Film costumer makes a living fitting the stars
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Canadian costume designer Alex Kavanagh has gained international praise for her shopping skills — and she doesn’t have to feel guilty about it.
Kavanagh, 35, who has worked on over 30 movies, knew that she wanted to be involved in fashion ever since she started making outfits for her Barbie dolls when she was younger.
She went to Dalhousie University to take costume studies, a program that allowed her to the learn ins and outs of theatre costume design from sewing and dying fabric to the history of corsets and 18th century theatre. She’s taken her fashion obsession and costume design to the silver screen, and works as a costume designer for major motion pictures.
“I sometimes go through friends’ closets,” Kavanagh admits. “It’s easy to dress people when you have the right fitting clothing. I can get a lower priced suit or jacket and make it look like a million bucks with a little tailoring.”
Her first gig after graduation was at the esteemed Neptune Theatre where she was a cutter for the 1992 production Lend Me A Tenor.
Kavanagh has worked her way up the ladder by word of mouth, working with then-unknown actor Adrian Brody in the 1997 film The Undertaker’s Wedding. She’s worked on the upcoming thriller Saw III and now, she’s working with Giorgio Armani and has flown to Milan to fit the perfect wedding dress for Sienna Miller’s next movie, Camilla.
With her busy schedule, sometimes Kavanagh can’t always jet set across town from store to store for that special blouse or unique tie.
When she needs an item, she doesn’t wait for international packages to arrive -— she uses the Internet, and searches sites like MSN Shopping, http://shopping.sympatico.msn.ca.
“The Internet can be a great way to pick out the right stuff. People should avoid spur-of-the-moment shopping,” Kavanagh says.
“When you’re thinking about re-vamping your wardrobe, look at what’s in the stores and magazines for ideas and then decide what you really need. If you plan ahead then you won’t buy unnecessary items.”
Long hours and oodles of work are the building blocks of her reputation, but a pay cheque of about $4,000 a week for a large production can make it easier to accept.
“It can be stressful especially when you’re on a tight deadline,” Kavanagh says. “I’ve been lucky enough to impress people and have them recommend me.”
Aside from poking and adjusting stars’ clothing and helping them look their best, Kavanagh is also an entrepreneur and creates designs on her own time through her production office Off With Her Head — the name is a nod to Alice In Wonderland and Kavanagh’s go getter attitude.
“You have to take the opportunities while you’re young, if you can meet the right people and show how good you are,” Kavanagh says.
“Some people think they’re too cool to accept the free jobs, but you learn so much when you work in the industry you want a career in.”