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Billie Miró Breskin

As Brown Fashion Week comes to a close, the final events of the speaker series have been underway. Among them was a panel of costume designers Jenny Beavan, Mary Jane Fort, and Paul Tazewell. Interviewed by Madison Hough, a Brown senior, the speakers shed light on their paths to costume design and creative processes.

Tazewell grew up wanting to be a performer, but his plan shifted while attending the Pratt Institute in New York. He transferred to the costume program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and subsequently studied at New York University’s Tisch School. For twenty-five years, Tazewell primarily designed for the stage. Most notably, he created the costume designs for the hit musical Hamilton, for which he won a Tony Award. Recently, he applied his expertise to film, earning an Oscar Nomination for his designs for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.

Fort  studied fine arts in college, and following her education moved to New York, wanting to work in fashion. Similar to Tazewell’s change in direction, after Fort worked on a film, she fell in love with the medium and decided to pursue costume design. Since then, she has created iconic costumes for films such as Bring it On and Mean Girls. Fort shared that she recently designed costumes for an upcoming ballet, and would like to design for Broadway in the future.

At a young age, Jenny Beavan fell in love with live theater but unintentionally fell into working in film. She has worked on over fifty films, designing for period dramas and space odysseys alike. Her incredible costumes have won three Oscars (for A Room with a View and Mad Max: Fury Road, (both shared with John Bright) and, for Cruella), along with three BAFTAs and a Tony. 

After the designers described their starts in the industry, Hough asked which of their projects were the most rewarding. Beaven, although she declined to name a favorite, spoke of A Room with a View and Mad Max. She was delighted by the drastic differences between the two projects, saying that her joy in her work and the fun of the industry lie in how different each project is. When asked if she had a favorite, Fort said she couldn’t pick; “they’re like your children,” but she appreciated them all. Tazewell had kindred remarks, sharing that “it is about the experience of the collaboration.”

Subsequently, the conversation moved on to the designers’ approaches to a new project. All three described an in-depth process of research, collaborative discussion, and poring over the script. Whereas fashion is about the garment, Beavan stated, “what we do is all about the story.” Working in service of those stories, the designers put together copious lists and mood boards,  expressing the energy of each character and scene through clothing. 

When questioned at the end of the event about what advice they might offer to someone starting out, the speakers collectively shared a message of dedication. Beavan and Tazewell advised young designers to become proficient with the physical skills and knowledge needed to design and create clothing. Fort put her advice plainly: “you have to want to do it, and want to do it very badly.”

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