Spotlight On: Costume Designer Julie Vogel
By Valli Herman
In her latest commercial for the iconic Dos Equis ad campaign, Costume Designer Julie Vogel dressed not only campaign spokesman Jonathan Goldsmith in formalwear as he headed for his final, one-way mission to Mars, but also a fleet of admirers who bid the iconic figure adios.
Goldsmith, as the Most Interesting Man in the World, walks along a path flanked by his worldwide fans: African tribespeople, sashed beauty queens, bejeweled royalty, gnarly biker dudes, tweedy professors, Buddhist monks and a variety of decorated soldiers and generals. The spot serves almost as a “best of” compilation of Vogel’s work.
Though Goldsmith’s reign officially ended upon his retirement on March 9, official recognition finally arrived a few weeks earlier for Vogel, the woman who made him and his many supporting players memorable.
After dressing Goldsmith, principals and hundreds of extras for a decade, and earning six Costume Designers Guild nominations for Excellence in Commercial Costume Design, Vogel took home a statuette during the 18th Costume Designers Guild Awards in Beverly Hills last month. It was a gratifying homecoming for a local who has lived in New York, studied in San Francisco and climbed mountains throughout South America.
Vogel was nominated in the Commercial Costume Design category (now renamed the Excellence in Short Form Design) every year since 2011, each time for her Dos Equis work. The thrill of a nomination never ceases for her.
“The first one was so exciting. It was so fun to be in a room with all your peers and all these people who are so iconic. . .Paco del Gado, Jenny Beavan, Lou Eyrich, Ellen Mirojnick, Arianne Phillips, Jenny Eagan–all of these incredible people, your idols,” she said. “It really makes you feel special.”
The award was part of a great year for Vogel, who married Andy Blair, a rocket scientist in August. She began 2016 working her 10th stint for Dos Equis.
Pulling her calendar from her bag, she showed blocks of weeks devoted to her clients. Lately, she’s been dressing the spokesman in commercials for Chevrolet, where real people are pulled into a showroom to guess the make of the non-badged Chevy. She’s a longtime member of the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892, and the Motion Pictures Costumers, Local 705.
Early in March, she was at ABC Costumes in Burbank, pulling for another commercial that could enter the pop culture pantheon. What is it? Vogel is sworn to secrecy by non-disclosure agreements.
She wouldn’t have much time to chat in any case. Prepping for commercials is a high-pressure art form that requires Vogel to conceptualize and build looks for principals and often, hundreds of extras in a matter of days.
In the Dos Equis commercials, the globetrotting locales had her frequently scouring the racks of costume houses for saris, lederhosen, kimonos, and every manner of ethnic clothing imaginable. She frequently built costumes that had to adhere to network regulations on decency, client specifications and what seems like a hundred other particulars.
“In commercials, you have to make it a little bit different from reality sometimes,” she said. Otherwise, legal issues can arise.
With the few seconds a commercial allows, Vogel needs to create instant character identification. That makes her a quick study of archetypes. It’s a skill that comes easily to her. After all, she’s long modeled her own look after her favorite icons–Frida Kahlo, Liza Minnelli, and Pippi Longstocking.
Dressed this day in a black knit poncho and a flattop, wide-brimmed hat, she recalls a key look in the 1964 movie, “A Fistful of Dollars.”
“This is my Clint Eastwood, deemed by my husband,” she said. She loves a good top hat, the better to channel Minnelli, but Kahlo has been a standard. She even adopted her look for her wedding.
Vogel is often the Costume Designer everyone notices in a room of other creatively dressed designers. It may have something to do with the colorful tattoos that line her arms and legs. There are the cherry blossoms that form a stocking “seam” along her calves, and “Bittersweet” in cursive across her chest. A less visible image of a garter clip and stocking pays homage to a favorite Austrian feminist artist, VALIE EXPORT (who always uses capital letters).
“I like them, but everyone is tattooed now,” she laments. The artwork represent a time in her life when they signaled belonging. “There were a few of us tattooed ladies. It was definitely a clique in New York. I love life cliques. I love groups and stereotypes. It kind of makes our job [as a costume designer] easier.
“You have to make a statement that someone can pick up in a couple of seconds. If you have 15 characters. You have a few seconds to figure out each one,” she said. “We’re all about quick reads.”
Now she has to search harder for defining details to not just dress actors, but to create characters. “I love the Dos Equis campaign because it’s super character based,” she said.
Vogel herself is a character with an unlikely back story. Growing up in Pasadena in an outdoorsy family, she was a Rose Princess at 17. Throughout childhood, she spent weekends hiking and camping with her family, which prepared her for a three-month adventure in South America.
“I climbed 15 volcanoes up to 20,000 feet,” she said. “I got into working really hard and then vacationing really hard.”
That trip was followed a year later by a 24-day, solo trek along the John Muir Trail, backpacking the portion between the top of Mt. Whitney to Yosemite Valley. The experiences were exercises in discovery and restraint. The trips, she said, were about “learning to let go.” That included her wardrobe, which on one trip whittled down to five socks: She lost one.
After high school in Pasadena, Vogel designed her own course of education. She studied art and fashion design at San Francisco colleges and Southern California community colleges. She also has been an artist working in yarn (a mashup of knitting, crochet and sculpture), a retailer (she co-owned a store in Pasadena), a rock climber (how she met her husband), and an avid needlepointer, which she began at 6 years old.
While working at a friend’s vintage store, she met Costume Designer Kelle Kutsugeras, who, as they say, gave her her big break as an assistant on videos and commercials.
The job just clicked. “It felt like something I was good at,” she said. “It’s hard when you are one of those people who do a lot of things. It’s hard to feel like you’re good at one thing.”
Now after her win, and after her husband proudly posted the news on social media, Vogel has plenty of validation from friends and especially peers.
“It feels like such a loving, supportive group of men and women. They’re so full of creativity, and love,” she said. And now that Vogel has won recognition for her part in building the Most Interesting Man in the World, she can get on with the business of becoming the Most Interesting Commercial Costume Designer in the World. She’s got a great start.