in character, and began the scene. I was pleased with the way he used his pockets, the way he stood, and the way he looked. He began the scene with Matthew Broderick and gradually a conversation began. I realized what a glorious film this is going to be. And when the scene was completed, Brando said to the director, in his identifiable voice, his one hand moving (where so happily I noticed the cuff on his made-to-order shirt). He asked the director if he thought that that was what he wanted. At which time, our director said, “It’s perfect. It’s everything I have ever wanted when I wrote this script. Everything I had pictured.” And then Brando said, “Let me try it without any words.” I watched as Brando filled his heart, invited Matthew Broderick into his being, rejected him, and I forgot what he was wearing. It was then I realized being a Costume Designer was also being a filmmaker and that I was “part of.” Nothing safe lasts.

Marlene Stewart 2012

When thinking about the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a Costume Designer, there’s kind of two categories. One is technical expertise. These days learning to keep up with the technology in terms of 3D printing, sculpting, and molding costumes—just the manufacturing techniques—are becoming so much more sophisticated and complex.

I think equally challenging is dealing with the logistics and fitting of extras and creating costumes while you’re in transit. On Ali, we shot in four cities in the United States and three countries in Africa over a 25-year period with fifteen to twenty thousand extras in period clothes. The challenges of designing are not so much, “Can we come up with a great idea or a great look?” but rather the implementation of the costume given the circumstances.

The advice I would give is to really find out what you are good at doing and try to focus on your own skills, your own work, and talents. With all the social media outlets, I don’t think it’s healthy to compare yourself to anyone else. I’m very honored to have received the Career Achievement Award. Whenever one gets recognized by one’s peers, it is a wonderful feeling. But I think for me, equally important, are the slow moments on every movie set. It’s such an incredible experience to have that honor to be able to interact with so many people while you’re on a creative team telling a story. In an amazing way, it’s like living a thousand different lives.

Lou Eyrich 2012

I think Feud was a career highlight mostly because of the talent that I got to work with. For somebody like me who fell into this career, didn’t even know how that a career in costumes existed in my youth, to find my way to L.A. and find my way into this business is amazing. Then, 30 years later, I’m working with Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Judy Davis, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, Catherine Zeta Jones, Kathy Bates, and on and on. If I’d slowed down at the time to think of it, I probably would have panicked, but because of the pace of episodic TV, I just had to power forward. I was incredibly intimidated to do that show with that kind of star power, and they were all so incredibly gracious and I learned so much on that show. It was just a total “pinch me” moment.

Judianna Makovsky 2013

To a new Costume Designer, I would say it is very important to keep an open mind and never get too set on one idea. If something isn’t working it is a Costume Designer’s job to recognize that and to come up with an alternate that is even better than your original thought.

I have highlights. One would certainly be having the opportunity to create the original on screen world of Harry Potter. It was an amazing, terrifying, and humbling experience. Conceiving a world that would not only encompass the reader’s vision of that world, but knowing it would have to essentially endure through the following eight films was alarming, as well as exhilarating. The very first public screening of the film was probably the most exciting moment I’ve had in a theatre. Also, the reactions of the children in the audience were touching.

The other highlight would have to be the phone call I received for my first Oscar nomination. That would have to be the most emotional moment of my career. Tobey Maguire was the first to call me at six AM to say I was nominated for Pleasantville. It was completely unexpected. There is no way to describe the feeling that your work has been recognized by your peers (and that just maybe I made the right career choice). I remember calling my mother in tears.

Eduardo Castro 2013

The hardest situation I was ever faced with as a Costume Designer was replacing another designer three weeks before shooting on one project and two weeks after shooting started on another project. Both jobs were filming in India. The first film was for Mira Nair on Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, I knew absolutely nothing about India and it was a period film on top of that. Mira called me on a Wednesday in Los Angeles and I was on a plane to Bombay Saturday. Nothing was done in the costume department and I had to start from scratch. Thanks to a very willing crew, we got it done together and I learned about India as I went along.

The second film was for Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice, and this time I was asked to fly to London to take over as the designer fell ill and was not able to continue. This was a modern piece and a musical on top of that with elaborate musical numbers. Stepping in where scenes were already completed proved to be a substantial challenge. The film shot in London, Bombay, Goa, Amritsar, and Los Angeles. I started over with a new crew and it was indeed perhaps the most difficult film as the continuity was a mess, but again, I got through that one!

April Ferry 2014

I think the hardest thing I ever did was Rome. It was a career highlight as well. It was the job of a lifetime. There were hundreds of extras and we just made everything. It was really hard, but it was wonderful too. It was the best show that I ever attempted. Bob [Robert Fletcher] was tremendously helpful and I owe everything to him.

Aggie Guerard Rodgers 2015

My advice is to be nice, be positive. Get to know all the other Costume Designers you can. Do not be jealous of anyone. Love the actors. Protect them. All of them are delicate. Explain to the line producers that you are trying to make their film look good. Tell them you know what you are doing. Avoid all unexplained purchases. Don’t take jobs that will embarrass you later. Try to avoid films with dead women characters—we all need help on this. Keep your eye on politics. Keep your honor as lots of people in film do not. Be proud of your knowledge. Help everyone. Hire a diverse crew always. Be loyal to your past crews. Be sure to tell your crew you are in charge of the Costume Design and they must respect you and your work. Don’t be afraid of anything. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid of getting fired, there is always another job you can do. Be the hardest worker on the crew. And this may seem crazy, but have a family. It helps your perspective in all things. If you can get along with your partner, you can probably get along with all producers. Keep the faith in all you do.

I am most proud of the fact that I still know George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola and honor them as they hired me on my first job, American Graffiti.

I never think of the job as being hard—it is just clothes!

Ellen Mirojnick 2016

The hardest thing I’ve ever done as a Costume Designer was for The Greatest Showman. I had to design and build the Ringmaster and Circus of Oddities during the week between Christmas and New Year’s and be ready to shoot the following week. My advice is to learn the art of listening and communication. Being honored with the CDG Career Achievement Award is a highlight.

Jeffrey Kurland 2017

One of my favorite career highlights was receiving the Career Achievement Award from the CDG. It was a wonderful evening and it was spent with my family, oldest friends, colleagues, and peers. The amount of love and great respect that everyone gave and shared was overwhelming. It was just an amazing feeling. I never had any idea that it would be as wonderful as it was. It couldn’t have been a better surprise.


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