Claire Anderson’s website is a pleasure to surf. She’s designed costumes for all sorts of familiar films, TV series and ads.
Suddenly I realise what an art there must be to dressing someone to look just average, or to fit a certain type of character.
Yet like so many of us, it’s fair to say that Claire more ‘fell’ into her current role, than planned to end up there.
After studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, she set up a studio producing specialist textiles for film and theatre, and she had a full-time job with the Royal Ballet, designing fabric for their scenery and costumes.
Then there was in her words, “a natural progression from putting mud on the boots and blood on the wounds to designing the costumes.”
Happenstance played its role. “I was in a café on the South Bank one Sunday morning –feeling a little grumpy and a bit hung over – and got into conversation with a man sharing the table who turned out to be a producer. He suggested I put myself forward to do the costumes for a TV show on which he was working. So, sure enough, I went along and I’ve never looked back.”
Claire clearly loves what she does. “You get to read the script and invent the cast’s visual identity. You are working with the production designer, who invented this world for them, and you invent a wardrobe and a lifestyle for them."
"If you like clothes, and interested in how people wear them – like I do – there can be few jobs more enjoyable.”
Looking at people you can often see what their life is like a little bit
Though obviously it’s more difficult than it looks. “The biggest challenge is to make it plausible and believable, whatever situation the script dictates."
“Someone asked me recently why a film about the tsunami needed the ingenuity of a costume designer because those poor people were really there; we know what they wore. But the thing is this. We did the drama two years afterwards. We still had to invent, we still had to make up people’s characters.”
“Looking at what people wear you can often see what their life is like a little bit can’t you? You can tell if somebody works in education or somebody works in law.”
“Have you noticed how people who work in fashion and design tend to wear a lot of black? I suppose it’s our way of maintaining our neutrality.” It occurs to me that this kind of work could foster self-consciousness about your own wardrobe, and I notice that Claire is dressed from head to toe in simple black.
I do find the financial side of being self-employed quite daunting
Along the way, Claire moved from employee to being self-employed, but not particularly by choice. ”I enjoyed being on the books, it was a good deal simpler. Being self-employed you have to invoice, you have to negotiate your rate of pay. You have to be more interested in the money side of things.”
“Like most of us I have no trouble spending it, but I do find the financial side of being self-employed quite daunting.”
“Thankfully these days I have an agent who negotiates my rate. She’s the one who says, well, we were expecting a little bit more, and what about the holiday pay? So that’s all handled for me. And I can get on with what I’m paid to do.”
“And even when that’s all sorted, you have to be constantly thinking ahead too. When I’m earning I always make sure I put enough away for at least three months in case - as often happens – I have a fallow period.”
“And of course, you have to make sure you put something away for the tax man too. And there’s not very much support in terms of pension plans or healthcare either.”
“All in all you just have to be a bit serious now and again. Which is hard when what I do is so much fun. But it’s a small price to pay when you consider the many upsides like creative fulfilment, freedom and being in control of your own destiny.”
Claire Anderson is a costume designer, www.andersoncostume.com