Movies are about people. The people are the emotional core of every movie, and it’s their story that moves us. It’s the people—the characters in the stories—who hold our attention and who are of endless fascination to the audience.
Costume Design is not just about the clothes. In the movies, the actor must fully inhabit the character. The audiences’ suspension of disbelief is essential.
Cinematic Costume Design has both a narrative and visual mandate. Designers serve the script and the director by creating authentic characters and by using color, texture and silhouette to provide balance within the composition of the frame. The costume designer must first know “who” the character is before approaching this challenge. Over the last century, costume designers have practiced a design process that begins with the written word of the screenplay, discussion with the director, collaboration with the actor and research.
Regardless of whether a film is period, fantasy or modern, all films require research. Costume designers are inspired by art, literature, photography, nature, music, childhood memories, other films, and freely associating all of these. For each production, costume designers compile a research volume of these images to serve as a “bible.” It may take the form of a binder, a notebook or a website and is shared with all key creative collaborators—the director, actor, cinematographer, production designer and with the hair and make-up artists. Every choice must be justified, because costumes provide essential information to the audience. Attention to detail is the hallmark of great costuming.
Costumes provide the means for actors to channel new characters, and actors often discover their character in the fitting room. This is not so much a change of clothes as a change of skin. This inhabiting of a character is the actor’s profession. They morph into dozens of people in their professional careers.
Production designers define the “where”—the place and setting of the story, while cinematographers create the mood and tone of the action. Along with the costume designer, these key creative collaborators paint each frame of film as meticulously as a canvas in service of the story and the director. Together, they make the world—and the characters that inhabit it—come alive.
You are what you wear. Every day, we perform the ritual of getting dressed. Our clothes are an expression of our identities and communicate that self-perception to the world with subtle or outspoken signifiers about our backgrounds, gender, values, and even what we plan to do that day.
Whether we dress for practicality or to express power, status, or lifestyle, we don the appropriate costume for the role we plan to play that day. Businesswoman? Heels. Artist? Denim splattered with paint.
Fashion Design is not just about clothes and accessories. It’s a direct expression of the times and places we live in. As politics shift and cultural and societal norms change, fashions evolve in tandem. What’s happening on the streets feeds Fashion Design. At the same time, high-fashion trends can have a trickle-down influence that reaches the everyday consumer, with echoes of what strode down the London catwalk sitting on the living room couch. This give-and-take rapport of popular culture and Fashion Design is organic and constantly fluctuating.
Fashion Designers need to be visionaries and mind-readers, first identifying who their customer is and then anticipating what he or she will want to wear. They are trendsetters and tastemakers, inspiring new clothing and reimagining styles long gone by. As Mark Twain purportedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Fashion cycles and recycles, and the influence of our ancestors is unmistakable in today’s designs—from our sandals to our spectacles and everything in between.
Fashion is a global art form and a unifying language, as designers are frequently inspired by wardrobes from the far reaches of the Earth. East meets West and North meet South as different cultures routinely appropriate and re-envision one another’s styles.
Our daily ensembles range from modest and nondescript to dazzling and showstopping. In either case, Fashion Design can reveal the beauty of the mundane, impart the seeds of innovation and achieve a depth of expression that approaches fine art.