How did you start off in costume?
Not via the traditional routes. My background is in fashion, pattern cutting and garment construction, but I have been a lecturer for more than 18 years.
What is the best piece of advice you have for students today?
Enjoy the mistakes because they teach you the most. We tell students to sample and test before committing to the final cut and construction of a costume. This leads to in-depth learning and enables them to justify their decisions.
What would you change about training?
Education needs to be less data-driven and focus on the learning and creative processes.
What is the best part of your job?
Seeing students grow in confidence and flourish. It is great to see their achievements at the end of the course and their onward progress to jobs in costume design.
And your least favourite?
Trying to fit so much into a short week; our students have 13 hours of teaching a week. There’s so much more we’d like to teach them.
Which practitioners do you admire most?
Klaus Haapaniemi’s costumes for the opera The Cunning Little Vixen have a folkloric quality that celebrates colour and shape. Our costume construction course was developed alongside the Royal Opera House and students interact with the organisation throughout their study. The high standards of engineering, innovation and construction inspires and motivates them to aspire to become excellent practitioners.
What one skill should every successful costume professional have?
Problem-solving. Costume is often time and budget-driven, which can lead to having to find innovative solutions to make the pieces work.
What makes a costume a ‘costume’ rather than a ‘fashion item’?
Fashion and costume use similar skill sets but in different ways. For me, a costume has to be linked to some kind of performance and used as a tool to tell a story.
Lou Cox is programme leader of the BA (hons) Costume Construction course at South Essex College University Centre