Sunday, November 18, 2012

Not your normal Job: Cathy Tree Costumier

Burlesque Dancers are known for their amazing costumes, Swarovski crystals from head to toe, corsets and glamour.  But of course this doesn't all happen by chance and not all of us are talented enough to make them ourselves.  New Zealand is very fortunate to have an amazing handful of Costumiers and special effects artists.  With companies like Weta Workshop and the Wearable Arts Awards (WOW) Wellington really does have talent!  You might have seen me having proverbial kittens on Social Media over the amazing sparkly goodness which is my new prized costume possession... Thanks Cathy!! xx  

What does a Gal like you do on a normal day “at work”?
My days can really change from day to day!  So really in one day I could do any number of the following things....  Click in to see more & pictures!!!
work on texture samples, develop designs on paper and with fabric, pattern make, sew, make headdresses, research new costumes, sketch, shop online and in town for products, have fittings, source items for photo shoots, meet with photographers makeup artists models and more!
If I'm working on a film job, I will be at the film studio or workshop all day.  Sometimes I will just be working in a production line making components for costumes, and other times developing ideas with the team, researching, figuring out how to make something work that has come from the design team. 
When I work at Weta I could be working with anything from silk, to armour, to foam latex creature suits!
Occasionally I work on set and take care of the costumes on and off the actors. 
How did you get into the industry and what made you decide this is what you wanted to make a living out of?
I was a young teenager when I realised there was such a thing as costume design, and that fashion wasn't really the thing for me.  And so from then on, costuming has been my focus!
So often the way to get jobs in the industry is about who you know.  So a lot of energy often gets put into networking and trying to meet people and get your name out there. It can sometimes take years before you will get called regularly for work.  But others can hit the jackpot without much work, just by being in the right place at the right time.
I just kept putting myself out there and met a lot of people in the industry and the work starting to come in.
It's often a struggle, with work being off and on as jobs come and go, but it's what I love to do, and I've really never done anything else.  It's what I'm passionate about and yes I have moments of “what am I doing?” but then I work on something wonderful and remember why I love doing what I do.  It can be incredibly rewarding when you get to see your work on a character or client, and you see the way it can affect them positively and develop their character's personality or performance.  It's that kind of thing that really keeps you wanting more. 
What tips would you give new others who might be interested in a similar career?
Network.  Be confident but not pushy.  Respect your peers and you will learn a lot from them.  Work hard towards what you want to achieve.  Know that you don't have to be good at everything, and maybe focus on what you love and are good at. Always remember there is more to learn.  If it's a nightmare of a job, remember it's only a film/show/act and it will be over soon.  Don't spread yourself too thin, and learn to delegate where you can.  Know your limits.  Research and keep an eye on what's going on out there to keep inspired and up with the play.  If you get turned down for a job, remember there are more out there and keep trying, that one wasn't for you because there's something else out there waiting for you!  Enjoy what you do! 
When did you discover there was life outside the corporate 9-5 Office grind?  Was there a specific event or epiphany that brought that about?
I guess it more a case of, I didn't even think about the corporate grind.  I have never been a part of it.  And sometimes when I've been working 16+hr days on a costume job, for weeks on end, I almost forget there is another world outside of the workroom! 
Have you ever struggled to get what you do at work or out of work taken seriously?
I have had a lot of people not understand what it is I do.  They think I just gallivant around with the stars and looking at pretty fabrics, drinking coffee.  It's a very hard job at times, working very long hours, meeting clients' needs and trying to keep enough work coming in.  Even work peers in different areas can really have a misconception of costuming, sometimes coming across that they think they're much more of a professional.  It can be a real struggle to remind people that it takes a lot of years of experience to be able to achieve the results required.
It also happens that sometimes potential clients really don't understand why it costs hundreds of dollars for a made to measure corset, for example, compared to buying a cheap and nasty factory made one.  There can be a general lack of understanding around what it actually takes to design, pattern make, fit, construct, dye, embellish and finish a costume.  That's a lot of hours of work!  Even preparing quotes and meeting with clients is actually a time consuming part of the job, not just funsies to sit around and talk about pretty things!  It's all work, and often hard work!  People can forget that and be very blase about your time, leaving you hanging around when they are a no-show to a booked appointment. 
There is a lot of work that I do “behind the scenes” to get a costume to a level where it is ready to present or shoot.  Even styling a photo shoot isn't as simple as just turning up and dressing someone in a costume.  It can take days to source complementary pieces of clothing for the model/s and extras (if there are any), make accessories, find props, meet with makeup artists to discuss the look and so much more.  There is so much involved in creating the layers that make up a final image.  You may not notice all the details at first glance, but if they weren't there, the picture would look a little bare.   It takes hard work, practice and a good eye to really make it happen.
Your work is very specialized – is this something you’ve learned in an education system or did you fall into it?
I grew up in a creative family and was taught how to sew and many other creative procecsses by my Mother, Grandmothers and Aunty.  I have always been creative and into crafts and making garments, so I have also taught myself a lot by trial and error, research and also learned from my peers.
I have studied a few papers at fashion school, which have been helpful, but really the most I have learned has been self taught and learning on the job.  Gaining skills taught by my colleagues and a whole lot of having to figuring out how to do something and make it work.
What effect has the Internet had on the way that you work?
The internet has become a fantastic way for me to research for designs, learn about and purchase new and hard to find products, connect with other costumiers and corset makers out there and so much more!  It really is an invaluable tool for me every day!  A little addictive and distracting at times, but I would find it hard to be without it now!

What is the biggest, most exciting project you’ve worked on / are most proud of?
To be honest, I think I am lucky in that so many projects that comes along seem to be the next greatest thing I get to do!  I have great clients that come to me with wonderful ideas that they want me to develop which is so exciting!  Every project seems to bring new challenges, new colour combination and fun experiences with new people and old friends!  It can vary so much, especially working between the film world and one on one with clients, it's all fulfilling in different ways. 
One of my favourite pieces I've created purely for the sake of making something I want to, is my 2006 WOW entry, She Looks Good in a Sack. 

Have you got anything exciting in the pipeline that you would like to share with us?
I have many designs that I want to start working on in the coming months.... a couple of clients that have elaborate costumes they want me to design for their performances, as well as a few of my own more costume art pieces that I've been wanting to get out of my system!  Lots of texture, layering and embellishments!  Yum!!!  And then I have a bunch of photographers I want to work with and develop some new shoots!  Exciting!

You can follow Cathy and all her amazing creations here:https://twitter.com/CathyTreeHarris
http://instagram.com/cathytree
http://cathytreeharris.com/
https://www.facebook.com/cathytreecostumier
http://pinterest.com/cathytree/