How does a costume designer go about the job?
"It's all very precise", says Louise Frogley, among whose credits are The Conspirator and The Men Who Stare at Goats, and who has been in the business for 35 years.
First, I'm sent the script, and then, if I haven't worked with these people before, there's an interview -- and then, if it's a good fit, I'm hired. At that point, I hire a supervisor who understands costumers, perhaps with a background in uniforms, all that needs to be done, and keeps track of the materials and the personnel. I break the script down into characters, and what they'll wear, and do designs and a budget. I get the director's approval of the designs. Trucks are hired -- separate ones for the principals' and the extras' costumes -- with great care that nothing gets lost or misplaced. For instance, there are muslins on which smaller items, like jewelry, are pinned, and boxes for things like shoes and purses and hats -- all marked.
Next, Louise says, comes fittings.
"We photograph it all, so we have a record of exactly what was discussed with the actor, and with the seamstress, and what alterations will be made. We show the footage to the director -- some of them come to fittings, some don't."
How do Costume and Wardrobe differ?
"Wardrobe is the support system for Costume. It covers the shoppers, the fitters, the sewers."
What was your background for this work?
I went to Hornsey College of Art in London for five years -- took every course they had. I've always loved textiles. I began by working for a photographer, doing set dressing but getting paid very little. Finally, I offered to do his designing. One of my first jobs was putting together a stately home to be photographed, complete with staff, location, even tea! I gradually assembled a presentation book with my work displayed, and with it got my first television commercials. Eventually I did loads of commercials -- Pepsi, Nike -- and one of those directors gave me my first film job.
Where have you worked?
"Hong Kong, China, Morocco, Atlanta, Savannah, Detroit, Casablanca."
Which have been among your favorite directors, and films?
"Among directors, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. The movies that come to mind are Traffic, The Good German, Ocean's 13, Syriana, Ides of March, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Limey, The Conspirator."
And your favorite actors?
"Jeff Bridges, most certainly. And George Clooney, Robin Wright, Rachel Weiss."
What do you like most about these particular people, directors and actors?
"Their boundless enthusiasm, their energy, and their commitment to detail and character. They're terrific to work with!"
There is sometimes cultural confusion. Perhaps the funniest was on Syriana. We shot in Morocco, and we always seemed to be presented with the wrong Arabs for the one Arab country of the movie -- Palestinians, Saudis, Lebanese -- each group of extras turning up with slightly different accessories, headgear. We had to take extra precaution, so that by filming they'd all be dressed alike.
And in China, they'd always be agreeable, and then not follow through as promised. Politeness seems primary. And they'd wear anything, whatever the scene to be filmed, so finally we realized we had to dress them ourselves. And then when we wanted the ethnic group called Hakka to wear their traditional hats, they just wouldn't. We never understood why.
What do you enjoy about the work?
"The puzzle. There's always something to solve. And I like choosing things -- textiles, colors, shapes. And navigating between actors' and directors' preferences. And, of course the travel! I can't wait to go again!"
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