Fancy yourself as a fashion designer wanting to get into film? Then Richard La Motte’s book ‘Costume Design 101’ is the one to get. As he points out in the introduction, he checked the bookshops and realised that there was nothing out there actually showing what was involved from the top down and how to work up from the bottom of the career ladder. No wonder then that this book has reached a second edition. It isn’t just design but all the jobs, including running the entire department and managing the budget. You have to be particularly well organised and realistic to the demands of the job. La Motte has 50 years experience of doing this and you see a lot of his work here as he worked his way up the industry to running the costume department. You also get an insight into the union rules which points out what each job entails in America and principally in Hollywood. La Motte points out that this can vary from country to country but the principles still hold true.
I should point out that this book is not all about the business end of the wardrobe department. A third of the way in, La Motte gets down to design and preparation and how integrated this all is with the other departments. He even goes through the hierarchy and what it means. I didn’t realise until now that the reason a film is called a ‘property’ is because the business administration is based on real estate.
His discussion on costume accuracy holds an interesting balance between director demands and the technical advisor for accuracy and what the public will accept. Added to this is a necessity to have instantly recognisable types of people purely from their clothes or the way they wear them. Some of that is very subliminal but it does demonstrate how are our eyes recognise stereotypes that way.
I would have thought anyone in designing clothes would know at least how to draw figures, although that doesn’t appear to be the case. La Motte does provide tips to get the basics sorted out, not to mention remembering clothes have backs and to include samples or swatches of fabric to show what you intend to the director.
The more I read into this book, the more I am reminded how integral the wardrobe department is to the whole production and how much we take it for granted. You also have to be especially well-organised because it is a serious amount of hard work. I can see how La Motte’s spell in the Marine Corps in his youth probably served him in good stead. You might think the wardrobe department has a big budget but when you divide the cost between key cast and extras, it doesn’t go that far. Being professional throughout is essential. His description on how to get on with the cast and getting them involved in your decisions, showing how their clothes matches with the others is also useful. More so, when key cast can have a tiff and get you fired.
There are some things I learnt along the way. If you have to dirty clothes, Fuller’s Earth is your best friend. I was also interested in seeing how they use powder earth colour paints to add various shades. If you want to know how to remove fake blood stains, make sure when applied that it contains liquid soap.
Although there is only one chapter about television, the wardrobe department there is all about scale and although smaller, it’s also a lot more intensive, especially episode shows.
I can see why this book has been so popular and found it an intense but delightful insight into this part of film production. Although La Motte doesn’t detail too much, I can also see how you can move your way up through such departments to the top if you have the necessary expertise and management skills. My hat is off to La Motte and he’d better take my clothes back to the costume house where he borrowed them from or incur massive fines. We really need this kind of book for all the other departments as well.
(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 199 page illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: $24.95 (US), £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-932907-69-8)
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