FC President Serena Abel interviews FIDM Grad and costume designer Erica Williams.
Hello fellow Fashion Club Members interested in fashion careers! I’d like to tell you a little bit about a specialized fashion career—costume design. Costume design is the envisioning of clothing and the overall appearance of a character or performer. There are two branches of costume design—film & TV costume and theatre costume.
I interviewed FIDM Grad Erica Williams, a theatre costume designer for Disney, to find out more about this career.
Serena: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out to pursue a career in costume design?
Erica: Fully immerse yourself in whatever inspires you—and then let yourself be inspired and see where it takes you. For example, I love historical costume, so sometimes I’ll watch a bunch of period films and just sketch. Sometimes I’ll challenge myself to recreate a historically accurate costume and sometimes it will lead me to something totally different. Just stay inspired and have fun with it!
Serena: Is there anything I can do now as a high school student that would help me gain experience in this field?
Erica: Do your research. Do you have a favorite costume designer or costumed movie? Research that designer and find out how they got their start and what steps they took to get to where they are today! Also, sketch everything. The towel crumpled up in a pile on the floor, the back of the person’s head in front of you—everything! If you feel you’re not a great artist, make a rule that no one else can see your sketchbook but you! That will take help take the pressure off and let you sketch freely. It’s important to see the world from a sketch perspective and be able to communicate your own ideas. The best art advice I ever got was, “Sketch what you see, not what you know.” It will help improve your art by leaps and bounds.
Serena: I live in Hartland, Wisconsin. Do you know of any costume designers in my area who could be a guest speaker at one of my Fashion Club meetings?
Erica: I’m originally from Texas, so unfortunately I don’t know anyone from your area. I would check with your local SCA (Society for Creative Anochronism), there may be someone you could speak with if you’re interested in historical costume.
Serena: What is the skill set necessary to be a successful costume designer? Is there anything that you need to know that can’t be learned in class (such as people skills, organizational skills, time management, etc.)?
Erica: All of the above and then some. An important thing to remember as a costume designer is that no matter what you do, it is a team effort. You are working with people in all different departments to help bring a single vision to life. If working on a film or theatre production, it is your job to bring the director’s vision to life—as long as you remember that, you will always have work. Being talented is wonderful and is certainly acknowledged, but so is being humble and team oriented. You could be the best designer in the world but the second your ego gets in the way, they’re on to the next designer in line behind you.
Serena: Are there any surprises about the industry that you didn’t expect now that you’ve graduated from college and are working?
Erica: How close they are to each other! There are projects like making inspiration boards and presentations that just seemed like school work, but you do the exact same thing in the industry! I think I’m still getting used to that.
Serena Abel is a senior at Lake Country Lutheran High School in Hartland, Wisconsin.