Costume Designers Talk Shop
By Gina Silverstein, September 15, 2011
On September 8th, Costume Designers Guild members talked about the craft of costume design and its influence on fashion during a panel discussion at Neiman Marcus’ Fashion’s Night Out (FNO) event in Beverly Hills. The panel, sponsored by GenLux magazine, was moderated by CDG Executive Director Rachael Stanley and included Costume Designers Ellen Mirojnick (“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”), Cate Adair (“Desperate Housewives”), Greg LaVoi (“The Closer”) and Audrey Fisher (“True Blood”). Panelists educated the standing room-only audience of fashionistas on the differences between costume design and fashion, and how Costume Designers help to define characters through their costume choices.
Stanley began the discussion by pointing that out that fashion is a big part of everyone’s world but the work of Costume Designers is very different than fashion. It was also noted how costume designs can set off fashion trends, which is what happened in the late 80s when men started suiting up with slicked back hair, striped shirts, contrasting collar and suspenders, mimicking the power look Mirojnick had created for Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the first “Wall Street.”
Mirojnick explained how she uses “fashion as a reference and always the jumping off point” when designing costumes, at times using made-to-order clothing, in other instances, ready-to-wear. When deciding how to design a contemporary film and finding the best way to inform a character, she tries to understand the entire story and the director’s vision. She approaches it by paying attention to a virtual potpourri of elements including “the economic climate the characters live in…the times, the trends, what is going on in the world, what is going on in our culture, our lives, music, everything.” Her ultimate goal, she told the audience, is for them to not notice there was a designer behind the costumes when they see the film.
LaVoi remarked that he tries to find a balance when defining characters. In the hit TV show “The Closer,” he adds a degree of stylishness to crime fighting for the character Kyra Sedgwick plays, confirming just how a woman “can still be feminine and classy in a man’s world with murders happening around her.” Fisher, too, observed that she walks a tightrope on the popular HBO show “True Blood” by having to authentically design costumes for small town characters, some of whom are also rich and glamorous.
The panelists also provided tips to the Neiman’s shoppers on what to avoid when buying clothes for themselves. Adair stressed how important fit is, advising that it doesn’t matter if an item comes from a swap meet or an expensive store, a “half an inch in the neck, the shoulder, or the length and where it hits your hip, your waist, makes all the difference.” Adair and LaVoi both talked about integrating vintage clothing with the latest trends, and why pairing designer labels with inexpensive off-the-rack items can work both on the screen and off. “The lovely thing these days is that people are realizing that you can mix what we call high and low,” Adair noted. On “Desperate Housewives,” as in everyday life, she explained, you can look for a “statement piece” that’s worth it, that will help sell the outfit, and then not spend as much on another clothing item that goes with it.
FNO, celebrated one night each year, was launched by Vogue magazine in 2009 to encourage consumers to shop and support the fashion industry through special events and promotions at U.S. fashion retailers. Now in its third year, FNO has expanded into seventeen countries across the globe. This is the first year Neiman’s Studio Service division has asked the CDG to be part of their event, in an effort to distinguish how films and television shows – and in particular – the Costume Designers who work on them, influence fashion in our society. In addition to the CDG panel, the Neiman’s event included runway shows, designer appearances and shopping. Prior to the panel, LaVoi also signed copies of his book “Barbie Loves L.A.: America’s Favorite Doll Sees the Sites.”