On a quiet, tree-lined street in between Valley Village and the NoHo Arts District, the soothing hum of sewing machines fills the air. Costume Co-op, founded by John van Hout, Clifford Chally and David Matwijkow, is a union costume shop, featuring made-to-order construction, aging and dying, foam sculpting and millinery all under one roof.
Costume Co-op is the brainchild of John van Hout, who asked Chally and Matwijkow to join him in 2007. Van Hout serves on the executive board of Motion Picture Costumers Local 705 as the custom-made representative, and he is the businessman behind the business! Costume Co-op has fabricated costumes for shows like Glee, Desperate Housewives, Wipeout, Wizards of Waverly Place, CSI, The Middle, as well as upcoming films Hop, and The Muppets. They have also built costumes for Disney on Ice and other stage shows, and scads of commercials.
Clifford Chally, former president of the Costume Designers Guild, comes to the table with over three decades of design experience. Emmy-nominated for his fabulous work on (among other things) Designing Women, Clifford is a genuinely nice fellow, and a very talented designer. He took me on a tour of the space, and check it out!
Here’s a look into their craft space – this is where foam sculpting and age/dye/tech takes place. It’s a large space, and the garage door opens up so that there is full ventilation for some of the nastier sprays, paints and adhesives involved in the process.
One great thing offered at Costume Co-op is millinery. It’s a dying art, honestly, and it was so nice to see that they are keeping it alive here.
The workroom is clean, well-lit and well-organized.
I mean, look at this bank of thread! Ahhh, I sigh with appreciation at the sight of this. Everything is labeled. Aahhh, the P-Touch. Love.
The patterns they draft are beautiful. Patternmaking is an art form unto itself, and these are very nice indeed. They are clear, and even coming in cold, I could read these!
Mr. Chally is a busy man. When he’s not consumed with Costume Co-op, he also makes gorgeous clerical garments for private clients and churches. Every garment is custom made, and his designs are quite stunning. Take a look at his website HERE!
While Clifford was in a fitting, I took a moment to talk with David Matwijkow about how all of this came to be…
Tell me about the history of Costume Co-op:
We’ve been in business for just over three years; we had our three-year anniversary in September. I was working someplace else, and Clifford had come in to the shop where I was working to say hello. We were talking and I said, “Well, I don’t know how long I want to do this; I don’t know if I want to work here anymore; I don’t know what I’m going to do – get out of the business, go back to school for something else, open my own shop maybe? But I don’t want to do it on my own. So I don’t know what I’m going to do right now, Clifford.” And he’s like, “Oh, okay, well if I hear anything, I’ll let you know!”
He called me the very next day, and said, “I’ve been in talks with John Van Hout about opening a costume shop, and I mentioned your name, and he said, ‘Oh, we need to have him on board!’” So I went, and we all met, and decided that we wanted to move forward. From then on, I was like “Let’s do this!”
We got in the car, started driving around, looking at spaces, and found this space. Within six or eight weeks we gutted the space and re-did it to our needs, and went on from there. We opened three months before the writers’ strike (fall 2007)! In hindsight, people probably would have dissuaded us from that, but we were slamming busy right up until the strike, and then it sort of died. But we managed to hang on, and here we still are!
How many employees do you have?
It depends. Anywhere from three or four to ten, depending on how many projects are here, what’s going on, and the deadlines.
And, it’s a union shop, yes?
Yep! Motion Picture Costumers, Local 705.
Cliff tells me that you’re the only people in town with a union craft shop –
We’re the only union shop in town that has a dedicated craft shop that does foam work and dying, and all of that stuff.
In a compare and contrast, how do you think your prices line up with other made-to-order houses, and tell us about how you can work with a designer to make it feasible?
We can do things at all price points. There’s negotiation on construction and there are different levels to what we do. For things like an ice show or a stage show, that are getting worn eight times a week, there’s no skimping on those things – you have to make them properly and to last. Whereas, film and TV things are sometimes a little bit of a throwaway. Not to diminish them, but they get worn once, and don’t need to be as robustly constructed.
The thing that we can offer is that we are full-service, whereas a lot of shops only make garments, and you have to go someplace else to get the hat made. If there are foam pieces that need to be attached to it, you have to go to a special effects house and have that done. We don’t do any mold making or foam pouring, but we do foam sculpting and construction of foam walkabouts. In that sense, we go across the board, so you can get the whole thing done in one place, rather than having to have the hat made here, and the dress made here, paint that here, dye that there; we do it all here, in one place.
Tell me about your background and how you got started in this world~
It’s a big fat accident! (laughs) I went to NYU and I was in the drama department. I ended up in the costume shop as a requirement. I ended up on the running crew of a show, and the woman who was running the running crew was a grad student. She got sick, and had to go to the hospital. I was really bossy, so they put me in charge of everybody. Isn’t that hysterical? They ended up giving me a work study job, and at NYU all of the teachers are working designers in New York, so I started working for them on their outside projects. That ended up being my sort of “day job”. I was the assistant to a (now) Tony-award-winning designer for ten years in New York, and that’s how I learned about costuming, clothing, patternmaking, and all of that stuff. Then I came out here, and worked for a nonunion shop. I ended up running that shop after three or four years of working there. I left there, got into a union shop, got into the union, worked at that shop for two or three years, and then came and opened this one! A big, fat, happy accident!
Anything else about the shop you’d like to mention?
We’re quiet; we’re out of the way. But yet we’re easy to get to, and we have a great fitting facility. Private entrance to the fitting facility for delicate clients, a gated driveway for them to pull in – I mean, we’ve had people followed by photographers, and it’s been very useful for them to open the gate, pull in, and be able to walk right in to the fitting room and not have to deal with any of that. We are able to send people out to fittings, as schedule permits, which I know some shops don’t necessarily do. It’s been very helpful for a lot of people.
Thank you to Clifford, David and John for letting me come in and explore your world! I encourage all of you to do the same, especially if you have made-to-order needs. They are a terrifically nice and talented group!
Costume Co-op: http://www.costumeco-op.com/
11501 Chandler Boulevard; North Hollywood, CA 91601-2618 (818) 752-7522