By Alexandra Lippin – October 1, 2013
Ask Ane Crabtree to cite some of the most significant influences in her career and the Costume Designer will reel off a list of movies, visual artists, performance art pieces, actors, family members and even drag shows.
Among the films that have inspired the Los Angeles resident are “Blue Velvet,” “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “The Piano,” Fellini’s “8 ½,” “Mona Lisa,” “Paris, Texas,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” Pedro Almodóvar’s “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “Orlando,” and many more. Watching drag performances in the small town where she grew up and in New York’s Pyramid Club also helped her appreciate the power of costumes to transform identities.
“What’s important and life changing about this work is that we are lucky enough to be around such great thinkers,” she said. “If we pay attention, there are lessons to be learned in every waking moment, often when no words are being spoken.”
It is obvious that she has paid careful attention to the many great thinkers by whom she has been surrounded. Crabtree pours it all into a visual style that has won her international accolades, particularly for her work in period television on “Pan Am” and the pilot for “The Sopranos.” This year marks a watershed in her career’s visibility with the airing of three television series: The April premiere of “Rectify,” a Sundance Channel original miniseries; the October debut of the NBC series “Ironside;” and September’s period drama “Masters of Sex” on Showtime.
For “Masters of Sex,” Crabtree built 90 percent of the wardrobe, including the foundation garments for the women and the men. She told The Atlantic Wire that the ultra-fitted underwear created a silhouette that literally shaped the characters.
“If you’re looking at a normal ‘50s housewife’s dress on that foundation garment or if you’re looking at a secretary’s beautiful twin set sweater and a pencil skirt on that foundation garment, everything looks like it’s been made via couture and it fits the body perfectly. We’re not used to that,” she said.
A veteran of several period television series, Crabtree has gathered acclaim for her work on HBO’s 2011 horse racing drama “Luck,” while her glamorous take on ‘60s silhouettes and flight attendant uniforms in ABC’s “Pan Am” launched a fashion trend. For his spring 2012 Chanel couture show, designer Karl Lagerfeld constructed a set with a jumbo jet and riffed on the airline’s signature blue and the portrait necklines that series star Christina Ricci wore so well. Crabtree’s time traveling designs in the film “Dust” (for which she learned to speak Macedonian) inspired Cerruti’s 2003 menswear collection.
Crabtree has applied her creative eye to the wardrobes in such notable films as director Nicole Holofcener’s 2010 “Please Give” and producer Todd Stephens’ and director David Moreton’s 1998 “Edge of Seventeen. “ Her career began with a music video for Black Sheep’s “Similak Child”
She counts writer Graham Yost and directors Mimi Leder and Michael Mann as important teachers in her career. She has become a trusted designer to such respected actors as Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Fiennes, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Blair Underwood, Helen Hunt, Sarah Jessica Parker, Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. Her skill at reading personalities and finding their essential style comes, in part, from her distinctive formative years.
As the child of a U.S. Air Force serviceman and the Okinawan librarian who worked on the base, the designer soaked up the feel of many cultures and the look of vivid characters as her family moved to small towns in the Southern United States, including her birthplace, Box Elder, South Dakota, home of the Ellsworth Air Force Base; the Fort Knox military base in Kentucky; and finally, Henderson, in western Kentucky.
A powerful imagination, which remains vivid as she recalls her childhood, propelled her through an artistic life and education.
“I love envisioning (my parents’) moment of meeting! The world was different then, and being multi-racial, I am aware of the struggles that both faced in terms of falling in love with each other,” she said.
Crabtree studied fine arts at Harlaxtan College in Lincolnshire, England, and fashion design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, arriving in the transformative year of 1985.
“The world was in a state of flux, historically, fashion-wise, and art-wise,” said Crabtree. “It was an incredibly exciting time.”
Though she had studied painting, drawing, ceramics, art history and Shakespeare, their application to costume design came later, almost as a byproduct of her experiences.
“I was an art student. It had never occurred to me to study costume design, theater or film. I got accepted at FIT and found a job with the knitwear designer Miriam Klein the same week as school began.” That established a trajectory that had begun many years earlier.
“I was aware of costume design and a family friend insisted that I be introduced to opera as a child. That opened up my world in terms of giant sound, spectacle and costume. However, though I think I wasn’t in tune with the idea of merging myself with costume design—I would walk down the street in New York with my eye going to every fashionable creature.
“At some point in the late ‘80s, I was becoming aware of David Byrne, Laurie Anderson, David Lynch, Kurosawa, Fellini, and fashion and film began to blend—in terms of inspiration for me—and I wanted more,” she said.
“I wanted my own lens to go wider, become panoramic. And then I knew it was time to combine both fashion styling and costume design for film and music.”
“Now I pinch myself every day that I’m actually paid to immerse myself in life, learn from it, and apply it to my work,” she said. “Who else gets to do that?”