'Downton Abbey's Costume Designer On 5 Things You Need To Make It In The Industry

by Aoife Hanna
Aoife Hanna

Imagine a period drama without its beautifully dressed cast. It just wouldn't be the same would it? As the Oscars website explains: "Costumes are a storytelling tool, communicating subtle details of each character's personality and history quickly and economically to the audience." It continues: "They help actors leave their own personalities behind and become new and believable people on screen." But getting into costume design can be a bit of a mystery.

Apart from the laborious processes involved in getting a cast suited and booted for a production, many don't even know where to begin when it comes to potentially working in costume design. Meaning that even though it might appeal to you, it could also seem like the most inaccessible career ever. But you know what, dare to dream.

I spoke to Anna Robbins, an award winning costume designer best known for creating the spectacular outfits seen in one of the most beloved period dramas in recent times — Downton Abbey. I got her tips for getting into costume design. Here are some invaluable tidbits of advice to swallow up and hopefully you'll be getting your hands dirty in no time.

1.Think About What You Want To Do

When discussing the industry as a whole, Robbins was quick to inform me that all sorts of skills, roles, and responsibilities within the costume design industry.

"I think what's totally incredible about my team is the amount of skills my team has and how diverse those skills are", Robbins explained. "It depends on where you want to end up and what your goals are."

Robbins lists millinery, design, research, tailoring, and sewing among some of the many options, so do some research and think about which area appeals to you the most.

Passion Is Crucial

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Although there's a lot to be said for tertiary education and learning more about things you're passionate about, Robbins says that higher education isn't necessary.

"I don't think you need a degree or to have studied the history of fashion", Robbins tells me. "I do think you have to be passionate about it, I think you have to love it."

So worry thee not if you're thinking about a career change and the thought of the cost of getting back into education makes you shudder. There are other ways.

Being Observant Is A Must

Looking at what makes people tick, why they choose to dress as they do, and what that says about them is essential to creating costumes that seamlessly fit the character who wears them.

"I think you have to be a keen observer of people in the modern day", Robbins explains. "Because you're applying the same skills when it comes to character traits and how people put clothes together."

Robbins adds that, "the ability to tell stories through clothing translates, then, across times and genres and going into fantasy. As much as you work in period costume."

A Strong Work Ethic Is Vital

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In an industry which is so competitive, challenging, and filled with people keen to get involved — ambition and being willing to slog it out are a must. Robbins explained the hours are long and the work is draining.

"I think you need to have passion, dedication, and a real work ethic", she tells me. "This industry isn't for the faint hearted but you just need to just get in there and do it."

You Have To Keep Learning All The Time

The varied nature of the industry, as Robbins tells me, means that not only is there lots of room to grow but also to diversify if needs be.

"There's a huge variety of skills. You could dedicate your entire career to one aspect and always be striving to be better at it. Then you could decide to take on a different skill."

Robbins' love and deep passion, bordering on the obsessive, with fashion and costume is palpable. Her infectious joie de vivre while speaking about it is so inspiring. She even went as far as to say, "whenever I'm stressed, I'll trim a hat or do some sewing to relax because I find it really therapeutic." Who knows, maybe her incredible abilities and passion might well be the push you need to consider a career in costume design.

The Downton Abbey film will be available in the U.S. on Digital Nov 26 and Blu-ray/DVD on Dec. 17, 2019. UK fans will have to wait until Jan. 27, 2020, for the Blu-ray/DVD release.