Frocktalk reporters Anthony Tran and Laura Wong spoke with the fabulous Gail McMullen, costume designer of (among other things) HBO’s Six Feet Under. Here are her impressions of this year’s award contenders and some advice for aspiring designers:
FT: What are your top 3 movies of 2009 (not necessarily considering the costume design)?
GM: Young Victoria, Bright Star, and A Single Man. Of all of the films I saw this year, it (A Single Man) is the one that has stayed with me the longest. I can still see some of the images in my mind and I found the story so very affecting.
FT: And your top movies of 2009 (specifically for costume design)?
GM: I actually thought the costumes for Bright Star were very interesting. In particular, because the story involved an individual, a woman, who was interested in the fashion at the time. So I thought that made for a very interesting challenge for the designer to have to filter them through that.
FT: Any advice to aspiring designers?
GM: I think the best thing you can do is to go out and experience every single thing that comes your way. There is nothing that you do – there is no job that you take – where you won’t find a place to learn. That sounds kind of trite, but it’s my experience, and I’ve been doing this for 25 years. Even now, there’s not a job that I take where I don’t learn. And I don’t always work as a designer. I work as an assistant. I go work as a costumer. There’s always more to learn. And for me, that’s what keeps this work endlessly interesting.
FT: How did you get started?
GM: I have no academic background in costume design. However, when I was a child, we had no money. My mother and my grandmother made all of my clothes. I never had clothes from a store. Everything was made, so I participated in the process of choosing the fabric, the trim and the pattern and putting it all together. I think that’s probably where the spark ignited.
And how did I fall into it? My sister-in-law was running the costume shop for Center Theater Group and she had me come in to work when they were building the first opera season. They were building Otello, and I worked in crafts. I segued from that into being a shopper and I had the great, good fortune to work with some of the biggest costume designers. I shopped for Ann Roth and Ruth Myers and Julie Weiss right out of the gate, so I was very, very lucky. I think that understanding how things are made and what works/what doesn’t is something that’s invaluable.
Thanks for your insight, Gail!! It was great to meet you!