The thing about the digital age is that we’ve become used to instant gratification, and visibly seeing a reaction thanks to social media and immediate likes and comments.
But Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming is proof that not everything needs to be obvious. In fact, in her line of work, when people don’t pay particular attention to a costume, it means she’s done a good job.
“Often, a costume designer’s job isn’t visible,” Hemming tells Young Post after a Bafta masterclass on costume design. “If you’ve done a good job, the audience won’t pay much attention to the costume, they’ll accept it as part of the character and story.”
Hemming thinks that audiences aren’t always aware of how collaborative a costume designer’s work is, or what their work is at all.
In fact, a costume designer needs to work with the make-up artist, hair stylist, lighting technician, cameraman, and production designer – to name but a few – as well as the actors to decide the look of a character.
It’s all about creating a person that is believable on screen or stage, and understanding how another technician’s job affects your work.
“Make-up, hair and costume must be in symphony or it’d look wrong,” Hemming explains. “Lighting also affects costume, because what colour lights you shine on something, or the kind of light you’re using, changes everything. The camera used changes everything as well. A costume designer has to understand all that.”
Today, Hemming has the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy under her belt, along with five Bond films, 2014’s Paddington, and next year’s Wonder Woman. But Hemming was a nurse before deciding upon a career in costume design. And when she took on her first job, which was at a theatre, she had no idea what she was doing.
“I got this job, which was very badly paid – in fact, almost no pay at all – and offered to do everything myself. Sewing, cutting, drawing, making, washing, ironing ... I did everything and hoped I was doing it right, as a young person should.”
Doing everything didn’t bother Hemming, who feels that’s just the way it should be when you’re starting out in your career. What does bother her is that career options aren’t as free for today’s youth as they were for her.
“Young people now are generally channelled into making a decision much too early, and it’s sad. [When I was a student] we felt we were researching life, instead of being forced to do one thing. If someone is passionate about something they weren’t trained for, it would be good for them to be able to do it without feeling the need to have degrees or qualifications.”
In her industry particularly, Hemming thinks young people aren’t always aware of what options are available.
“When there isn’t a proper understanding of what different technicians [on a film] do,” she says, it’s hard for people to consider going into the field. But Hemming hopes to help them understand.
“It’s become a mission for me to try to tell children that there are these options.”
Costume designer confessions:
- In the Batman trilogy, whenever Batman was riding his Batpod, Hemming put Christian Bale in a cape that’s shorter than the cape he wears in other scenes, “otherwise it’d be too long and (Batman) would kill himself.” Coincidentally, Hemming loves The Incredibles, and Edna Mode’s “no capes!” policy.
- When Hemming got the call asking her to do a Bond film, she said yes thinking it was a friend pranking her. On the day of the meeting, she was so nervous about the meeting that her friend had to drive her. Then, she ripped her shirt as she was getting out of the car. While waiting to meet the film producers in her torn shirt, a “nice lady” offered her a cup of tea. Once she got into the boardroom with her tea she noticed one empty seat right in the middle ... until the “nice lady” sat in it: it was legendary film producer, Barbara Broccoli!
- To give James Bond a more international look that would allow him to blend seamlessly into any crowd, Hemming costumed him in suits made by Italian menswear brand, Brioni. After Hemming left the franchise, Brioni was replaced by Tom Ford, which Hemming thinks is a little too fitted for the action packed role.
- For 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral starring Hugh Grant, Hemming had such a small budget to work with that many guests for the four weddings were outfitted in hats and costumes she and her assistants found in second-hand stores across England.
- For a modern-day production with everyday clothes, Hemming says people don’t think she does any work. But the actors and actresses must still be costumed in a way that suits their personality, character, and setting. A studio head once said to Hemming, “My wife loves shopping, she can do your job.”