Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Hubris and the Credit Debacle

Hello Frocktalkers. It has been nutty here – I have been sewing my face off for a craft show, which, sadly was just postponed. I will post the date/time/location for the rain check – likely May 14 in Silverlake. It has been very time-consuming, however, so I apologize about my lack of presence here.

I want to talk today about the issue of costume design, and designer credit on movies. It has become a troubling phenomenon. Our costume budgets are shrinking (smaller amounts of money put toward below-the-line costs, including our salaries and our costume budgets) and as a consequence, many of us are turning to product placement to bolster the look of our films.

Product placement is great – the fashion designer gets publicity, and we get good-looking garments for free. However:


Even if I commission a vendor to fabricate one of my designs:


Costume design is about the overall vision for the movie, period. We carefully consider every piece on every body. It’s a symphony, and we write the score. The solo violin is NOT the conductor of the symphony.

To all of you costume designers out there – be very, very careful when working on a “hot” project using garments from a known line, and make sure that if you contract a fashion house to fabricate your design (this usually happens when it is a specialty garment, e.g.: wedding dress, sports uniform, etc) they understand that they are realizing YOUR design, not theirs.

In my experience, I have seen vendors post items for sale on their websites as “The original garment from Movie X”, accompanied by a photo from the film. This is technically illegal. If the film in question is a studio movie, their legal department will be all over the vendor, and will shut them down. Our work as costume designers is WORK-FOR-HIRE for the production company and/or studio. We cannot independently claim ownership of those designs, and NEITHER CAN THE VENDOR.

Keep in mind, as well, that our design efforts on a film are also collaborative. As an example, I designed a film called Sex Drive. One of the iconic costumes for the film was for Señor Donut – a walkabout costume worn by the leading character. Señor Donut was conceived by the director (Sean Anders) working in conjunction with the production designer (Aaron Osborne) who turned the idea into graphics and signage for the store. In order to make the costume, I sculpted a maquette out of clay to get a 3D model for the costume, which was foam-sculpted by Ken Hall from Total Fabrication. Now, who designed the costume, again? Often times, a costume is derived from other ideas, and many people contribute to its design. In my opinion, in this case, Señor Donut belongs to Sean, because he conceptualized him.

My primitive maquette for Senor Donut.

My primitive maquette for Senor Donut. Please note, I am NOT a sculptor. But I guess that is self-evident.

Everyone wants to be a part of something good. You can hardly blame the vendor. A vendor’s association with a “hot” project can go a long way toward raising their profile in the industry. However, these involvements must be carefully and delicately negotiated.

If you are working on a film with legal representation and/or a product placement department, make sure they know about your intentions and the connections you have made. This way, they can track the vendor and ensure that all is going as planned.

You will always need to get a contract in writing from a product placement vendor so that you can legally use their logo and/or trademark in your film. Some contracts specify that this is “work for hire” on the part of the vendor and cannot be applied to future advertising. Sometimes, contracts can be amended to include promotion of the film – visit the vendor’s website and win a trip to Hollywood to attend the premiere of the film – it just depends on the company/studio’s willingness to play ball.

Product placement and outsourcing of fabrication is a situation that we will increasingly be asked to address. Costume budgets will continue to be squeezed, and as costume designers, we will need to think of ingenious ways to get more for our money. Sharing design credit should not be one of them.

Something to keep in mind on your next project! Have a great week, everyone!


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