Friday, March 22, 2013

Costume designer: job description

It has come to my attention that a description of the various jobs in the theatre wardrobe is in order.

I am referring to the large theatre setting and to some degree regional theatres in Canada. There is likely some difference in other countries, and some differences for film and television work.

So, lets start with the costume designer.

Contrary to what most people may think, the costume designer doesn't make the costumes.

The costume designer is most often chosen by the director of the particular show. Designers may be suggested by an artistic director or production manager, based on the designer's previous work or a designers affinity for a certain style of design that may be just the right thing for the show in mind.
As such, the designer has to be a conduit for the director's vision for the show.

People Skills. The deigner must have good interpersonal skills to work with many people; from the director, the actors, stage management, publicity, the wardrobe, to the fabric store employee.
Research.The designer must be able to read the script, making note of all the different characters and their possible costume changes and requirements in accordance with the directors vision, the plot, and the budget.
They also must research the era the play is to be set in, the clothing styles, the social etiquette, the historical goings on that may need to be reflected in their design.
Drawing. A designer needs to be able to convey the idea for each character in the show in a sketch. It is how they communicate all of the research and discussions that they have done up to this point. This sketch is what they will present to the director to illustrate how the characters will look and fit into the overall vision.They need to present colour drawings or swatch fabric samples to illustrate the colour palette.
The drawing is also what is given to the costume cutter or tailor so the design is interpreted into a pattern which can then be made up.
They have to make decisions not only on the main costume pieces but also the trimmings, undergarments, shoes, hats jewellery, eyeglasses, hairstyle, and makeup.
Sourcing. Designers need to be able to find fabrics for costumes to be built, purchase clothing online or in stores, or find rental costumes. In some cases, designers must also know a variety of costume makers who can work on their project, if there is not an in house team. If they are purchasing fabrics they need to have some feel for how fabric handles and what kinds of fabrics are suitable for different garments.They need to have a basic knowledge of yardage requirements for different garments.
Fittings. Designers need to be able to make decisions in fittings with the cutter in regards to style lines and proportions, or if using stock or bought pieces, be able to decide if they fit into their overall plan. They have to choose shoes, accessories, trimmings, jewellery etc.
They also need to be able to interact at the fitting with the actor and be able to convey the vision of their design and speak to any concerns the actor may have.
Rehearsals.  Designers often attend rehearsals so they can monitor any changes the director may be making or if the staging will require a change in their design. They will watch the dress rehearsals and give notes afterwards for any changes that need to be made.
Budgets. Designers usually have to keep track of the money they spend, both in materials and sometimes labour costs as well.
Organization and time management. Designing a show is a lot of work, and the more organized a designer is from the start, the less stress getting to the end result. There are always delays and setbacks, which cannot be anticipated so organization is the key to keep from getting bogged down or impeding the process.

Hmmm.....I am sure I have missed a few things so I may add them in as I think of them.
The next job description will be that of the Cutter.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Designer decisions

In the early days I thought I wanted to be a designer. I guess that is because no one talks about all the other jobs like seamstress or tailor or pattern maker or cutter, so they are invisible. The designer gets all the glory!
It is a very collaborative process and as I discovered, I was much more suited to the technical side of things.
So, even if the designers get all the glory and recognition, they also have to make a lot of decisions that the very same public never think about because the process is so hidden.
In the case of a period show, the decisions increase at an exponential rate. It isn't enough to just choose the fashion fabric and a lining anymore. Some designers are very specific about all the details in their drawings, others are not.
Take for example this doublet. I cut a half in muslin to illustrate some of the answers I needed to move forward.

 It is supposed to look like two garments but really is one. When I first talked about it with the designer, I made a few notes but didn't have much time for in depth thought about how it all would work, but once I started into making the pattern, I had a lot of questions.
1. how does this garment close?- it wasn't indicated. options are CF meets edge to edge and it closes with hooks and loops, it has functional buttons (need buttons) and holes, or it has a faked closure like a zipper underneath and a decorative placket (need decor trim or such) to disguise the zip.
2. the centre front panel will either extend fully under the front or will just attach into one of the vertical seam lines- I think less bulk is better, so into a vertical seam just in front of the armhole.
3. that means the second panel has a free edge so that means it needs to be lined in something(need lining choice), and what about its finished edge? Does it need something like a trim or a piping (need trim or fabric)to help define the edge and further give the idea that it is a faked separate garment?
4. speaking of vertical seams, the fabric is a brocade. Those requested vertical seams are going to get lost. So I mean if you are making a design feature of them, they need some definition- and what is it? piping?(need fabric) if it is trim, has it been chosen?
5. that leads to the tabs at the waist. They need a lining fabric. How are they to be finished? Plain and bagged out? piped (need fabric) or bound edges(need fabric)
6. do the tabs overlap at the waist or meet edge to edge?
7. is there a centered tab at the centre back or do two tabs meet?
8. Do you want the body seams to co-relate to the tabs? that decision dictates the seaming position on the body.

9. if the over garment doesn't come right up to the neck point, as it didn't in the sketch, I have to show a bit of the under garment fabric at the back neck area. I also have to be able to attach the two things together somehow, so that means either making the underpiece like a yoke that I can attach to the seaming or I have to attach it around the neckline so something like a piping edge would be useful (see point 3)
10. the shoulder wings- are they short like this or do they continue all around the armhole as they sometimes do?
11. Do the wings get any kind of edge finishing? Same as the waist tabs?

Have I missed anything?
oh yes, things I don't have pictures of
12. sleeves-do they have a decorative treatment on the seams? (need decor)
13 do the sleeves close with buttons(need buttons) or a plain placket.
14. are there decorative cuffs? (need fabric) do the decorative cuffs have any lace trim?(need lace)
15. is there a decorative collar or ruff? (need fabric, and possibly lace)
16. a cape too. With a collar. Is it lined?(need fabric). Need ties (find cord of some kind)

After I get all these decisions, I still have to make and fit a mock-up, make fit and stylistic changes to the pattern that are required, then determine the support needed for the fabrics the designer chooses, all before cutting it out and having it made up.

So it isn't as simple as it looks and you can multiply these decisions by X number of costumes and then some as the ladies wear will often have a few more decisions to be made concerning understructure to give the correct silhouette and  probably more decoration.
Then there are decisions to be made for wigs and millinery, footwear and jewellery and somehow blending in stock costumes to the design.
This can be overwhelming, especially to designers who have never dealt with a large period show.

They work hard for their recognition and glory :) wouldn't you say?