So, everyone who’s just joined us, we are interviewing Immy Brown, (Imogen Brown), today. Immy is costume maker and costume supervisor and wardrobe manager, and she’s also a recent graduate from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama where she did the BA Theatre Practice Costume Construction.
So, how’s life been since you graduated? It seems like you’ve been really busy.
Life’s been wild! It was a bit scary to start with. I think doing, like, the last term, no exhibition, or anything like that, it kind of just – everything that you thought you were gonna do just didn’t happen. So, I was in this kind of, like, ‘Oh my God, I feel like I’ve lost, like, the best term of my life!’ All this kind of, you know – graduation, everything.
Yeah it was so frustrating, wasn’t it?
Yeah. And then I moved home, I got a job in a fabric shop, because that was kind of the only job that was out there. But since 2021, it’s all just turned over, like, a new leaf I feel, and I had a really amazing internship at the beginning of the year, and I’m now working with the National Youth Theatre!
With National Youth Theatre?
Yeah, so, I’m now costume supervising one of their shows that they’re doing later this year, so that’s very exciting as well!
Thank you so much, thanks!
That is so exciting! Can you talk a bit about how you got involved with National Youth Theatre?
So, it was all actually through Cara Evans, who’s designing the show. She recommended me; we’d kind of worked in the same vicinity at Central. She was working on one show, I was working on another, and she – they just said, you know, is there someone you can recommend who you’d like to work as costume supervisor? And she recommended me! So, it was all through some of the contacts I made at Central, which was really, really nice to be fair, to kind of feel like some of it had paid off.
Oh that’s fantastic! It seems like – I mean, obviously, The Tiring House is based around that whole system, you know, of word-of-mouth recommendations and how that is used in the industry, so it’s proof of it right there: it seems like you got connected with a lot of the work that you’ve done this year through people you knew at Central – is that right?
Yeah, yeah, so, a lot of the work that I’ve done has been through Central. Early last year as well, I got a gig as a costume designer on on a feature film through the graduates.
Was that ‘Venice at Dawn’?
Yeah ‘Venice at Dawn’, which was really exciting! That was through Sophea [Bailey], who’s a graduate of Central on the Costume course. She kind of, like, got the director [Jamie Adams] to put all his faith in this third year costume student to design the whole film, and he was like ‘Sure’! So, that was really good.
But, like, contacts are everything, and I just, they’re like – I’ve been really lucky to kind of benefit from that, especially, like, at the moment with everything that’s going on, I feel really lucky that Cara was able to kind of let them know.
It’s amazing when things go through like that. And especially as you said, during this time, being able to find any kind of projects in the industry that you really want to work in is pretty amazing. Such great news, I’m so happy for you!
Thank you, thank you so much!
So, can you talk a bit about how you first became interested in costume making? Because I know you’ve transitioned from being a making student into doing supervision and design and things like that, but how did all of your interest in that start?
So, I did a lot of theatre when I was at school in my sixth form, and while I was there, we did something called Stage Crew, which was like a – you had to do it as part of school but it was like you kind of choose what area you wanted to go into. So, I chose theatre and then within that I chose costume, and I did some of the school shows that we did there, got to do some of the making for the shows and also a bit of, like, wardrobe management as well. So, when I applied to the course, my teacher at the time had done a course at Central, and she said the courses at Central were really, really good. And the really good thing about the Central course is that it’s like a making course. It’s a purely like – it’s a construction course, which a lot of them are, you know – a lot of them are very design-based, very kind of, you know – it’s all thinking about things but you don’t actually make stuff, where it was really good that this was a course where I could learn to make. So, I kind of really wanted to do something at university where I could get a lot out of it and get a lot of practical skills, because I didn’t have loads of practical skills. So, I got onto the making course, was really passionate about getting onto it, got onto it, and then while I was there – I love the making, and I think that kind of being a maker was something that I’d never really thought about so I kind of just gave it a go at the beginning, and I learnt so many new techniques that I’d never even learnt before like pattern-drafting, pattern-making or that kind of stuff. But then, once it kind of got into personal projects and deciding what you wanted to do, my tutor recommended me to go and be an assistant supervisor on a show that was going to go on tour to Leicester.
Was that ‘Permanent State of Emergency’?
It was ‘Lost Empires.’ So, this was in my second year, so my first personal project, and she kind of just said, ‘I recommended you, I think that your skill-set could be really suited to this’, and I did it, and I absolutely, like, just fell in love with it. I was working with an amazing designer called Alison Cartledge, and she kind of just, like, inspired me into supervision, and, you know, and that side of it. And I never really knew what it was before. I did the tour, did the wardrobe management, and then from there really – yeah, that’s kind of how it happened. And then, I’ve moved a bit back into making over the last, you know, the last couple of months, but I just kind of think that wardrobe management and supervision is kind of where I want to be. And it was just through trial and error, like, I never would have known!
You know, I think that’s one of the things that’s exciting about costume, is once you kind of find one path into it, all these other paths are opened up, and you have skill-sets that you can kind of lend to all the different areas. So, you know, my path into it was as a designer, but I’ve also done supervision, and, like, costume crafts – I worked in a dye shop for a while. And you just, kind of – people just offer you opportunities based on the skill-set that you already have, and you gain new ones and find new directions. So, I’m sure you’ll have many jobs that you think, ‘I never thought I would do this, but now I love it!’ So, it’s great that you found supervision kind of in that same way.
Yeah, definitely! And I think that’s the case with a lot of costume and theatre especially. There’s not often the budget for, you know, there’s not often the budget for a costume supervisor, a costume maker, a costume designer, so you find a lot of the jobs are kind of, ‘We just need a costume person’, and then once you get on the project you’re like, ‘Oh, so, I’m doing all of these different jobs’. Which, you know, on a huge scale project would be all different people, but you end up doing everything, so you end up learning about everything.
Yep, you wear all the different hats.
Yeah, and you kind of have to. Like, you know, I like designing, but I don’t love it. But sometimes, if you want to do the supervision bit, you’ve got to do the designing. If you want to do the making, you’ve got to do the designing, too. So, I think you’ve kind of got to be a bit flexible. Which is good, though, you know, because you learn lots of different skills, which is great.
Yeah, and every day is different, you never get stuck doing the same thing all the time.
Oh definitely, definitely.
How was it designing? Because I know you did designing on ‘Venice at Dawn’, so how do you find kind of branching into design and how has it kind of influenced your perspective on the designer and maker or the designer/supervisor relationship?
Yeah, I think I struggle with designing in that, I think, just the way that my brain works, it’s – I find it quite difficult to kind of get those initial ideas flowing. I’m very indecisive, so I struggle to kind of, like, ‘this character’s gonna be like this, this character’s gonna be like that.’ But especially, you know, specifically with the ‘Venice at Dawn’ project, Jamie, who was the director, was really, really amazing in kind of collaborating with me and saying, ‘Oh, I kind of think maybe we should go in this direction’, you know, ‘I’m kind of seeing this as a kind of person’. And it doesn’t have to be someone telling me, like, ‘I think this person should wear trousers and this person should wear a dress’, you know. All it would have to be is, like, working with the director to kind of say, ‘Okay what kind of person is this? Is this someone who’s well off? Is this someone who, kind of, you know, works all day and all night? You know, are they quite a lazy person?’ And that’s all I need to kind of get the ball rolling and thinking, ‘Okay, right, what can I do?’ And then using loads of reference images, loads of research. I find that research is such a big thing for how I work as a designer, getting loads of reference pictures and sending them across to actors, sending them across to the director. And I love working in a team, I really, you know, I really love working with people. So, to be able to kind of make my design process a collaborative one is something that I think is really important.
And I think it’s often, kind of – as a designer, I think a lot of pressure is often put on you to make all the decisions. So, kind of, you’re the decider, you can’t, you know, – your say is it, that’s it. When actually, you know, a lot of people have amazing ideas, and if you’re able to use them, and if you’re able to kind of pick their brains about things, that’s the great thing and then, you know, you make a decision from there. And then, you know, because – the designer/supervisor roles are kind of so intertwined, being able to then take your own designs and supervise from that is often quite easy. Because if something goes wrong with the budget or fitting then you can kind of ‘go to the designer’ which is yourself! And just be like, ‘Okay what do you want to do about it?’ So, I think often it’s, you know – it makes the process quicker. And with ‘Venice at Dawn’, I had like a week to source, fit, get all the costumes together, so the fact that it was just me…
That sounds very classic film.
Yeah, classic film! It was just me, and I could just get down, do it, and make all the decisions and that was so easy. But, then again, you know, I’ve worked with some amazing designers.
Yeah so you get the best of both worlds then.
Yeah, yeah! So, I like designing, but I think it if it was to get on more bigger scale projects, I think me, personally, I just, I’d struggle a bit. So, I think it’s really good for people to learn and understand about supervisors and the kind of role that that is because it’s often, like, you can only be a designer: if you can’t design, you’re not gonna make it, and you’re not gonna be involved, when that’s not the case.
Yeah, it’s not true at all. There are so many positions that you can have in the costume world that kind of have equal creative satisfaction, I think. It makes sense to me that you – it makes sense that you would enjoy supervision for that kind of collaboration, because you’re collaborating with the designer but also with all the makers and assistants and the wardrobe team. I mean, you worked with the hair and makeup when you were my supervisor on ‘Boudica’ [at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama], and so you kind of got to have collaboration with every aspect of the costume team on that show while I was off, you know, having conversations with the director or making the set or whatever! So, you were really – you were really kind of the heart of that costume team and got to collaborate with everyone.
Yeah, definitely as well. And I think often, you know, like you said, designers are often in charge of set and costume as well, so it’s really important to have a supervisor who is there to kind of, like, take over – not take over but, you know, like, keep the ship running, keep the costume ship running while the designer needs to go and work on set or be in rehearsals. You have to kind of work with them so closely that you can be in their mind and know like what they would think about certain things and make decisions from that. So, that’s a part of supervision as well, that you kind of become really close with the designer so that you can kind of, you know, be their right hand.
Exactly! They need to be able to trust that when they leave the room, that if someone comes to you with questions about – that you can make a decision basically on their behalf and that it will be the right decision. And I think that’s when you know that you have found a great costume supervisor: when you know that that person can just be left in charge. And I always felt that with you on ‘Boudica’, like, you know, ‘Immy can you go pull all this stuff and make it look nice’, and then it would just happen! So, you know, I think that it’s a really specific skill to be able to, as you say, get into the mind of a designer and really know the show in and out as well as they do.
So, how has it been – I was so excited to see your work for Harris Reed’s collection! I thought that was just incredible work and such a high-profile kind of project to be involved with, it’s so exciting! Can you talk about how you got involved with that and what it’s been like working in fashion as opposed to working in entertainment?
Yeah! So, it was kind of, it was just a bit of a fluke, really, I suppose, because I, you know, I follow him and I follow his work and he – I’ve always really admired what he does and how he designs and, kind of, his message about gender fluidity and stuff like that. So, I was just on Instagram one day, and he posted something on his story saying, you know, ‘We’re looking for some interns, if you want to be an intern, email us at this email address’. So, I did, and this was in, this was originally in November, and I got an email back saying, ‘You were free on these dates’, and I was like, ‘Yes, of course I’m free on these dates!’ I was literally, you know, ‘I’ll take it, if you want to interview me, you know, I’ll be there no matter what!’ I was still in Birmingham at the time and then literally, like, the day after they sent that email, the country went into the second lockdown. And they were like, ‘Right, everything’s closing for a month, like, nothing can happen’, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, of course this happens.’ Literally the day after my dream job gets – like, basically, you know, I get asked if I can do these dates on my dream job. And then once the month was over they really, you know, I was so happy when they emailed back and basically said, ‘Could you do a month-and-a-half at the beginning of the year from January? If you can, you know, we’d love to have you for an interview’. So, I had my interview with Harris and his amazing assistant, Phoebe, and yeah, then I got it from there, really! So it was kind of a – you know, a lot of people would say that fashion, you know, you have to know everybody, but I – literally, it was a case of sending a cover letter, sending my CV, having an interview and that’s how I got it.
So getting hired on talent!
Yeah! And I loved every single second of it. It was the most amazing experience. It was wild – I mean, it was non-stop, I was constantly doing stuff, constantly making, really busy, but that’s what I thrive on! I absolutely love kind of that high-energy, high-octane stuff. I was involved for the whole process, you know, right from the very beginning, kind of through the toiling process, the first fittings, kind of developing the designs all the way up until the final shoot day and sending the costumes off to the PR office.
You were pattern-making and cutting, is that right?
Yeah, so, I kind of went in as a maker because that’s what they needed, and I could make so I was like, ‘I’m gonna – you know, I’ll use my skills’. And I was really lucky that the designers were so – you know, they were really into including me in the process. So, I was pattern-drafting, we were adapting patterns that he already had from garments that he, you know, he loved and wanted to use again. We also used quite a lot of vintage pieces, so I was in charge, I basically, well, my main thing was the finale look which was the wedding dress, and for that he used a vintage wedding dress that he’d found in a charity shop, and we cut it up and we added things. We created this, like, inner leotard thing that went under it, I made a corset that was then attached to the inside of this, you know, old wedding dress, and that’s what we used for the final piece.
So, it was kind of a load of different making techniques and it, you know, I was thrown back into the making, which was exciting but also a bit scary! But, I think, because it was such an intense month of time, I was kind of – couldn’t even think about it. I was just like, ‘Do it, do it, do it’. And it was just it was so much fun, and I think the thing I was most surprised about is that it wasn’t that different to theatre in kind of the timeline that we had especially. And, you know, I’m sure it’s different if you’re doing it in a normal circumstance, but because we couldn’t – you know, there wasn’t a catwalk, it was a fashion – it was a film at the end, that we were going to do.
Was London Fashion Week online?
Yeah, so, it was all online, there were no in-person – because it was kind of during the lockdown period, there was no in-person catwalks, so Harris chose to do a film instead of filming a catwalk. He kind of said, ‘Let’s just make this amazing film which has a real big message behind it about, you know, being who you are and transforming into what, you know, who you truly are. Let’s do a limited collection of six looks, which is really doable, let’s do them to a really, really high standard and then make this amazing film from it.’ So, the timeline was very similar to that of a theatre production because, you know, you’ve got your fittings, you’ve got to make it fit your model, then you get, you know, then you meet your stylist, you’ve got all the hair and makeup people, and then on the day it’s – you’re dressing, you’re steaming, you’re laundering, you’re making sure everything fits the model perfectly, ready for them to be filmed. So, I was kind of in my element, and I was really lucky in that sense, because I think if it had been a catwalk I maybe would have thought, ‘Oh god, I don’t quite know what I’m doing here’, because I really don’t know much about fashion at all. But that fact that it was a film, I was much more confident about it.
Yeah it was a familiar world.
Yeah, and I was lucky. Yeah, I think I was really lucky with how amazing it was. A very good fashion experience.
Well, it sounds – it sounds brilliant. And, I mean, what a great connection for you as you move forward, because I know Harris Reed is just kind of becoming a name with the Harry Styles dress [in the December 2020 issue of US Vogue] and everything. So, that’s an amazing connection for you, especially given how recently you graduated, it seems like you’re just breaking into all of these really exciting – you’re doing fashion and theatre and film kind of all in the last, you know, year, which is just – I mean, congratulations, what an achievement!
I know, it’s kind of – I feel like it’s also a bit of, just not being – because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, you can’t really afford to be that picky.
Just snap up opportunities as they come.
Yeah! And you never know, really – I think, you know, that’s the amazing thing is that I never – you know, I could never have imagined myself in fashion, ever, and there I was, like, talking to – you know, in a stylist fitting, being like, ‘I’ve no idea what a stylist fitting is, but I’m just gonna go with it and see how it goes!’ And it was fine, and I really loved it, and it was just like being in with a designer! So, that was so surprising but so amazing.
Yeah, I mean, you’re always gonna be, I think, you know – if you’re willing and open to taking opportunities, even if they’re kind of intimidating opportunities, I think you will often be surprised at how well-adapted you are for them, and I think that is, you know, a great example to follow for other recent graduates: that you just, kind of, as you’re doing, take whatever opportunities come in your way and put yourself out there for opportunities, too, and you never know what might happen.
Yeah, definitely, just like that. You know, that’s what I learned from being a graduate, you know, we kind of had a whole year taken away from us, you know, before this thing in January, I didn’t have anything since last March, so, just put yourself out there and I was like, ‘Oh just go for it’. And nothing can be worse than the last year, so that’s kind of how I’m thinking about it!
It’s uphill from here!
Yeah, you know, nothing can be worse than not doing anything and kind of feeling so sad at home that you’re not even able to do anything. So, I think just being able to take whatever comes your way is just such a good thing to do and it’s something that I’ve definitely just taken onboard, is just, no matter what, just have faith that you’re qualified and you’ve done a degree, and no matter what, you’ll be okay. And, I think, most people, you know, especially from my course at Central, I think most people will be able to do a lot of things in costume, because again, you know, like we were saying before, costume blends so easily. There’s so many things that you can do that you probably didn’t even realise that you could do with your costume knowledge and your costume skills.
Completely. Well, it’s great advice, and, you know, just thank you so much for coming and speaking with us today! It was so great to hear what you’ve been up to and I’m just so happy for you that things are going so well, and I can’t wait to see what you keep doing.
Thank you! And I think what you’re doing is so good as well, with The Tiring House, I think. I think having a network of costume people is something that isn’t really out there, and quite often, you know, you’ll see like Facebook groups and random people being like, ‘I need – I think I need someone who’s -’, you know, ‘are there jobs out there for people who breakdown costumes, are the jobs out there for -’, and no one realises that there are people who specialise in those amazing things! And to have a way of connecting those people – yeah, having a way of connecting those people is so incredible. So, I think, you know, what you’re doing is really, really good, and it will be amazing for people going into the costume industry to kind of find other people who, you know, do what they need, which is so important.
Aw, thanks. Thank you, Immy!