Spotlight On: Assistant Costume Designer Kristine Haag
By Valli Herman
In just a few years, Kristine Haag has advanced from college student to a key member of costume departments on hot shows such as “Mad Men,” “True Blood” and “Scandal.” On the latter, Haag began as a key costumer in 2012, and rose to Assistant Costume Designer in 2014. As the right-hand to series Costume Designer Lyn Paolo, Haag witnessed the rise of “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope into a formidable political force, a pop culture fashion icon and a Pinterest favorite. She also flew into superhero territory as the key costume buyer on “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams. We checked in with Haag to hear how she discovered her dream career.
Q: What is your academic background?
A: I started out as a fashion design student and changed majors to theatre. In 2003, I graduated with a BFA from Kent State University. After that, UC Irvine offered me a fellowship in the theatre department. The program offered coursework in film and television for Costume Design. I graduated with an MFA in Theatre Costume Design in 2006.
Q: Say you’re trapped on an elevator with Mark Cuban and will be rescued in three minutes. What do you tell him about how you make a living?
A: If anyone asked me how I make a living, my response would be, “I conjure magic on a daily basis, making the impossible possible. I turn imagination into reality. I’m lucky because I love what I do and the finished products make so many people happy.”
Q. You were a key costume buyer, and later, an assistant costume designer to Lyn Paolo for Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope character on “Scandal.” How did you work with public relations representatives and fashion designers on “Scandal” and other projects to place pieces on your shows?
A: Working and cultivating relationships with fashion designers and PR people is something I really get excited about. Being a part of a hit show with such a successful actress makes those relationships much more fruitful.
We get access to so much more than what is in the stores. Younger fashion designers are looking for opportunities and can be generous. More established brands are willing to make the price points more doable for production.
Keeping up with PR people is a great resource and an aspect of sourcing that should not be overlooked. The potential of brand partnerships and cross-marketing opportunities is growing every day. In the world of self-promotion, more eyes on your product means a larger audience for our finished work. Everyone wins!
For me, it’s a fun challenge to see what fashion houses I can get involved. Thinking this way leads to great results. I especially love when the whole team and talent get excited about all the fantastic choices I have pulled together in the fitting room.
Q. How did you and “Scandal” Costume Designer Lyn Paolo coordinate shopping for the principal actors?
A: Lyn and I would sit down and go over the change breakdown and talk about the different looks we needed. I always ask questions to bounce ideas and capture her vision. I really think about the mood or feeling that we are trying to evoke in that moment. How can my choices in the store help tell the story and complement our talent? In the end, it worked out well because Lyn and I have similar tastes.
Q: What new responsibilities have crept into your job?
A: Early on in season two of “Scandal,” we had a Pinterest page for Oliva Pope where we shared images. I collected the images of the different pieces of her closet and sent them to ABC. It created a good following.
It was fun to see what pieces the fans liked best. I see social media such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as a great way to offer credit PR houses and fashion designers who ask for credit that we can’t give otherwise. Of course, finding the extra time and manpower is a challenge, but worth the rewards.
Q: What is the technology you can’t live without?
A: OMG! The iCal [Apple’s personal calendar application]. I am a freak about the calendar! The “Batman vs. Superman” team turned me onto it and I can’t say enough, “I love it!” It is a great tool to keep everyone up to date instantly about fitting times and meetings. The update alerts on my phone help me prioritize what tasks to focus on next while I am away from the office.
Q: Your career has included a number of support roles in the costume department—assistant costume designer, key costumer and costumer. What were your duties in each and how were they different?
A: It takes an army to pull off big shows. Every role is important to making the final project a successful one. Whatever I’m doing, whether it’s organizing closets, dressing the background, packaging up returns, shopping for principals or fitting number one on the call sheet, I bring my best. I expect the same from my team, and I never want to let them down. Part of growing and progressing in my career has been learning each role by doing it. How can you oversee a team if you don’t understand what they do? This way, I am a better leader now, and in the future.
Q: Looking back on your career trajectory, what would you do differently?
A: Actually, I was a member of Local 892 before I joined 705. All the success I have achieved has come from my tenacity, drive and hard work. Building a reputation for excellence and earning acknowledgment for my resourceful, creative skills didn’t happen overnight. I think my focused efforts have paid off because I have succeeded at becoming a great assistant designer. My efforts have manifested into being exactly that.
Q: You’ve worked with a number of top costume designers, such as Wendy Chuck, Audrey Fisher, Michael Wilkinson and now Melina Root. Do you bring different skills or abilities to complement different designers?
A: The way every department runs is unique to itself. How each designer divides the work and communicates with the team is different. I let them lead until I find the pattern in the flow, and then try to anticipate how I can best fill in the gaps. What we do is so complex, and there are so many moving parts. I really think it’s my job to push things forward and oversee the follow-through to completion.
I think of myself as being resourceful while providing organization, communication, strategy and problem solving to every scenario. I adapt as needed.
If it’s my knowledge and background in period garments that is required, I’m ready. The designer needs high-fashion evening gowns or the best grimy Goodwill in town? I know where to go. They want to source fabrics and findings for custom-made? Let me do it. You want diamonds on loan, free and out of thin air this afternoon? I can make that happen, too! It’s an arsenal of weaponry. I have many to choose from.
Q: Can you talk about your current project? What can we expect from it?
A: My current project is a new series set to air this fall on the CW titled “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” I’m thrilled to be working with Melina Root. We have been playing phone tag for years and the timing finally worked out.
The show has musical numbers and is cast with many young performers from Broadway. It’s really great to mix up genres and explore a new direction. The evolution of new characters is so much fun. Melina enjoys building costumes and I’m excited to be involved in the process. It’s never easy, but I’m having fun with it.