I am Oscar-nominated costume designer, professor, and author Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Coming to America). I've curated the Hollywood Costume Exhibition opening in LA on Oct. 2. AMA!
I'm UCLA Professor of Costume Design Deborah Landis. You can see my IMDB profile for an idea of the many classic projects I've worked on, which range from Thriller to ¡Three Amigos! to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I am very excited about my curating of the Hollywood Costume Exhibition, opening in Los Angeles this week on October 2nd - more details found on the official site http://www.oscars.org/hollywoodcostume/. The exhibition features pieces as varied as costume elements from Django to The Wizard of Oz - costumes from over 150 movies.
Victoria from reddit is helping me get started today.
EDIT: Thank you ALL for your interest in costume design! Please visit Hollywood Costume. http://www.oscars.org/hollywoodcostume
No doubt, the Ruby Slippers designed by Adrian for the Wizard of Oz are considered the most iconic costume in American film history. There are a long list of second choices, including James Dean's jacket in East of Eden designed by Moss Mabry, Marilyn Monroe's costume in The Seven Year Itch designed by Travilla, Darth Vader designed by John Mollo - and three out of these four can be seen in the Hollywood Costume exhibition.
1: What kind of college credentials or experience do you need to have in order to be a costume designer?
2: Tell me about your education! What kind of college classes did you take?
3: Tell me about being payed as a costume designer. Do you get payed by hour or by commission? How much do you make? Is it a good living?
Truly, no formal college degree is needed to be a costume designer. That doesn't mean education doesn't count. Working in the theater is the best route to a life as a costume designer. Needless to say, I have both an MFA in Costume Design from UCLA (the program where I teach now) and a PhD in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art. Costume designers are life long learners. Regarding pay and value, I suggest that you visit the website of the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892. As a former two term president of that Guild, I know that our contract is posted. We are paid by the week - and there is certainly no overtime. Everyone working in the movies works long hours - BUT WE LOVE IT!
Who is or was the tiniest actress you've designed for ?
HA! Did you know that I am 6' feet tall? So almost everyone is tiny to me. Actresses are almost all very slim - dressing the Hollywood Costume exhibition was a lesson in tiny! When I designed the costumes for the Blues Brothers I had to shop for Carrie Fisher in the Children's Department at Sears. She wore a Girls Size 14!
Since the kingdom in Coming to America was made up, what sources did you use as inspiration for the "traditional" garb?
The inspiration for the costume design for Coming to America came from a lifetime love of dress and culture. On my shelf I had a wall of "African Arts Magazine." A friend said, "You must have those from when you designed CTA." Absolutely not...I collected them years before and it took years to assimilate all those East, West, North and South African cultures to create the design for the Kingdom of Zamunda. And here's a tip - the gowns of the wedding guests were inspired by the ladies of Gambia and Senegal.
Hello! Thank you for doing this AMA. I had two questions about Costume Curating. 1) Since many costumes are built to fit particular actors is it a challenge to display them? Do you have to find custom mannequins or are existing mannequins padded to fit the costumes? 2) How do you and your team determine the best method to preserve costumes?
Hey! This is such a great question to start our session. It's absolutely true that every single mannequin in the new Hollywood Costume exhibition was custom made for each costume. It's amazing the time that we spent getting the clothes to fit - as they did on the actor and actress in the field. And OMG are those actresses so tiny! Regarding conservation...that is a field unto itself, and most textile conservators are trained in museums.
Thanks for the AMA! Can you tell us a time where you had a to find an extremely unique costume in a short amount of time? Did you purchase it, make something, or something else? What was it and what was the costume for?
LPT: Always fire up when dealing with the invisible swordsman!
I often boast that costume designers are the most resourceful people on the planet. It is no joke that I can make anything from a paper placement and a bed sheet (see the togas in Animal House). Regarding "no" time - and let's just add "no" money to that - I hate to admit that those diamonds on screen are Swarovski crystal and that cashmere on that wealthy matron character may be polyester. In movies - it doesn't have to be real - it just has to 'feel real' to the audience.
Would you rather recreate 40% of a costume to display it in perfect condition, or show it as best as possible with only original elements?
I have been thinking the same thing. To restore or not to restore? Therein lies the dilemma. Often the costume is the only artifact remaining from a motion picture so the integrity of the artifact must remain true to the vision of the original designer. Would I add a pair of new trousers or a shirt to complete it? Sure. Restoration? Not so much.
How acceptable is compromise in costume design on big budget films? If you are on set in a pinch, would you ever improvise with a sharpie and electrical tape or does it have to be done properly - even if it wouldn't be noticeable?
Nothing matters except the movie. It is of no consequence if costumes are constructed beautifully (as some are - like French couture) or horribly/shabbily so that they barely make it through the shot. Have they done their job for the scene? Did they help move the action forward? Were they appropriate for their narrative and in their visual context. The audience shouldn't notice ANYTHING. We are ON THE RIDE!
Costumes aren't intended to last forever, just a few days in a shoot, does that effect the way they are created? Does this present a challenge in preservation?
This is an excellent observation. My response that yes...that may be why so few costumes survived over the past 100 years. But the real answer is that costumes are the original recyclables and were used over and over and over and over again on productions. They simply could not survive long enough to be put in an exhibition.
What's the most complicated costume you have ever done? Technically and artistically?
Gosh, someday I would love to have the challenge of designing a superhero. My costume design colleagues are working with incredible teams of fabric and 3D printers, which fascinate me. Artistically, Coming to America was the biggest challenge - inventing this African monarchy while respecting African culture. Tricky! Every film poses unique challenges, which my friends overcome on every single production.
What would you consider the most ridiculous costume you've ever made?
Good question! For "Nothing but Trouble" a film directed by Dan Ackroyd in the 80s, I created an entire wardrobe for John Candy who played twins. The catch? On of the twins was a woman. John Candy in drag is really something to experience!
Have you ever been called in as an advisor for an interesting project by one of your students or proteges? Are writers common in your classes?
In regard to the exhibition will works from prosthetic makeup artists be on display? If no, then why?
Of course I work with brilliant students on great projects all the time. Being with students is completely inspiring and I am grateful to be at UCLA. And unique to our program at UCLA, screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, production designers, and producers are all in my costume design class each winter. Regarding Make -Up, when the Academy Museum opens in a few years, the fine art of make-up will surely be the centerpiece of it's own exhibition.
Do you think that costumes are more important or less important than good acting in movies?
The fact is that great costuming and great performances don't make a movie great. Acting and costuming are just two components of filmmaking. When a movie wins "Best Picture" at the Oscars - it means that every single element was great - even though the audience (immersed in the story) may notice none of it!
with Thriller did Michael Jackson come up with most of the concept ?
Actually, director John Landis wrote the screenplay for the short movie called, "Michael's Jackson's Thriller." After Michael saw and loved John's film, "An American Werewolf in London," he knew that he wanted to collaborate with John on 'something.' They got together to create a story and then John wrote the script. Michael was wonderful for me to work with and we had a marvelous time together.
Hello, Deborah :) First of all, I love your work.
Secondly, thanks for taking the time to do this, as well :)
One of my particular favorites was the work you did for Spies Like Us as it was inherently funny.
I wanted to ask you what was it like coalescing that amalgam of over-stuffed snow-dwelling critters into one of the more endearing (and visual) jokes of the movie? Also, have any of your other costuming tasks equated so much to humor, in the end? Lastly, what was it like to see those costumes chosen for the posters/media for Spies Like Us?
Where was that shepherd when I stole his flock of sheep to costume Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd??? Sometimes I think that I am the QUEEN of silly costumes! Have you seen Three Amigos? Costumes have always been an essential element in comedy. Timing is crucial and costume can't step on or anticipate the joke. But I take any opportunity to make one!
Which do you find more challenging, designing for period/fantasy projects or designing for projects more grounded in contemporary reality?
Costume designers always say that modern projects are the hardest to design. That's because everyone is an expert in now and everyone dresses themselves in the morning. Designers have said that on occasion a producer's wife didn't approve...shocking stuff like that. On a fantasy film, no designers wants to repeat what's been seen before although that is almost unavoidable. The easiest project to design is a period movies where everyone on the production knows that the costume designer is the expert and leaves us alone to do our job!
Hi, Deborah! Welcome to Reddit. If you could do costume design for any book-turned-movie (or TV show!), what would it be?
Call me crazy, but I love books just as they are. As Hunger Games fans know very well, it can be frustrating for fans to see a film from a book they love. However, I am a big fan of those major Victorian novels and I'd love to have the opportunity to design something by Charles Dickens.
What was the most involved you ever felt working on a particular project?
Gosh..."involved" is not quite the word I'd use. Passionate? Costume designers are the director's key collaborator - we help bring the people in the screenplay to life. That's BIG! My favorite and most challenging project was the 1988 comedy, Coming to America. I absolutely loved collaborating on the project and creating Zamunda, a fictional African kingdom.
HELLO! Your work is terrific! I have two questions: 1) What inspires your creativity? 2) What has been your favorite project so far? Thanks for doing this AMA!!
Hope this sounds right...I am inspired by the outdoors. I love being outside having spent all of my childhood up in the mountains in upstate New York. And I am inspired by beauty - I admit that I have a thing for objects...confidentially...I also love cars and motorcycles. Design moves me. And regarding projects, maybe I love my Hollywood Costume exhibition most of all?
Hello, my Grandmother was Renie Conley, and my Mother was June Van Dyke. I grew up around costumes and costumers, how I became a production sound mixer.....
I was reading your comments about avoiding Edith Head, when you and she were at Universal Studios. I was surprised that you avoided her, don't you think you could've learned from her? I knew her to be a very kind and loving person, but my relationship wasn't professional. I recall you said that she was someone to "avoid."
Renee Conley was one of my mentors at UCLA and I adored her! In fact, Renee sponsored my admission to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was someone that I loved and admired - so nice to meet you! Regarding Miss Head. I apologize if my quote was confusing. When I began at Universal as a very young designer, Miss Head had a mixed reputation in the Costume Department. There was much hard feeling regarding her Oscar for The Sting, her collaborators felt unappreciated and made their feeling known. It was not that I avoided Miss Head, I made the mistake of not seeking her out, when I should have done so. We did meet in the end, and as you said, she was very kind. She was a great lady and the great champion of costume design. At the Hollywood Costume exhibition, all 8 of her Oscars are on display. Come and see them!
SCTV or SNL?
SNL! I go way...back to Belushi and Ackroyd!
In your opinion, which are some of the most iconic costume items in American film history?
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