Visual impact: Union costume designers create iconic Hollywood film, television fashion
BY KATE MOSTACCIO
The Halloween versions of Captain Marvel or Aquaman running around trick-or-treating might not be wearing costumes actually designed by a union member — but the cast who filmed the movies certainly were and those kids’ costumes are based on the real thing.
Sanja Milkovic Hays, the costume designer for Marvel’s Captain Marvel, and Kym Barrett, the designer for DC Comics’ Aquaman, are both members of the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE).
The Costume Designers Guild was founded in 1953 by a group of 30 costume designers, “who found strength in joining forces, responding to the changing needs of the motion picture industry,” according to the guild’s website. Membership in the guild affords costume designers wage and employment protections and gives them a way to fight for fair contracts.
Current membership is around 875 costume designers, commercial costumer designers/stylists, assistant costume designers, and illustrators who work around the world in all genres, from motion pictures to animation to music videos.
From 1953 until 1976, the guild functioned independently, promoting costume designers and negotiating independent contracts with major studios to protect members with a minimum wage and health plan. As membership grew, the guild affiliated with the IATSE, which afforded them better bargaining power and expanded their reach to Canada.
The current president of the guild, Salvador Perez, is the man behind many well-known projects — the television shows “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “The Mindy Project”, and “Castle”; and the feature films “Pitch Perfect” 1 and 2 and “Men of Honor”, to name a few.
The guild provides members with educational and networking opportunities throughout the year, as well as hosts an annual awards program, but this year it is also gearing up for its next contract negotiations, slated to begin in 2020, and it plans to put pay equity at the forefront.
“Costume designers don’t get paid as much as production designers even though what we do is equally important,” Perez said in the Winter 2019 issue of the guild’s publication, The Costumer Designer. “Production designers simply don’t have to deal with actors the way costume designers do. I don’t want to take anything away from production designers and what they contribute, but the media doesn’t talk about the set, or about set decorating. The media talks about costume design.”
The guild’s executive director, Rachael Stanley, thinks people look at costume designing as less skilled than set design or art direction. “They feel because they can dress themselves, anyone can be a costume designer,” she said in the winter issue. “Anybody can put together some clothes and make it look good, but not just anybody can create a character. It’s a very different process.”
Audrey Hepburn, in a 1986 Academy Awards presentation, said it well: “…If clothes make the man, then certainly the costume designer makes the actor! The costume designer is not only essential (but) is vital, for it is they who create the look of the character without which no performance can succeed. Theirs is a monumental job, for they must be not only artists, but technicians, researchers and historians! I am happy to honor these tireless, talented men and women who I have always been inspired by and have so much depended on!”
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