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How Did You Get Started as Costume Designers?

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  • Joni
    I am in my mid-twenties and being a lifelong fashion and theater enthusiast, I ve finally gathered enough courage to pursue a career in costume design (after
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 1, 2007
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      I am in my mid-twenties and being a lifelong fashion and theater enthusiast, I've finally
      gathered enough courage to pursue a career in costume design (after four years of boring
      office work and a BA in Sociology) The problem is, I'm unsure of the right steps to take? I'm
      currently volunteering as a "costume alteration" person for a small, professional production
      and I am about to start a 5-month professional internship program at another professional
      theater company (anoisewithin.org) here in Los Angeles. But what should I do afterwards?
      Should I enroll in an academic program? Is a degree crucial, or should I just try to network
      and gain more hands on experience? Would enrollment in an art college (FIDM) have
      significant advantages over, say, a 2-year costume design degree offered at a community
      college (i.e. http://theatreacademy.lacitycollege.edu/thdept.htm) ? Also, would age be a
      factor, if I were to wait 5 or 10 years before pursuing academic training, as I have to work full
      time to pay off some bills and student loans accrued while I was in college.

      I would love to hear your stories about how you got started and how you got to where you
      are now! Thanks in advance for your advise!
    • eilonwy14
      ... should I just try to network and gain more hands on experience? Would enrollment in an art college (FIDM) have significant advantages over, say, a 2-year
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 8, 2007
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        > Should I enroll in an academic program? Is a degree crucial, or
        should I just try to network and gain more hands on experience? Would
        enrollment in an art college (FIDM) have significant advantages over,
        say, a 2-year costume design degree offered at a community
        > college (i.e. http://theatreacademy.lacitycollege.edu/thdept.htm) ?
        Also, would age be a factor

        Costuming is about 1)Who you know, 2)Your ability of collaborate and
        communicate well, and 3)Your specific arts and crafts skills.
        Getting into the right degree program can potential help in all of
        these areas, but so can going straight to work. The question is, do
        you have enough to get you started? Do you have enough sewing skill
        to impress those you work with? Do you have enough drawing skill to
        effectively communicate your design intentions?

        I work for the IATSE Theatrical Wardrobe Union in Seattle, and
        through that work I have made enough contacts to get the chance to
        show off my sewing and design skills in several Theatrical Costume
        Shops here. I got my MFA in Costume Design in the NYC area before
        moving here. Before that I worked in regional professional theatre
        all over the country, and before that I got my BA in Theatre and
        English in upstate NY. I started stitching and design as an
        undergrad, took a few internships, and then took it from there. Grad
        school was to specifically refine my draping and drawing skills, and
        get some more contacts. It's been a long road (15 years) and only now
        have I found a place I want to be long term. I did not take the fast
        track.

        I know little of the L.A. theatrical community, except that many who
        are involved in it have film careers or aspirations. In that
        environment I would think that it is even more WHO you know. You can
        work on that aspect by talking to everyone you meet in your current
        projects. Make sure they know about ALL of your skills and interests,
        because otherwise, I've found people will assume you are what they
        see. If they see a volunteer sewing buttons, they'll assume that's
        all you can or want to do. If you run into Production Managers,
        Artistic Directors, etc, while walking through the workplace,
        introduce yourself, even if, practically speaking, they have nothing
        to do with your current job.

        I'm basically a shy person, and these are the things that I rarely
        do, but I see other people doing them, and getting the jobs I wanted.
        I have a career I enjoy, but the more you can get your face and name
        to stick in people's heads, the faster you can acheive what it has
        taken me 15 years and a lot of student loan debt to do.

        (sorry about being so long-winded)
        -Jypsie
      • Ashley
        Well, I think it depends on which direction you want to go. I ve always wanted to be a university teacher and designer, so I found my way up through the
        Message 3 of 4 , Jan 15, 2007
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          Well, I think it depends on which direction you want to go. I've
          always wanted to be a university teacher and designer, so I found my
          way up through the education system. In graduate school I had to
          face the fact that I am an excellent communicator, craftswoman, and
          artist- however I will always have to work a bit harder on my
          stitching. Also, I love scene design just as much as costumes: now I
          get to do both. Hence, education is great for me: I have a costume
          shop manager to share the build-work with me, and a TD to do the
          same. Thus, I describe myself as a designer more than a stitcher or
          builder. However, if you are more skilled as a stitcher- as one of
          my good grad school friends was- it took that tight, highly
          competitive working environment for her to realize the nature of her
          skills. It was tough for her to face, but important. I think that's
          what I owe most to school- committees of professionals who were there
          to direct your attention to your strengths, and therefore the best
          professional positions for you. I worked professionally throughout
          school as well (helped with the rent and resume), and thus have tons
          of professional connections (though only in art and regional
          theatres, as I'm not a Broadway girl at heart). School also gave me
          a handful of mentors whose words I hold close to my heart (tear. . .)
          and I have a definate person in mind when I picture where and who I
          want to be in 30 years.
          One major thing to remember: don't ever be afraid of grad school for
          the loans. I found a great program with an assistantship, so my
          loans were completely voluntary and fairly minimal.
          As someone else pointed out, where you work in many ways dictates the
          venues (though this is loosely stated). For example, NC has
          incredible small art communities and theatres, but is simulaneously
          building a rep for film. Working in film is so diff from theatre,
          and requires diff skills and contacts. I've worked mainly in the
          south, southern east coast, and midwest: and these are the
          communities and audiences I love to work in.
          Anyway, sorry for the long story: but these are the things I pass on
          to my students when they ask me 'what next?' I'm several years from
          thirty, and here I am with the job I always dreamed of. I wish you
          the same luck in your career~ and once again, sorry for the lengthy
          reply~
        • Rev. Cleve Hall
          For me it was seeing my first GODZILLA movie in 64 (GODZILLA vs. the THING ... Mothra) when I was little. I wanted to make monsters ever since. When I made
          Message 4 of 4 , Jan 23, 2007
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            For me it was seeing my first GODZILLA movie in '64 (GODZILLA vs.
            the THING ... Mothra) when I was little. I wanted to make monsters
            ever since. When I made the suit and played Godzilla in PEE WEE'S
            BIG ADVENTURE, I could have died that day and felt I had
            accomplished what I set out to do in life!


            --- In TheCostumersManifesto@yahoogroups.com, "Ashley"
            <abellet@...> wrote:
            >
            > Well, I think it depends on which direction you want to go. I've
            > always wanted to be a university teacher and designer, so I found
            my
            > way up through the education system. In graduate school I had to
            > face the fact that I am an excellent communicator, craftswoman,
            and
            > artist- however I will always have to work a bit harder on my
            > stitching. Also, I love scene design just as much as costumes:
            now I
            > get to do both. Hence, education is great for me: I have a
            costume
            > shop manager to share the build-work with me, and a TD to do the
            > same. Thus, I describe myself as a designer more than a stitcher
            or
            > builder. However, if you are more skilled as a stitcher- as one
            of
            > my good grad school friends was- it took that tight, highly
            > competitive working environment for her to realize the nature of
            her
            > skills. It was tough for her to face, but important. I think
            that's
            > what I owe most to school- committees of professionals who were
            there
            > to direct your attention to your strengths, and therefore the best
            > professional positions for you. I worked professionally
            throughout
            > school as well (helped with the rent and resume), and thus have
            tons
            > of professional connections (though only in art and regional
            > theatres, as I'm not a Broadway girl at heart). School also gave
            me
            > a handful of mentors whose words I hold close to my heart
            (tear. . .)
            > and I have a definate person in mind when I picture where and who
            I
            > want to be in 30 years.
            > One major thing to remember: don't ever be afraid of grad school
            for
            > the loans. I found a great program with an assistantship, so my
            > loans were completely voluntary and fairly minimal.
            > As someone else pointed out, where you work in many ways dictates
            the
            > venues (though this is loosely stated). For example, NC has
            > incredible small art communities and theatres, but is
            simulaneously
            > building a rep for film. Working in film is so diff from theatre,
            > and requires diff skills and contacts. I've worked mainly in the
            > south, southern east coast, and midwest: and these are the
            > communities and audiences I love to work in.
            > Anyway, sorry for the long story: but these are the things I pass
            on
            > to my students when they ask me 'what next?' I'm several years
            from
            > thirty, and here I am with the job I always dreamed of. I wish
            you
            > the same luck in your career~ and once again, sorry for the
            lengthy
            > reply~
            >
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