An academic reflection on Red Riding Hood
The extent of the costumiers craft means that experiential learning, or ‘learning through reflection on doing’ (Felicia, 2011) is essential to a costume makers ongoing professional development. Within the context of your personal project, discuss a number of skills you have acquired or refined as a result of your practice, reflecting upon how your experience of that process has contributed to your development as both a designer and maker. (See Red Riding Hood in my gallery for reference)
Costume, an “ever renewing craft” (Clancey, 2014), reflects upon the changing views of beauty in the everyday world. The designer must be able to anticipate the changes and create designs that step over the boundaries of reality. A designer may do this by asking interesting questions about the brief and the characters in relation to the play, unpicking the reality into something that delves deeper. Often a designer will gain new skills with each project. This is because they have to constantly develop their understanding of design in relation to costuming in order to meet the needs of the surrounding theatre company and audiences alike. Experiential learning is a technique that lends itself to these needs when attempting to gain experience and learn like professional designers. In a recent personal project, where we were given a fairytale character, I was able to put experiential learning into practice in order to develop my skills as a designer and maker. It allowed me to develop my abilities in a variety of areas highlighting how a costumier should be willing to take on opportunities to learn something new. As a designer, most importantly, you must understand these varying skills as the whole process relies on the costume designer. Within their sketchbook, which shows moodboards and design plates, a designer will show the fabric choices, pattern pieces, fit etc (Bjorklund 2017:43). Therefore, being able to understand how to make garments, through a personal project, allows for all aspects to be experimented and understood, allowing for a better craft. Furthermore, a designer must understand and be adaptable to the challenges that come with bringing the costume to life.
This project, to create a costume for a fairy tale character (Little Red Riding Hood), gave much room for individual interpretation in order to design something that would push my own understanding of costume. Specifically, allowing me to explore how a costume can communicate a desired meaning through relevant design choices. The project was based on experiential learning which gave me the chance to create my own brief. I chose design techniques, and in turn making processes, that allowed me to explore “Why is costume, costume? Why is costume not just clothes?” (Barbieri 2017: 2). What Barbieri expresses here, relates to what other critics have explored in the relationship between costume, beauty and the ordinary process of everyday clothing. A costume designer must find their own position in amongst these ideas of costume whilst taking “... into consideration the architecture of the human body...” (Komisarjevsky 1968: 2). Costume design has the potential to be more than just clothes, it can step beyond the ordinary and promote interesting retellings of characters and meaning. Therefore, I felt this brief offered me the chance to find my own position in creating a costume that plays on the beauty of the costuming process whilst also accentuating the “architecture of the human body” and stepping away from the everyday. In order to fulfill this challenge, I had to complete research into the true personality traits of Little Red Riding Hood in order to understand how to express this through a design.
After conducting this, I felt that the details of the research process should express the “... complex relationships between performing bodies and design.” (Bech & Hann 2014:4). This suggests that performance when combined with design realises emotion and meaning in ways that the body cannot do simply by itself. This suggests that a design can present meaning in ways that ordinary clothes cannot. Therefore, this project was a chance to trial out creating a strong sense of performativity simply within the garment. In order to do this, I had to clearly define what details these were. I selected a moment from the Grimms Brothers telling that I felt drew on interesting design opportunities. The point in the story I chose was where Little Red Riding Hood gets manipulated by the wolf to stop her journey and enjoy the beautiful flowers. Due to her naivety, the young girl falls for his mischievous trick and in turn, he is able to leave her and go to her Grandmother’s house. This struck me as a significant moment as the story would not have been able to develop if she hadn’t been distracted. Furthermore, the link in this moment to nature drew resemblance to a version of the story that described Little Red Riding Hood as the sun which provided opportunities to play with colour. In response to all this I drew out a characteristic that I felt should found the basis of my design; playfulness in relation to her age and her naivety in her ability to be easily manipulated by the wolf. With playfulness in mind, I drew back from traditional creations of her costume (a red hooded cloak) and decided to experiment with texture and shape by researching into different kinds of mesh fabric.
Experiential learning allowed me to make interesting decisions in relation to these details as it allowed me to explore different fabric routes and design in an unusual order. Before I started sketching anything, I decided on my fabric and colours. This differs to some design techniques that use the sketching process as a time to decide on these instead. When creating my design plates I knew my fabric choice, my colours, alongside the aim to create the basic shape of a cape to keep Little Red Riding Hood recognisable. In turn, this allowed me to experiment with the use of flowers in the garment to bring her link to nature, and the moment I had found interesting, to life. This brief, combined with experiential learning, allowed me to develop as an individual learner as I was able to experiment with and shape my project to suit my needs to increase my skill set as a designer.
Furthermore, this process also allowed me to develop as a maker and understand working under time pressure and in accordance to a budget, both being useful skills when attempting to understand the needs of a costume maker in professional situations. In the theatre, a costume designer must be able to communicate their ideas clearly to the costume supervisor and the rest of the production team through their design plates and sketchpad; “The sketchbook is not just for your own personal use...” (Seivewright 2007:85). Experiential learning allowed me to work individually but also to explore these communication techniques as a time to practice and improve my skills. I created design plates with precise labels that explained the desired making process such as ‘gathered skirts’ and stating that certain sections would be hand sewn. In previous work completed, I have not always labelled due to being in charge of making the costumes as well. However, I took this opportunity, in relation to the learning process, to improve my ability to communicate my design clearly and successfully.
In addition, when making the costume I was able to make quick design decisions when faced with challenges that led to necessary development. For example, in my design plate I provided an example of the flowers I wished to create by hand to add texture in relation to the story, this example included a template and fabric choices. However, when attempting to create this the flower ended up looking flat and not as texturally interesting as I had planned. I created a series of prototypes in relation to the final product that I had originally envisioned. Through trial and error - a process that lends itself to experiential learning - I found a technique that suited the concept best. This specific learning process highlights how a designer must understand the process of making in order to clearly explain how parts of the costume must be rendered. Reflecting on my work, if my costume design plates were to be given to the supervisor then the finished product would have looked flat and less texturally interesting. Furthermore, the design I created involved decisions that had to be decided by eye. Such as the different lengths of the overlapping skirts which had to be cut on a stand in accordance to the design. This supports the use of experiential learning as if not for the project being so open to experimentation, I would have been left with a completely different costume. One that perhaps did not actually fulfill my design plates. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have had chance to experiment with making in relation to the design as this costuming process was so unique and the two processes went hand in hand with each other.
Looking back on this process I feel that my design decisions successfully impacted the costumes meaning in more ways than I expected. For example, my choice of fabric and decision to gather many skirts together created an almost tutu-like skirt. Not only was this beautiful and architecturally interesting, it also played on the playful clothes of young children. Ultimately, it was down to the experiential learning in relation to an open brief that led to these abilities to reflect on my work successfully. However, in relation to the processes of learning undertaken I feel that my design plate did not accurately describe the finished costume. My colour decisions came after I had drawn my design, despite knowing what fabric I wanted to use. This led to a very different gradient and tone when making the skirt in contrast to my design. Furthermore, the way these colours worked and blended together within the complexity of the skirt structure did not represent the design completely either. However, that also related to my lack of experience with my chosen fabric; not knowing how it hangs, and how the structure of the skirt would change when the net was gathered. Therefore, as a result of experimenting with kinesthetic techniques, I have found that if designing something as extravagant and something so heavily reliant on the meaning behind a character then a designer must be willing to adapt. They must be prepared to work hands on with a supervisor - and the relative makers - in order to create the costume to a high standard.
This project was most successful as the style of learning allowed me to adapt my design ability to trial new ideas and techniques to create an exciting project, which is ultimately what costume design is about (Seivewright 2007:117). Costume, as part of a wider production system within the theatre, must constantly adapt to new processes and styles in order to meet the needs of directors and modern audiences. Therefore, kinesthetic learning allowed me to develop a variety of skills that I would not have learnt within this project if the project had been more structured. This style of learning reflects the processes used in professional theatres as an almost exact replica. In a learning environment, this is a useful way to hone one’s skills in order to prepare for future theatre roles. Good costume designers, and makers alike, must be able to reflect on their work and be willing to learn new skills as they go through their career. Overall, this project has allowed me to develop not only my skills but also my understanding of the learning processes used in the theatre environment. This allows me to be a more successful practitioner as reflecting on your work and adapting as a result is an essential skill when developing within costume. Not only because it is allows you to learn more, but it also allows you to regard the costume world as an art form that is also constantly developing.
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Bjorklund, R. (2017) Costume design in theater. New York: Cavendish Square Publishing.
Clancey, D. (2014) Designing Costume for Stage and Screen.
Komisarjevsky, T. (1968) The costume of the Theatre. New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc.
Seivewright, S. (2007) Basics fashion design 01: research and design. Switzerland: AVA Publishing.
Starling, M. (2013) Little red riding hood - moral warnings and sexual implications. Maya Starling. 6 July. Available online: https://www.mayastarling.com/little-red-riding-hood-moral-warnings-and-sexual-implications/ [Accessed 06/05/2019].