Local Film Spotlight: Wearhaus
There’s a lot more that goes into movies than just lights, camera, and action. Those actors don’t just show up looking as glamorous or scary as a scene may call for – there’s days of work that go into making them look just right for the role. Local costume designer, Phaedra Vandenbrun, knows all about the challenges and excitement that go in to making a theatre or film production look its best. Whether she’s digging up just the right garment, or building something to fit the part, she keeps herself busy with her costuming company Wearhaus. In 2007, Phaedra won a Community Theatre Award for outstanding costume design for Morpheus Theatre’s Yeomen of the Guard. If you think you might have seen one of her designs before – you’re probably right. Check out her portfolio here to see some of the places her work has popped up.
How did you get your start in costuming? Do you have a formal education?
Yup! I have a degree in apparel production from Ryerson, I graduated in 1994. From there I was really lucky. During school I got some jobs with a lady who owns a company called Tricksters in Toronto. I was her studio assistant and she made all the masks for Phantom of the Opera at Pantages. So I worked with her, and started learning about prop making, and masks, and I was just really lucky! Then I got started with Shakespeare in the Park with the Canadian Stage Company, as well as a few other things. I didn’t really realize it was what I wanted to do until I graduated.
I had a small business doing historical clothing reproductions for reenactors - mostly 18th century military uniforms. It was fun!
Were you always interested in doing costume design, even as a kid?
You know… no! I wanted to be a fashion designer. I wanted to be the next Coco Chanel.
What started you on to that path?
It really started with the historical clothing. I realized upon graduation that as much as I loved fashion, what I really loved about it was fabric and history. From there, it was just looking for other ways to use that passion, that skillset that I had acquired, to see where else it could take me. It kind of led me off into theatre and film. Slowly. Very slowly. It wasn’t initially what I had thought of. I did watch Amadeus when it came out sometime in the 80s and saw it win an Oscar for Best Costumes and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, you can win an Oscar for costume design!’ It sort of set me then onto that path.
So, walk me through the process once you start working on a film.
It’s usually pretty typical. I get asked, or I then get the script, or meet with the director and other important parties involved. Then I go away – usually, it’s a $0 or very limited budget. So I usually have to try and work with actors’ clothes, what they’ve already got. We try and break down there character – where would this person live? What would this person wear? Where would this person shop? Basically, a character profile. Then you try and work with the budget, and with what the actor has as clothes, and typically in the past we shop at thrift stores to find what we can. There really is no money to make a lot of stuff, so you certainly have to be creative. It’s sort of an organic process – maybe if you can’t get shirt A, maybe then shirt B will do. You communicate a lot with the director to find out what’s good and what isn’t.
There’s also the typical film things you have to avoid, like no stripes and hard edges in your patterns. otherwise the camera bounces.