Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Interview: Leslie and Deborah - Part 2

Here is our second part of our Interview with the Costume People - Leslie and Deborah. I will have one more installment tomorrow to finish up the series.

Lets not dilly-dally and get to this next part of the interview.

Is it easier working on costume designs for a period piece over a more modern tale?

From the perspective of cutting and assembling garments it’s much the same whether it be for period clothing or contemporary.

We think that the designer has more of a challenge in the contemporary genre because the public is finely tuned to the current style and will be less accepting of anything that may appear ‘costumed’ or ‘fake’. So often the contemporary designs need to be tuned down to appear realistic. There is an irony in this – because we make a practice of noticing ‘costume’ in our everyday world. If you stand in the cash line at any Costco, department store, or fast-food outlet you will notice real-life people wearing real-life wardrobe that is pretty wild. If some of those outfits showed up on film they would be criticized as being ‘over-the-top’. That is not to say that we judge – but we do notice – it’s part of what makes ‘contemporary’ looks so interesting to do.

With respect to period garments the challenge is in making sure that the materials appear authentic to the time period. We’ve spotted many a period piece and instantly ‘noticed’ the use of drapery prints and patterns to stand in for truly vintage materials.

Another challenge is in replicating the look of period techniques in a modern workshop. If we had the time and budget to hand sew every item perhaps we could – but the machine sewing was not in use during the era of knights in armour – instead we suspend our disbelief and accept machine stitching in costuming as artistic convention. I mean really – where do you think the Highlander hid that sword of his? We made the black coats that Wesley Snipes wears in Blade III – and can tell you that we made a lovely decorative hole in the back of the coat from which the ‘blade’ magically draws from center back between the shoulder blades (pun not intended) but truly folks and are so sad to be the ones to break it to you – the sword is not really there most of the time. That’s why they call it fantasy.

We have a particular love of creating period dresses and coats but it is very demanding and strict. The most fun we’ve had with costumes is in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. Let loose and make it up. And by the way - we personally believe that we will still be using in buttons 50 and 100 years from now – but many costume designers do not.

We give some of our favourites costumes pet names along the road to their time on camera. Here’s a few:

the snorkel of death” a monks robe with a deep hood flange to hide the fencing mask worn inside (Highlander) – The mask made it look like the phantasm was faceless.

Alien Barbie” a beautiful pink outfit on an equally beautiful actress with wide gold shoulder decoration (Stargate)

waif-at-the-stake” very ornate dress of rose raw silk with tapestry stomacher in an Elizabethan style for an actress who burns at the stake in the first 5 minutes of the episode (Highlander) Two dresses appeared as one and as I recall they were both made over one weekend!

the sausage vests”: - vest of pleather tubes stuffed with fat cording (Andromeda)

What seems the most difficult part of the design, the main costume or the accessories?

It so depends on the design. A Grecian column of a dress with a Medusa headdress and gold arm cuffs? – it's all in the accessories.

Tudor queen with lace ruff, wig and pearls? – We’d say the dress.

The real challenge comes when whatever has been ordered or requested is not given enough time in which to achieve it. And in an era of instant texting and communicating – that time seems to have become even shorter. As prepared as we can be to proceed – we still await approval of the design (and the spending that goes with creating it) from producers and/or directors.

made partially with stingray
I saw in one of your posts that you used stingray for a costume. This was something that I would never of thought would be used before. What made you think to use this in the design and is it more common than we think?

We sure hope not! Stingray is devilish stuff to work with.

Of course it also ‘looks’ devilish and other-worldly so that’s why we use it. We’ve used it in costumes for Smallville, and Stargate. It’s like working with glass. It doesn’t bend easily and you have to crack the surface of it off in order to get a needle to go through the skin. And not all glues are effective because of its stiff quality. We’d rather use plastic painted to look like stingray than the actual skin. There have also been other fish skins – some are too fragile to hold together for long without backing them with some sort of stabilizer – but for strangest materials in a costume???? - stingray is right up there.

We’ve also used cassette tape-can’t remember what tunes, skunk fur-never loses that perfume, bear skulls-we broke the lower jaw in two and used it as the visor on a hat-Wild America. 

What are some of the difficulties with working with odd materials?

Two distinct challenges come to mind:

One – you have to invent ways to manipulate the material and there is rarely a guidebook to lead the way. Experiment and engineer - and do both of those things quickly because that darn clock is always ticking and a solution must be found.

Two – We often work in multiples. That means that what may appear as one garment on camera is often several garments. In the case of very individual materials this can present a challenge.

In that head-dress for Wild America is a perfect example – two headdresses were made. And they each sport a set of real antlers. No two antler sets in the wild are identical. We searched for two sets that were “close” and then with selective pruning and filing and painting managed to edit the two sets to look similar. Ever tried to do that??? Antlers are made of very tough stuff!

This is the end of the 2nd chapter of our interview. Hope you got all that as there will be a test later :D


  1. An eye widening interview with the considerations and constraints faced during costume design from material, design, accessories, weapon concealment to practicality.

    1. It is really a great view into their world and I am so happy that they let us interview them.


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