Building a costume career

 29 March 2012

Fay Fullerton is Head of Production Costume at The Royal Opera House. She describes how she got into the industry, with advice for people wanting to get into costume careers.

"When I started my training at the London College of Fashion, my thought was just clothes, fashion, high street fashion.

"Then we started studying the history of costume, and I knew instantly I wanted to make, to be involved in the process of period costumes, every type of costume that was seen onstage. I wanted it to be seen by many many people and for it to remain as part of a rep for many years."

Working in production costume

"Production costume deals with all the new productions as well as some of the revivals. We have a men's workroom and a women's workroom, head cutters, a dye department, hats and jewelry, a big stockroom, a fabric library, and also a very large room where designers and designer's assistants put the show together.

"I wanted to make, to be involved in the process of period costumes, every type of costume that was seen onstage."

"No two days are ever the same in my job. It varies so much. Some weeks we've got rehearsals onstage, we're doing fittings every week.

"There is a day-to-day running which is invoices, dealing with staffing issues. So no two days are ever the same.

"The designers that work with us at the Royal Opera House are brought in by the director or the choreographer. They have a team of designers to create the look in the style of what they're choreographing or directing.

"They'll come up with their design ideas, and that has to be passed by the choreographer or the director. The next process is for us to prototype it and sample it. The process normally takes about 18 months."

Roles in costume production

"In the women's workroom, there is:

  • a women's head cutter
  • an assistant to the head cutter
  • four different grades – from grade one to four – costumier that works with the cutter and the cutter's assistant.

"Just keep pushing. If you're passionate enough about it, you'll always get there."

"In the men's workroom, we have:

  • the head tailor
  • the assistant tailor
  • five tailors from grade one to five.

"And then the dye department, we have four dyers – the head dyer and three assistants.

"Hats and jewelry, there's the head of that department with three assistants.

"The stockroom's got the head of stockroom, which looks after all the stocks that we need for the show – of course basic stocks, because most of our fabrics for each show, we have to order in.

"The costume supervisor works with the designer and the designer's assistant, as well as buying all the fabrics, organising all the fittings for the show, writing up the costume description list, and there's a bible which correlates all the information of the show."

Costume work experience

"Our training process within the Opera House is we have a very large work experience program. Just in the costume department, we take in over 45 students every year, and we interview every student.

"When we advertise jobs for costumier or jeweler or dyer within the department, sometimes the work experience student that we've had previously is on our list after they qualify from whatever college they're being taught.

"By having these students in, it gives us an opportunity to see and to earmark the ones who have really taken it on board and are very talented and desperate to be in an establishment like this.

"The advice I would give to any student who wants to work within the costume industry is to find a course which is going to give you the maximum, and to get as much work experience as you possibly can. Just keep pushing, and be as positive as you can, and I think if you're passionate enough about it, you'll always get there."

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