Set Costumer Carmen Lozano has always been fascinated by the beauty, detail, and history of costumes. She got her start working in theater, an experience she considers to be one of her most artistically fulfilling. From there she began working in costume houses and costume departments, eventually landing her first studio job at Warner Bros before going on to work on iconic TV shows like Star Trek and General Hospital.
Her most creative costuming experience: custom making a prison costume for a dog.
Her most memorable experience: working on Bob Mackie’s Spring 1992 Collection.
Her advice for aspiring costumers: learn to sew and study clothing history.
What do you do as a costume professional?
My career started in October 1988 at Center Theater Group helping to dress people for Halloween. December 1988 through March 1989, I worked at CRC, where I sized garments, did stock (meaning I put garments away by era and color), and used my color theory training to learn to dye garments. In April of ’89, I started at EC2 and was sizing garments, learning to pull orders and learning to write up orders for shows. (In costume houses, costumers get requests for outfits and are given sizes and color schemes to work from; these requests come from other costumers working on TV shows and feature films when there isn’t enough time for the costumers on the shows to pull the orders themselves.)
That led to some theater work in which I altered costumes and added trims, as well as worked as a quick change dresser. I started working at Warner Brothers in 1991 in the costume department, where I learned to barcode and inventory garments using computers. From there, I worked at ABC (on General Hospital), Paramount Pictures and Disney in the costume departments, with work on shows in between as a journeyman costumer. I have been working at Western Costume Company since June 2000, where I continue to use my A.A. degree in fashion design from FIDM and years of industry experience to enter garment descriptions into our huge computer inventory database. Knowledge of fabrics, fibers, style lines, garment construction and costume history are all very valuable and necessary in what I do, as is the ability to work under pressure and having an eye for detail.
What are some of the shows and movies you’ve worked on?
Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, General Hospital, Moesha, Brooklyn Bridge, Little Nicky, Grown Ups, a Barry Manilow Tour
How or why did you get into costuming?
I originally wanted to go into fashion design while studying at FIDM, but I always knew that if fashion design didn’t work out, I would go into costume design (that was my backup plan). I also knew that before I would ever go into costume design, I would learn the basics of costuming and learn my craft. I wanted to work my way up. Had I chosen to go into costume design, I would have wanted to work my way up by working as an Assistant to many experienced Designers in order to learn my craft. I also contemplated becoming a Costume Illustrator as I am trained in fashion illustration.
My first set job was as a journeyman. It was for HBO/ Melkis Productions’ Dream On. I was the second season Set Costumer. I handled principal and background, wrote up the dry-cleaning, did the laundry, prepped the wardrobe and wrapped at the end of the day. The show had just gone union — with concessions. One of the concessions was having ONLY ONE costumer on the show, other than the Costume Designer and Supervisor/Key. The only time I had extra help was during the pilot episode, which was directed by John Landis. This was January through April 1991. That show was the hardest job I’ve ever done as a Set Costumer. I nearly fell asleep several times while driving home on Friday night/Saturday mornings. I’m very proud of my work on it.
How did you educate yourself or get enough experience to get into the union?
I studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (aka FIDM) and I learned to sew while in high school. With my fashion design background, which included sewing, pattern making, draping, fashion illustration and color theory, I had a good basis for a career as a costumer. The next step was learning to apply my training and build upon it by working in costume houses first, and then moving on to wardrobe departments of studios.
Tell us the most creative or original thing you’ve ever done to pull something together on short notice to build or procure a costume. Think McGyver!
I custom made a black and white striped prison costume for a German Shepherd dog while working on a USC student film (one of my first costuming projects). The costume was part of a fantasy/ dream sequence. I literally had to measure the dog and try to drape muslin on his body to get a reasonably decent fit.
What is your most memorable experience working in the business?
Working on Bob Mackie’s Spring 1992 Collection was one of the highlights of my career. I could easily have gone into Women’s Custom Made if I had so desired. Seeing his incredible creativity at work, live, and using his professional runway models was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had never worked so hard at sewing in my life (using pliers to pull needles through layers of fabric and horsehair), and dealing with deadline pressure, but it was worth it. I was truly honored to have had Ret Turner ask me personally if I was available to participate in this endeavor, as we bumped into each other while at ISW. I knew Mr. Turner from my employment at E.C.2, which was affiliated with Elizabeth Courtney, which was where Bob Mackie, Ray Aghayan and Ret Turner worked. It was an honor to even be considered to work on Mr. Mackie’s runway show collection.
The other most memorable and meaningful experience was one that paid the least amount of money compared to my other costuming jobs: I worked as a Dresser in a production of Taming of the Shrew for a small theater company in Palos Verdes. Working with the actors and feeling so connected with them and with the audience was a very special, unique and rewarding experience. Working in theater is one of the most rewarding experiences a costumer can ever have. I highly recommend it. It won’t pay the bills, but you’ll learn to work quickly, handle pressure and use a variety of costuming skills. .
What do you love most about your job?
I love seeing and handling the clothing and accessories. I love seeing the actual color schemes from the 1920s and 1930s, for instance, when most films were shot in black and white, giving us very little concept of what colors people actually wore in their garments. I love seeing the construction techniques used many years ago, and the vintage “AFL-CIO Union Made” garment labels from a bygone era. I love looking at a man’s 1927 tailcoat and seeing the name of the man for whom it was made and tailored, with his name and the actual month, day and year of completion tucked inside the inner right front chest pocket. I love seeing authentic women’s jewelry from the 1930s through 1960s. I love seeing incredible unique vintage buttons on period women’s coats and dresses. A vintage button can sometimes be more impressive than the garment itself! It’s one thing to see costume/garment history in books; it’s quite another to see it in person and handle it with your own hands and fingers. I travel through time via garments and accessories, and I don’t need a time machine to do it!
Do you have any advice for someone starting out who wants to be a costumer?
Learn the basics of sewing. Learn something about costume history. Develop and nurture an eye for detail. Learn about fabrics and what different fabrics are called and how they behave. Example: A silk chiffon ‘behaves’ or drapes differently from a silk or rayon velvet, which drapes or ‘behaves’ differently from cotton pique, and so forth. If you want to work on shows and be a Set Costumer, at least learn the basics of sewing on a button, fixing a loose hem and restitching a splitting seam. Be willing to function as a TEAM PLAYER and leave your ego at home. Making films, TV shows and commercials (and working in theater!) is a collaborative process. Everyone works together individually to create a final product. You must be able to work successfully with a variety of people and have a good, flexible personality.