I discovered what costume design is by watching the extras on a Mighty Boosh DVD. There was an interview with the designer talking about putting tights on a coat-hanger to make a snake mask and I was like “you can do this as a job??”
I was on my gap year with a place at university studying fashion waiting for me. I’d always wanted to do something with clothes but fashion just never felt quite right. So I withdrew my place and applied to Arts University Bournemouth to study Costume with Performance Design.
After completing my BA (Hons) I stayed and did a Masters, also in costume which is when I met the guys at Cirque Bijou. I designed the costumes for their show Battle for the Winds which was at the opening celebrations of Olympic and Paralympics Sailing Events in Weymouth. It was such a monumental opportunity for me as a recent graduate; I worked with 11 directors and regional artists and countless performers, which enabled me to create an incredible network of contacts to start my freelance career.
I’d like to think I did a half decent job on Battle as I’ve worked for Cirque Bijou ever since. I’ve worked a wide range of jobs creating things such as a Marilyn Monroe-esque pole dancer, entirely hand painted dodo costumes, lots of cute space Brownies – and lots of things in between. That’s what is so great about working for Cirque Bijou – the diversity of projects. It’s often circus-based, too, so costumes need to be appropriate for specific performers such as acrobats (no good wearing tight trousers that will split as soon as they bend over!) and fire performers, which is a good challenge to keep me on my toes.
Alongside working for Cirque Bijou I’ve also art directed a BBC3 TV pilot, costume designed a short film, gone to Japan working on Thriller Live, worked in the puppetry department of The Lion King UK tour, designed set and costumes for a company I’d been in love with for years (Angel Exit Theatre) and basically lived the dream! Almost every single job has been from people I met whilst working on Battle or someone who knew someone from Battle who recommended me. So I have to thank Cirque Bijou for my whole career, really.
I am currently working on SOURCE with Cirque Bijou and the two student designers from AUB, Harriet Cox and Fiona Rigler. I’ve been kind of a mentor to them, as I’ve been in their shoes before. I know how stressful it can be working on a huge job when you’re still a student and don’t yet have enough experience to feel confident in yourself, so it’s nice that I can help them through. Fiona and Harriet are both fantastic designers so I’ve been helping them more with the logistics of meetings, dealing with directors and producers, knowing what questions to ask to get the most information out of a meeting and how to interpret it. The kind of stuff that you only learn with experience.
It’s easy to forget that other people don’t necessarily think in the same creative, visual way as you do, so I always find it important to have lots of visuals so you can make sure your idea of “desert chic” is the same as the directors’. As I was also a student and still teach as a visiting tutor at AUB, I also know what things they need to evidence in order to fulfil their university brief alongside that of the directors – it can be a lot to juggle!
Like Battle was for me, SOURCE is a fantastic opportunity for these two, as they have met countless creatives, all of which may lead to more work in the future. They’ve also had the opportunity to work on a live project outside university, whilst still having the support of me and the course staff to fall back on when they have difficulties. It’s the best way to learn and start forging a path for yourself in the crazy world of costume design!