Ken van Duyne
Assistant Costume Designer
By Alexandra Lippin – September 3, 2013
As a child, Ken van Duyne was raised in an Air Force family, relocating to another military base every few years. His mother was a lieutenant colonel who specialized in aircraft ordinance, and the military family came across a series of fascinating locations over the years—when they were stationed in the English countryside, for instance, van Duyne used to play in Highclere Castle (before it became identifiable as the titlevenue of TV’s“Downton Abbey”).
Unlike many children who find it difficult acclimate to each move, van Duyne says he enjoyed meeting new people, learning their backgrounds, absorbing the different cultures and appreciating a wide range of personalities. As he puts it, “I still recall many of them today and associate with them when helping to identify characters.”
His first introduction to costume design came during his time at Florida State University, where he was enrolled to pursuea degree in apparel manufacturing. In his free time, van Duyne would visit the film school and design costumes for student films. His first attempt at finding a period costume proved to be a bit more difficult than he expected—oblivious to the existence of rental houses, van Duyne spent hours searching for a World War II Nazi officer’s uniform. He finally found an obscure tailor in North Carolina who built WWII reenactment uniforms from original patternsand was willing to loan van Duyne a uniform from his stock. “He saved the day,” says the designer.
After leaving Florida’s Gulf Coast and moving to Los Angeles, van Duyne had the opportunity to work on a variety of productions in both film and television. One of his first jobs had him working as a production assistant for Louise Mingenbach and Dan Bronson on a network TV pilot for which he was responsible for a jewelry pull—worth an approximate value of a half million dollars. “I guarded the Tyvek pouch, which was holding the jewels, with every fiber of my being,” he says. Ultimately, the job evolved into more than just “guarding the jewels,” but it marked van Duyne’s first exposure to true Hollywood glamour.
These early experiences helped him gain employment with EC2 Costumes, a costume rental house in Studio City, Calif., and he soon became a member for the Motion Picture Costumers Union. While at EC2, van Duyne was asked to join the Bob Mackie design group as a design assistant. While working there, he learned a great deal about the apparel manufacturing industry and costume design for theater and touring performances.
Van Duyne went on to work as a production assistant under Costume Designer Julie Weiss. “I showed up unannounced to her office because I heard she needed a PA, and she hired me on the spot,” he says. He also worked under her as a 705 costumer, and was drawn to her style of work. Aware of van Duyne’s fresh talent and creative eye, she later hired him as Assistant Costume Designer on the romantic comedy “No Strings Attached.”
According to Weiss, “when Ken first worked as a production assistant, he was extraordinary. His work ethic, his desire to learn, his creativity, his kindness [were all evident]. Then when he began working as a costumer, he was extraordinary. He understood production, the needs of the actor and the set, all while protecting the design concept. When Ken works as an Assistant Costume Designer, he is extraordinary. He knows how to bring his individuality to the table, even while trying on ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s fat suit’ and saw that indeed he could still look handsome!”
Weiss has continued to play an integral role in van Duyne’s career in Costume Design, encouraging him to join the Costume Designers Guild IATSE Local 892. Weiss adds, “now that Ken has been elected to Board of the Costume Designers Guild, I have to begin to lie about my age!”
Over the last seven years, “thanks to her generosity,” says van Duyne, he and Weiss have continued to work together whenever possible on projects including “Blades of Glory,” “Slipstream,” and “Hitchcock.”
Some of the most important lessons that van Duyne has learned while working as an Assistant Costume Designer is that you have to be flexible, efficient and adaptable. “Really, I love all sides of being an Assistant Costume Designer. If I had to pick out one responsibility in particular, it would be the dialogue between me and the designer. It’s crucial to develop that relationship right away—you have to know what the designer is thinking before they do, and being one step ahead builds trust that is crucial in working together.”
It also helps to know your costume and film history, and to get to know the costume house employees. As he says, “failure happens. Lick your wounds, move on, and don’t forget to step back and be proud of your hard work.”
Currently van Duyne is working in New Orleans as Assistant Costume Designer for Lou Eyrich on “American Horror Story: Coven,” the FX anthology series from co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.
According to Eyrich, “Ken inspires me everyday with his enthusiasm and love of costumes. His knowledge of computers and all electronics amazes me. He keeps me organized (tries to) and charms all of the actors, all the time. He is also great with made-to-order, and making nifty binders to keep all of the office up to date. I am blessed to have him working alongside me!”
When asked about his work on the popular series, Van Duyne says, “this project has been by far the most challenging and rewarding. I have previously worked on location, but in a feature film format. Episodic television presents many challenges, but compound surprise story lines with historic flashbacks, stunts, and blood gags—it makes for a very aggressive schedule and a strong faith in the employees of the costume houses on which you greatly rely.”
According to Van Duyne one of the highlights of working as an Assistant Costume Designer is the opportunity to work under a wonderfully varied array of Costume Designers. In addition to those previously mentioned, “I have had the honor of working for Laura Jean Shannon, Bob Mackie, Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko, Nicole Gorsuch, Joanna Johnston, Ret Turner, Beth Pasternack, and Louise Mingenbach,” he says. “With each designer you learn a little more from their creative production process. You then fashion the good and difficult experiences, accompanied by your own individuality, to become a better assistant.”