Last month my union, the Motion Picture Costumers, Local 705, held a special event called The Secret Lives of Costumers. Five industry panelists representing a wide variety of occupations in the union discussed their work and answered audience questions. The theme of the night was Emmy nominated TV shows—costumers represented Transparent, American Horror Story, The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, Grease Live! and Grace and Frankie. Our president, Nickolaus Brown moderated. Appropriately, the event took place at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDIM), where a collection of costumes from Emmy nominated show were on display in the museum. After the panel there was a cocktail party and a chance to view the exhibit after hours. The event was open to the public and it was so lovely meeting a few of you there! I’ll be sure to share future events like this here as well as on Facebook and Instagram.
Each speaker gave a description of their job title in the costume department. The jobs in my union support the costume designer’s vision. However, since this show celebrated the efforts of 705 members the designers voice is absent. The panel was a great breakdown of how different all the jobs are and how we work together as a team. While it did not represent every job in the costume world, it came pretty close!
Key costumer Rebecca Graves talked about her responsibilities on People v.s OJ Simpson. As a key costumer, it is her job to make sure clothing is set in the actors dressing rooms and to keep an eye on their costumes during the filming day. Since this was a 1980s period show Rebecca had to watch out for modern clothing sneaking its way into shots—mostly on background actors in big crowd scenes. The number one culprit? Hair ties worn on ladies wrists! Thin hair ties are modern. In the 1980s, ladies used big scrunchies and hair clips to tame their locks.
Grace and Frankie costume supervisor Lori Delapp explained the supervisor position. As the administrative head of the costume department, the supervisor works closely with the costume designer and all other team members from costumers to shoppers, agers and dyers to illustrators, to keep things running smoothly. They also serve as an important liaison to the production’s accounting department. In addition to doing paperwork, keeping notes and breaking down the script, the supervisor also has to help organize what the actors wear. Lori explained one tool that can help streamline the process called Sync on Set. It is used to keep track of what outfit an actor is wearing in each scene of an episode, or film. It is by no means the only costume App, but it’s pretty neat—you can learn more here (link)
American Horror Story’s ager/dyer for last season, Julia Gombert, described how she transforms the custom sewn items and purchased clothing into the worn, bloodied, or spooky looks we are used to seeing on the show. A costume designer tells a story with clothing. A crisp white shirt looks tidy. Were that same shirt dyed, painted, and shredded to seem old, it tells a different story. We can't just rub clothing in the dirt to make them messy for the camera. Often many exact multiple versions of a costume are needed to last the duration of shooting and for the stunt people. An ager/dyer can carefully make multiple copies and since she or he works with permanent dyes and paints the muck won't transfer onto their actors, fade away, or get the set dirty.
Grease Live! was represented by another fellow custom made member, Renee Nault. Rene is the head pattern maker at the union costume shop Muto- Little. She leads a team of stitchers, pattern makers and finishers to make all the custom made pieces including the fun tear away suits for the “Grease Lightning” scene. Everything had to be just right since the show was performed live, there was only one chance for the costumes to work!
Last but not least, Hannah Schneider the shopper for Transparent, talked about tracking down ready-made clothing for her show. Shopping is a specialty, not technically a classification in our union. One costumer may prefer spending their time on set, doing prep work for the episode like setting dressing rooms with clothing or filing outfits away into storage after the episode has been filmed. Others like to work with the designer and source the ready-made clothing actors wear. Hannah mentioned how tricky the first episode of this season was because she had to outfit most of the cast and a slew of background actors all in white for a wedding scene.
The Secret Lives of Costumers was such a lovely event. It was a treat to see our craft so proudly displayed in the FIDM Museum and to watch union members mingle with the next generation of costumers. I look forward to sharing more events like this with all of you in the future, and hope to see a few of you there!