If you’re like me and the millions of other people out there then you caught the season 2 premiere of GIRLS this past Sunday. But what you may not know is that the costume designer, Jenn Rogien, attended Parsons studying in the AAS fashion design program. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jenn about her start in the industry, what she loves about the job and advice for aspiring young costume designers (like myself)!
Lauren Davis: Jenn! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me! I understand you went to Yale for your undergrad and then to Parsons for the AAS fashion program, can you tell me about what led you to here?
Jenn Rogien: I was looking for a way to transition from the corporate world to something more creative. After work, I was sewing for another costume designer who had completed Parsons’ AAS program and recommended it. The AAS program was the perfect way to transition and get concentrated design and construction training.
LD: During your time in school were you able to participate in any internships?
JR: I completed the AAS program in one year so my class schedule was packed and I didn’t have a summer available for internships. (I had studied art as an undergraduate and Parsons’ was wonderful about giving me credit for my undergrad art and art history courses.) I did design an off-off Broadway show during my fall semester and I worked part time as an assistant to a film director while I was at Parsons to gain experience wherever I could.
LD: What made you pursue a career in costume design?
JR: I’ve been involved with costume design since I can remember – I made crazy Halloween costumes when I was in elementary school & junior high, I made clothes for any school project that I could, and in high school I started taking theater classes and fell in love with story telling through costume and makeup. It wasn’t until working with a Broadway costume designer who was guest designing a show at Yale that I realized that costume design could be a full time career.
LD: I know many jobs in film and television are based a lot on networking and experience, how do you feel your time at Parsons and even in your undergrad help prepare you for what you are doing now?
JR: Like any job, film & tv jobs can be based on networking and are definitely based on experience. I keep in touch with so many people that I worked with while a student at Yale and at Parsons. Those friends and classmates have turned into cherished colleagues and advocates. So many of my Parsons classmates have gone on to amazing jobs in the fashion industry and I love keeping in touch with them. It’s also really important to foster good relationships with the teams you work with. You never know when the set production assistant on a job will go on to be a producer on a great big job and be in a position to hire you. I’ve found that treating everyone on a crew with respect goes a long way in forming a great network of colleagues.
LD: How do you decide what each character will wear for a project? Do you work closely with the director to make sure that their vision comes to life?
JR: Creating a look for a character is a constant editing process. Starting from the information in the script, I create inspiration boards for each major character. Then I get notes from the creative team and the director and adjust the characters’ design boards to reflect all of the new information. Once I have casting, I start pulling clothes. I often carry a photo of each character’s board with me on my iPhone for constant reference. Once I’ve pulled enough clothing, shoes, accessories and foundations, I have a fitting with each actor. Those first fittings are where it all comes together – we look at the board, we try loads of things on and we start finding a look for each character. From there I show fitting photos to the creative team and director to make sure we are realizing the character in the way they see it.
LD: What inspires you about costume design? What are some of your favorite aspects of the job?
JR: For me, the most inspiring aspect of costume design is the characters & helping tell the story through clothing. Really getting a character right – doing tons of research, shopping/finding/making just the right pieces, pulling all the looks together for the fittings and then collaborating with the actors in the fitting room to create a character is magic. It’s both challenging and exhilarating.
I have the best job in the world! If I had to narrow it down, my top three are: no two days are ever the same, I get to meet and work with amazing and talented people everyday, and my office is essentially a huge walk-in-closet.
LD: Any advice for students wanting to get into costume design for film and television?
JR: Test drive! Costume deisgn is not an easy gig – the days start insanely early and the hours are incredibly long. Costume design is truly about collaboration – much of the time you are helping to realize someone else’s vision and telling someone else’s story. And for me, costume design is not always about fabulous clothes or “the look.” It’s about character and story and emotion. That can mean unglamorous clothes shopped at dingy thrift stores that make for a great character.
The only way to know if costume design is for you is to try it. Volunteer on a local theater production in your town. Take an intro to costume design course. Intern on a film, tv production, web series, or indie movie. Develop your skills – learn sewing and construction, watch movies as research, study art and history and learn literary analysis. Everything in costume design starts from the script and knowing how to read and break down that script will give you a firm foundation for building characters and telling stories. Lastly, check your ego at the door – the most successful designers I’ve worked with are great collaborators and team leaders who also happen to be brilliant designers with great vision.
Huge thanks to Jenn for taking the time to chat with me! Check out more of her work and be sure to watch GIRLS on HBO Sundays at 10pm!