Costume Designer versus Fashion Designer (because nobody understands what you're doing in life)
Image © Vanessa McKeown
We both understand how to make clothes. We know Fashion History and how to choose fabrics. We sketch designs and we combine colors and textures together.
However, we are very different in many ways.
Are you tired of being called a Dressmaker ? Are you frustrated when people think that your job is to make dresses at Disneyland Park ? Or ask you if you work in a Party Shop ?
Here 5 facts to explain our differences to anybody - even the Uber driver or your neighbour - so people can start understanding what you're doing in life.
1. ACTOR VERSUS PEOPLE
When I was designing a collection for my Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Design, I didn't really have to take in consideration the sizes and the body type of anybody. I was sketching clothes for young women and... that was pretty much it. When I actually made some of the garments of the collection, I used standard clothing sizes chart.
Costume Design is directly linked with the actor/actress body who is going to play the character. This is sometimes an issue in television/film when you have been hired as a designer but the cast is not validated yet. Part of the design process is slowed because the costume is here to convey a story from a specific body. Colors, shapes and fabrics might change regarding the color of the skin, hair, eyes and the body shape of the actor/actress. (Of course it's not the case if the character is wearing a uniform or if he is a famous comic character for example. In this case the Costume Designer's work would be focused on how to find the perfect piece or how to recreate something realistic that already exists as an image).
2. DIRECTOR VERSUS BRAND
If you are a Fashion Designers, you probably work for a company or you provide freelance services for different brands. Your work has to be in line with the brand image and it is supposed to be bankable. The intention of your work as a Fashion Designer is to sell your designs.
I guess the goal of a film is also to be sold and watched by as many people as possible. However, this is not necessarily your concern as a Costume Designer. You are hired by a Producer but you work for a Director. Your intention is to design costumes that help the story he wants to convey, and depending of the film and the director, you will have more or less freedom on your design. You don't really start from scratch because your entire work is going to be based on a story written by someone else and your job is to make this story comes to life through the looks of the characters.
3. SCREEN/STAGE VERSUS REAL LIFE
When you design clothes, or shoes, or bags for real people, you have to make sure it serves a purpose : being warm, soft, practical, beautiful, light, waterproof or sweat proof. The intention is to wear the garment in real life. Your design has to follow some specifications decided by the brand depending on the style, the season and the user's needs.
When you design costumes for a play or a film, you have to take in account the needs of the medium. These needs are very different if you work for a stage or for an on-screen costume. The actor might have to be able to undress in couple minutes in the dark, or he might have to wear body protections. Some costumes are supposed to be resistant enough to last during a six months tour, or they have to be in double or triple because the actor gets dirty on set, or he is wearing the same suit for three days in the script (and things happen to him). Costumes have to be comfortable but they also have to fit with the medium used. As a Costume Designer, you have to be aware that the costume will not look the same when it's lightened on a stage or watched on a giant screen than when it's on the actor standing in front of you during the fitting.
4. STORY LINE VERSUS TRENDS
Fashion Design is all about knowing the trends and people's dreams. The more precursor you are, the better designer you become. Your job is to imagine the future and how people will want to wear clothes tomorrow. You are like the God of Clothes ahah. You make magic happens by finding the right color with the next fabric and understand the needs of the society.
Costume Design is all about conveying a story. It has somehow a little bit of anthropology and sociology in it. You need to contemplate life around you to understand how clothes give information about people. A big part of your work is being able to source references in order to study a time period, a specific age, a social class or different cultural habits. I believe that a good costume design should not get too much attention on screen. I'm happy about a costume when I finally found the tiny detail that will bring it to life. I think the message conveyed by the costume has to be delivered on a very subtle subliminal level.
(Which is why our craft is not taken seriously sometimes : because everybody is wearing clothes everyday, most people think costume design doesn't require much work. They don't really understand the subtle messages conveyed by what a person is wearing. Or they think they know and they end up making clichés. BUT... Ok, this might be another article... lol)
5. CREW VERSUS BUSINESS
If you are a Fashion Designer you might work alone as a freelancer, or in a company with eventually an assistant and other designers. You don't necessarily work with the tailor shop especially if the clothes you design are manufactured abroad. However you might work with Pattern and Textile Designers, Accessory Designers and Marketing people. At the end, your collection has to be approved by the marketing team/the Art Director/the CEO of the company (unless you own the company).
Costume Design implies to have a good team spirit. Depending on the project, you might leave before the end of the shoot. The Wardrobe Assistant will then be in charge of maintaining the look of the characters on stage or on set. You'll also work closely with the Production Designer or the Set Designer in order to be on the same page in terms of colors and patterns. You might have to use some logo designed specifically for the film. You'll probably share props with the Props Master. Of course you'll also work closely with the actors/actresses and the extras. Apart from the people working in your department, maybe you'll need to hire a service from different professionals : costume rental places, press offices, Costume Dyers, Tailors, print shops, fabric suppliers, vintage retailers,... among lots of others. Yes, costume design is definitely a team work.
Are you a Costume Designer or a Fashion Designer ? Did I forgot something ? What are your feelings about this article ? Are you so lucky and talented that you are doing both ? :) I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.