Monday, November 29, 2010

Fashion Design From a Backward Perspective – Le Costumier

Sometimes I imagine what I want to do after I graduate from design school and have the precious certification that says I can dress people better than most. The obvious choice is that I would love to see our own label Petey the Troll Apparel become successful. If this happens, look for the most eccentric little shop on Queen West and you’ll find inside three floors; a store for the general public to browse our latest merch, a studio where we create our clothes and have top models come in for special fittings, and finally a loft on top where we have our regular high profile events and parties. I spend a lot of time dreaming.

But there are other options I could potentially explore as a designer should the above dream happen to not come true. One of these options could be the other love of my design life – costume design. For over three years now I’ve been insanely lucky to have a job working behind the scenes in the wardrobe department of the St. Clair College Musical Theatre Program. For this job, I assist the head costume designer while she decides on colour pallets, unique costume concepts and how we are going to acquire or build each of the necessary pieces.

Stop for a second and think of your favorite movie or tv show. Imagine that before the show is made, you only have the script and the actors and they tell you to dress them all in appropriate clothes for the corresponding scenes. Who are these characters? What do these types of people wear? It involves a lot of knowledge of the history of fashion design and the types of clothing that people have worn throughout history for various reasons throughout life. For example, Patricia Field was the costume designer for Sex and the City. She needed to choose clothing that fit each of those characters, all the while keeping the designers, director, actors and most importantly, the fans happy at all times.

If I choose to go this route I could imagine working on something really amazing like Mad Men which the talented costume designer Janie Bryant has designed for its duration. This is a great example: I don’t know if you watch Mad Men, but if you don’t, you definitely should. There are three main female characters in the show right from the start. They are the housewife – Betty, the career woman – Peggy and the bombshell – Joan. Keeping in mind the period (obviously 1960s fashion was much different than our own) Bryant needs to think about what the character is doing in the show, what her personality is, the history of the character, their whereabouts etc.

Then there’s the ever present issue of design in any capacity – that fact that human beings are not all the same size, and that clothing has to accommodate such an issue. This means the costume designer (if she doesn’t have a room full of assistants to take care of it for her, that is...) would have to have a considerable knowledge of clothing construction to match sizes and make alterations to various items of clothing in order to make them fit the characters correctly.

Costuming is an art which is very similar yet very different than costume design. Do I need to choose one of these two paths for my career or can I manage to be successful in both? We’ll see.