Interviews,  Premium

British Costume Designers: A Migration of Talent

From Chris Laverty’s regular column ‘Fabric of Cinema’ for Arts Illustrated magazine, here is an abridged version of the most recently published essay ‘A Migration of Talent’.

The current issue of Arts Illustrated focuses on those that have moved across geographical boundaries to expand the scope of their work. It has long been the norm for costume designers from the UK to relocate, not necessarily permanently, to Hollywood. Their careers have been forged by the demands of the business they compete in. But what would have happened if, say, Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love), or Joanna Johnston (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) had never worked beyond these shores? How would their art have been affected? Could they have been as successful?

Below is an extract from A Migration of Talent. Purchase a copy of Arts Illustrated magazine, either hard copy or online, for the full essay, featuring interview quotes from several costume expats currently working in the U.S:

‘Migration of art is not dependent on migration of the artist. An artist can transfer his or her skills without literally relocating. This ‘partial migration’, for want of a better phrase, inspires the creator to filter their imagination through a fresh perspective while retaining a sense of place and history. Working away from home opens several doors: money, audience, credit. But does this come at the expense of autonomy, the opportunity to follow one’s true vision to fruition? Not for costume designers. British costume designers in particular have made a career of talent migration. They are renowned for their ability to ingest and craft the whims of Hollywood….

“I don’t think I would have had anything like the variety of work I have been privileged to do without working on U.S. funded films” considered Jenny Beavan on her own migration to Hollywood. Beavan is an eight time Academy Award nominated designer who began in the theatre before moving into film with Merchant Ivory Productions in the 1980s. She won the Costume Design Oscar for A Room with a View in 1985; an early 20th century set romantic drama, quintessentially English yet directed by James Ivory, a Californian with Polish extraction, and produced by Ismail Merchant, who was born in Bombay. Virtually all of Beavan’s output is British/colonial, though informed by the cross-migration of talent around her. Without becoming part of the intentional machine she would not have possessed the resources to exploit her full artistic potential.’

Read the entire article with the new issue of Arts Illustrated.

© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.