SEW IN DECEMBER.
It seems like only a few weeks ago that we were plunging into DRAW in January, and now, here we are in the waning weeks of the year with SEW! Thanks to all of you who have been with us for the whole year of Art Olympics. We hope that you've had some moments of inspiration, tried some new things, made something that you've been proud of.
But let's not get teary too soon - we've still got a month to go, and as December rockets on, it's time to SEW! This doesn't have to be intimidating - if you're sitting behind your Singer ready to make the prom dress or zoot suit you've always wanted, go for it, but sewing can start small. We live in a society of throwaway consumables, and there's something very satisfying about repairing and altering your own clothes, instead of just chucking them out as soon as they get a hole, or eschewing the op shop because the fit isn't quite right. Let's start with the basics - ever wanted to know exactly how to sew on a button? Spoiler alert - it involves the use of a toothpick!
If fashion isn't your thing, you could join the embroidery renaissance - just look at how many articles Frankie Magazine has on the topic! Hipsters have started raiding their grandparents' thread collections, and so can you. Try this collection of easy hand embroidery stitches. And if you're feeling a bit daggy, relish the knowledge that Dame Judi Dench spends her downtime on film sets embroidering filthy invectives and then gives them as presents. If all that is still too fiddly for your tastes, you can make this fancy-ass laptop case for you and everyone you know. You can also make this pillowcase without even getting out a needle, and celebrate by making yourself a superhero cape for the days when you're feeling down.
Now, put on your glad rags and get into our interview with costume designer Paige Prendergast as she talks dressing knights and wizards, monsters and ghouls, running off to work for the circus, making work in a chronically time-poor industry and costume party anxiety.
THE ART OLYMPICS heads to the Brunswick East studio of OH YEAH WOW to natter with costume designer PAIGE PRENDERGAST.
9:04 pm. A corner in a bustling studio, surrounded by sewing equipment, mannequins, racks of clothing. A border collie pads by. Animator Sam Lewis and art department designer Eve Gilbert wander in and out with notebooks. Two wheelie chairs, one black, one brown.
Art Olympics: Hey, Paige Prendergast! Tell me what you do for a living!
Paige Prendergast: I don’t know if I do it for a living – I don’t do much of the living.
PP: I make-a the costumes. I sews the costumes. I buys the costumes.
AO: You spin around in wheelie chairs.
PP: I spin around in broken chairs that my dad got from the tip for me.
AO: That’s kind of him. So supportive.
Eve Gilbert: The princess of the dump!
PP: That’s me!
AO: So how did you start out?
PP: I was at high school, and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to choose a thing,’ so then I just combined two of the things that I already liked, and that turned out to be costume. I was pretty interested in performing arts, and also media, and also textiles. Mum was pretty sew-y. And so then I got to year 12, and I was like, ‘Costume! That could be a thing!’
AO: Could you specialise in that? Was there a specific subject that you did in year 12?
PP: Not in year 12, no – I pretty much did every art subject I could get my hands on. But in textiles in year 12, you could make whatever you wanted. So I made a dress out of umbrellas.
AO: Oh, wow.
PP: Which was pretty ridiculous. And I took up a very large portion of the classroom that was supposed to be allocated for 25 students. And I was just in the corner with about 30 umbrellas. I was also a nightmare to catch the school bus with, because it was made in 3 tiers, and the bottom one was massive. I sort of made it a recycled garment as well. The bottom hoop was made out of tent poles. So every time I had to catch the bus in the morning, the bus driver was just like, ‘Oh, god. Here she goes, with 5 folios and, like, 3 sets of tents with her.’
PP: I was a nightmare. But, you know, I got there.
AO: How wide was it at the base?
PP: I don’t know, it was big. I remember, we had an end-of-year textiles show, and it could get two people under it. It was probably 1.8 metres across.
Sam Lewis: I remember it! It was attached to the roof of the old studio for four years.
PP: How big was it, do you reckon?
SL: It was easily a metre and a half.
PP: I made a dress out of umbrellas and then of course it was so big I didn’t know what to do with it, and then Darcy [Prendergast, Paige's brother] was like, ‘I guess I’ll look after it’, and it was sort of this weird lampshade in the middle of the old studio.
EG: That’s cool. I don’t think I ever got to see that.
PP: You would have, you just wouldn’t have known what it was!
PP: It was just a blue, weird thing hanging from the ceiling, that would have looked very bizarre.
EG: Did it still have all the spokes and handles in it?
PP: No handles, but it still had all the spokes. I had to cut a quarter out of each umbrella. As soon as you cut into it, it sort of lost its tension, so you tension them onto the hoop so that it’d spring back out. It was a weird time, but it worked! Somehow.
AO: And did you train post-school?
PP: I did. I did Swinburne’s Costume for Performance, I did a two-year course in that. The first year, you do mascot costumes.
AO: Like at the football?
PP: Yeah, big character costumes. Not that you could do a Disney character, but a big, novelty character-sized thing. And for some reason, I chose a chameleon. I don’t know why I did that.
EG and AO: Did it change colour?
PP: Of course it didn’t!
EG: So, you chose a lizard.
PP: I remember when we all finished, we did a walk down Chapel Street, and I remember everyone on the street being like, ‘Oh, look at that giraffe! Look at that…f-f-…frog!’
PP: And I was like, ‘It has a tail! It’s not a frog!’ It did look nothing like a chameleon, though.
EG: Swinburne was great for that. I remember sitting in the cafeteria, because I was at the same campus as you, and you’d be sitting there eating, and then you’d look up, and someone in Cirque du Soleil costumes on stilts would walk past and wave at you, and then by the time you pointed it out to anyone, you’d be like, ‘There’s a stilt thing!’ – not there. Thanks, circus school.
AO: So basically, it just made you feel crazy all the time.
PP: Yeah, definitely.
AO: You would never know if you’d started hallucinating. And so was there a final outcome piece that you had to do at the end of second year?
PP: Yeah. I definitely liked second year much more because you could choose what you wanted to do. The only restrictions on it were that you had to use period techniques in it. Some of the restrictions, from memory, were that the female had to have a corset, or if she didn’t have a corset, you had to make a corset separately. But apart from that, you could be quite creative. So some people didn’t actually have a time period or anything like that, they just sort of mushed them all together, and on the complete opposite of that, people had historically accurate and beautiful period pieces. So I ended up making a burnt witch.
PP: It was pretty weird.
PP: It was really funny, because I had this beautiful model – blonde hair, blue eyes – she was gorgeous. And then I just turned her into this total tarred-up trashbag. She had no hair – we completely tarred in her head, and stuck these awful, gross bits of wig on her, and she had this black – I think it was flour and paint, was what we actually did. I had a special effects makeup artist who helped me specifically on it, every night of the show. So it was black tar, and then he painted her red and bloody. It was pretty funny to see that beside this beautiful Marie Antoinette sort of style. Also very funny to watch her do very normal things, but as this horribly charred person, just having a cup of tea, and texting her boyfriend.
AO: So with the actual dress itself, did that involve burning fabric?
PP: I wasn’t actually allowed – I mean, I probably could have burnt it, but they essentially were like, ‘You shouldn’t burn it, because the moment that you burn it, obviously it makes a hole, but it also weakens all of the fibres around it.’ So it sort of deteriorates. So I had to recreate the burn.
AO: How did you do that?
PP: So, I cut out the holes that I wanted. I had many layers of it. So she had a hoop skirt, and that was sort of browny calico, and I’d cut that out, dye it. So you had to start with black on the very edge, and fade that out and try to replicate a burn as much as you possibly could. And then, on the flip side of that, on top, she had a dress that was black, and then I had to make that look like that was burnt. That was harder, because black on black was tricky, so I sort of had to bleach that to make it look burnt. So that was the female one. You had to make a male and a female. I don’t know if the male had any restrictions – I think he just had to have a hat or something. But I made – the concept definitely sounds cooler than the outcome of what it was – but it was sort of an 1880s carnival character, and he was a puppeteer. So he had a long sack coat which opened into a little puppet show.
AO: Oh, wow!
PP: And it was played by my dad.
AO: Of course it was.
PP: So he’d sort of run out and do a very comical skit and open up his jacket and pull out two marionette puppets. So yeah, he was a very exaggerated and quirky character. It was fun. I liked doing the second year much, much more, because you could mould it to what you wanted it to be, which was more rewarding, I think, in the end. Because I don’t even know where my chameleon is now. Probably in my dad’s shed.
AO: Sitting there, having an existential crisis.
PP: He’s blended in! I can’t find him anymore!
AO: So after you got out, did you start immediately working in film? Has your career mostly been in film?
PP: I’ve sort of been all over the place. From that costume show, I went straight into –
Paige’s chair partially collapses.
AO: Ooh, that chair is really losing structural integrity.
PP: Wow. I’m not gonna sit in that anymore.
AO: It seems to be missing some key bolts in there.
PP: I’m just very suspicious of what has happened to this chair. It has never done this, ever before. This is why I say that I don’t actually make a living off what I do, because I can’t have nice things.
PP: Oh, look! Three bolts fell out!
PP: Anyway. I went straight from uni into working at a costume shop. The lady saw me at the show, and was like, ‘Hey, do you want a job?’, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t have anything else, so yes I do!’ I probably stayed there longer than I should have.
AO: Were you making costumes there?
PP: Sometimes. That was how I started off, was repairs and that type of thing. But then people started leaving and I sort of moved onto the shop floor a bit more. But in times of desperation, when we double-booked things, it was like, ‘Paige! Can you make a costume, like, today?’ and I was like, ‘Okay! Let’s try that. Minnie Mouse, here we come!’
PP: So I did that. And then – I mean, I’ve always done work with Oh Yeah Wow, ever since Darcy started off. It was a nice combination of me needing him and him needing me. So I’ve always done that. And then I think, from memory, I went from the costume shop to working for the circus.
AO: What? Which circus?
PP: I worked with Cirque du Soleil.
PP: Yeah! That was fun. That was, I think, six months. So I got on board in Melbourne, for their show ‘Ovo.’ They have permanent staff in their costume department, and then as they go from place to place, they hire. On the show that I was on, there were four people to dress or maintain the costumes. So it wasn’t making or anything – everything gets made in their headquarters, and they’ve got amazing makers. All the fabrics are specifically dyed and specifically created, and you just look at these things and they’re worth thousands of dollars, and they’re incredible. I mean, up until that point I was just the most excited I had ever been, and I couldn’t believe – I don’t know how I came out with that. I mean, I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t believe that no-one else had got it over me. I was just like, ‘What?’ So yeah, rocking up to that, I was just stoked. I was so happy about that. And I met so many great people – Bec [Dunn] being one of them, who helped me out on ‘Wizards [of Aus].’ It was tough – you had to be paying attention to what you were doing, and it was really under the pump. You had different jobs every day, and it was tight to get it done, but manageable. But there was a lot to do.
AO: What sort of jobs were there, each day?
PP: At first, I started on repair and maintenance. Every costume had to be washed every performance. Most days, as well, were two show days, and sometimes they’d use two or three costumes per performance, so you had a lot to look at. So you’d do all the washing, and do hats and shoes, stuff like that. You’d have to check every costume to look for any problems with it, repairs that you needed. You’d peg all the problem spots, and some ended just covered in pegs. So you’d separate anything that needed attention and you’d put it aside. There were two people doing essentially the same job, and on the next week, you’d be doing the repairs. So you knew, as soon as you were handing over a pegged one to your dear friend doing the same job as you, you’d be going, ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ And it’s sort of funny, because at the end of it, I could tell whose costume it was, without even looking at the nametag. You’d just know who had split what. It was sort of a bug-themed show, and the crickets were the worst – the amount of kneepads we had to sew back on was just crazy! So many kneepads in one day. But you got super pro at it, you’d just be like, ‘Okay, I can do this kneepad in five minutes, it’s gonna be fine.’ So that was fun. And then I went up to Perth with them, and I did the same job, but I also did dressing one day a week. Which was really fun, because you got to be backstage and in amongst all the things, all the performers being super cheeky. But that was definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far, for sure. It was just the best. And being surrounded by so many incredible costumes all the time. Even from a design perspective, things that I’d just never thought of before. Especially for circus, because there would be so many areas that would need to be repaired so often, and they couldn’t get sent back to headquarters. Even just having patterns in a costume to blend repairs into, different patches. I’d never really thought about that before, and then as soon as I was doing it, I was like, ‘That makes so much sense! You can’t just have a plain unitard, because as soon as it gets a rip in it, how are you going to fix that, without making it noticeable?’ So yeah, just textures and layers and stuff was really interesting to look at.
And then, what did I do from there? I think, after that, that was pretty much when I sort of started getting more Oh Yeah Wow stuff. And I think from there, I just sort of did mostly video stuff. Music videos and ads and web series, which was fun.
AO: Yeah, let’s talk about ‘Wizards’, because the trailer for that has just dropped. What was your exact title on that?
PP: I think I’m ‘Costume Designer.’ So, at first, it was all up to me, which seemed impossibly daunting.
AO: Because there were – how many costumes were there in that show?
PP: I think we stopped counting after a while, but it was at least seventy, and then beyond that, we were just like, ‘It is what it is, and we’ll just do what we have to do!’
AO: Oh my god.
PP: So Rennie [Watson], who I worked with on ‘Gary & Gabe’ originally, they got him on board, and I think they were like, ‘Do you know anyone who does costume?’ I just remember him going, ‘So, I’ve got this thing…It’s about wizards –‘ and I was like, ‘I’ll do it! It sounds great!’ and then I remember, we had a coffee, and he was just like, ‘It’s a lot of work,’ and I was like, ‘Okay…’ And he sent me through the scripts, and I was like, ‘Oh…my…god.’ But I do remember laughing in my own bedroom at the scripts, and being like, ‘This is actually genius.’ So I was super excited, but then the reality of it hit me, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ We had one other position that we could fill, so it was just me and one other person, which ended up being Bec, who I worked at the circus with. Because I knew, as soon as I knew I had to pick someone else, I was like, ‘It’s gotta be Bec.’ She just has this beautiful, calming persona that just settles me down. She’s just like, ‘We’re just gonna get it done, because we don’t have an option!’
PP: ‘It just has to happen!’
AO: So it was just the two of you?
PP: It was just us in control of it. There was a couple of times when, you know, I called a few friends, and I was like, ‘Can you help me make this hat?’ or something like that. But generally speaking, it was just us. I don’t know how we did it.
AO: Well, you didn’t sleep.
PP: No, no, I didn’t really. That was probably the most tired I’ve ever been in my entire life. Actually, hands down the most tired I’ve ever been in my entire life.
AO: How long was the process from getting the gig to the end of your work?
PP: I think I was sort of worded up about it at the start of Jan, but we didn’t start then. I can’t remember, but in theory, we were supposed to have three weeks pre-production, but it was much, much more than that. And then it ended up being about four weeks shooting. So I reckon it would have been closer to two and a half months, or three, in total.
AO: That’s a long time to not be sleeping.
PP: It didn’t start off too bad! I think the first month, I did okay. But there was one month where I was just – I slept at the studio, for just a couple of hours, and Rennie would come and pick me up in the truck, and we’d go off to set and come back at the end of the day and get ready for the next day. So yeah, some of the times, we were literally just putting things together the night before, because we were just under the pump. But it was very good. It was probably one of the most fun things that I’ve ever done. And at the time, it felt like my worst nightmare, because I was just like, ‘There’s no end to this! I’m never going to sleep ever again!’ But once I look at the trailer and everything, I just think it’s the best. And we had so much fun. Admittedly, we were probably delirious, because everyone was in the same boat. Everyone in the art department, and I know everyone else in different departments were exactly the same. But it is nice to put yourself under the pump for something that you ultimately are very proud of in the end, which is nice.
AO: Did you have a question, Sam? You trundled over like you were going to ask something.
SL: I’m just really interested in your origin story.
PP: ‘Paige: Origins’!
SL: I haven’t seen you in so long, it’s just nice to hear what you’ve been up to. Is there one costume that you’re just super proud of?
PP: Not really. I always think about that, and it’s sort of sad, because a lot of the time – and I mean, it happens with a lot of creative people as well, as soon as they make something, they’re like, [she makes a disappointed noise]. You learn along the way, and you’re like, ‘I could have done that so much better,’ and things like that. So not really. I guess probably the one that I like most of all is still my umbrella dress, but again, I probably like the concept better than the actual execution. But yeah, it’s sort of one of those things where you work on something for so long, and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if I like that any more.’ Hopefully in the near future, I’ll make something that I continue to be proud of!
AO: I feel like I had a conversation with you recently that I have the vague idea was about [Michael] Shanks’ costume for ‘Wizards’, where you guys were trying to dye fabric, and it didn’t work. Tell me that story, I forget the details.
PP: Yes, he wanted something sort of loosely based on Gandalf, with a mix of Jedi aspects. But he wanted a blue-grey wool for the cloak. And at the time, it was summer. And we went to every fabric shop – no dice. We could find maybe just a normal grey if we were lucky, and in very expensive wool. So we came to the conclusion that we were gonna have to dye it. And neither of us had dyed wool before. We knew that it wasn’t the best choice, but that’s what we had to do. And even at a really cheap shop that I love, I can’t remember how much we needed, but we needed a lot of metres. And I remember being like, ‘If this doesn’t work, we’re going to be really in trouble.’ And it was one of those washing machine ones, and we couldn’t even get the dye in the colour we wanted, so we were combining two dyes, and being like, ‘I hope this comes out alright!’ And it came out, and I was like, ‘The colour is perfect!’ and then I realised that it had significantly shrunk. Like, I knew it would shrink, but I didn’t know it would shrink that much.
AO: Was it because of the dyeing process, or the washing afterwards?
PP: I don’t think we put it on hot, because we knew it would shrink. I don’t know. I can’t remember what we did. But for whatever reason, it shrunk, and it shrunk a lot. And then we were like, ‘Maybe we can still get it out’, and then we put the pattern down, and we were like, ‘There’s no way.’ So we learnt our lesson, and we got more fabric, and we played the game again. Bec dyed it the second time, but she was so nervous. I remember her sending me text messages before, being like, ‘Cross your fingers! Here we go!’ But it turned out, and we got exactly what we wanted, and we had enough fabric for it, so that was really good. But yeah, we did lose some fabric along the way, that’s for sure! It was a little bit hit-and-miss with the dyeing process, probably because I didn’t know what I was doing!
PP: But we got there in the end. And we had just some weird bit of wool fabric that came along for the journey. I can’t remember why, but I remember seeing it at Kryal Castle when we were shooting one time. It was probably just keeping someone warm throughout the day, because Kryal Castle when we got up there was freezing. It was icy cold. But then it sort of just ended up in horse shit. It’s still around somewhere. I don’t know where it is. I don’t think it’s been washed since.
AO: Oh, god.
PP: It’s seen some things. It kept someone warm, once. It wasn’t a complete waste, right?
AO: So the Kryal Castle scenes, all the battle scenes – the armour, was that hired?
PP: Yeah, that was supplied by Kryal, thankfully, because I tried to find other ways to do it. We contacted Swordcraft and the LARPing guys, and I think a few of them ended up being in it, but we couldn’t really get anything on that scale, that amount of armour anywhere else. Kryal gave us a pretty good price on it, considering we were shooting there. That kept us under budget, because otherwise we would have been in real Struggletown, if we’d had to buy armour. And in that turn-around, it would have been insane. So Kryal saved us on that one. And we had a guy there as well, because I’d never actually worked with armour. The guy there used to do some of the jousting and stuff on the weekends, so he knew how to put it all together. By the end, I’d learned how it all went together, but if it was just me on the first day, trying to piece that all together –
AO: Dressing dozens of extras –
PP: I would have – nup. It’s so many layers, and they all go on in a specific order, and if you mess it up, it’s a nightmare. So it was lucky. Otherwise, it would have been a very, very long process! With probably some Paige tears mixed in.
PP: That was a very early morning.
EG: Yeah. And you guys did a whole day of shooting after.
PP: I had a great fringe though, apparently, somehow. This is the morning where it was a really, really early start, and I drive, but I don’t have my own car, so I’m not particularly confident. And because I grew up in the country, I’m not a confident city driver, or at least, I definitely wasn’t at this point. And Seamus [Spilsbury, from Oh Yeah Wow] had to drive a forklift somewhere, and was like, ‘Hey, can you drive my car to the next set?’, and I was like, ‘Okay, but only if I can follow everyone else, because I don’t know where I’m going.’ And then, I don’t know what happened, but everyone drove off without me, and my phone was on some ridiculously low battery, and then I sort of got to the general area of where I needed to be without it dying, and then it died, and I was like, ‘I actually have all of the costumes in this car.’ I think maybe I knew the name of the street.
EG: And it’s such a long street!
PP: It’s such a long street, and I had to end up just driving around, hoping that I would see someone, and then I’d just pull over and be like, ‘Hi, do you know where this street is?’ Eventually I got there, but by the time I did, I was shaking and I was so exhausted, and I thought that everyone would be so furious at me, because I was super late, and I had all of the costumes. When I arrived, everyone was like, ‘Where have you been?!’ They weren’t waiting on me to shoot, but they knew I was lost, and no-one could contact me, cos my phone was dead. So this is what all those photos represent – me being like, ‘I hate everything, I want to go to sleep now!’ Darcy’s like, ‘It’s okay!’
AO: So ‘Gary and Gabe’ obviously culminates in a massive Halloween party. Did you design all the costumes?
PP: Yeah. In theory. Again, a lot of it was on the fly designing, being like, ‘Okay, well we’ve got these things, so let’s put that together!’ My mum and my dad helped me out so much on that shoot. As they always do when I’m under the pump. But yeah, mum was helping me out, and dad doesn’t sew, so we’d just give him anything that’s slightly trickier and a bit handy-man-y. So, like, ‘Make this mask!’ or ‘Attach that weird thing to this other weird thing!’
AO: This kid holding his own head is just wonderful. What is this neck section made out of?
PP: I think Nate [Reardon] helped me make that, actually. It’s just polystyrene in the middle, and then I covered it with pink leather. And I think that’s just cardboard tubes cut inside. I think Nate painted it for me. It was supposed to have a very home-made feel about it as well, so it was kind of weird making things that looked kind of okay, but also a bit shit.
PP: On purpose, though.
AO: There are so many great, tiny details here that I would never have thought to do. How many costumes were there, in total, for this?
PP: It started off a much smaller number than it was.
PP: I think my initial conversation with Darcy was 15 to 20. And I was like, ‘Alright, but that is the absolute max. Because that’s a lot.’ And then I think it got up to just under 40 by the end of it. And by that point, I was sort of struggling for character ideas. Because we wanted stereotypical Halloween, sort of scary-themed ones. By 40, I was like, ‘I ain’t got nothin’ any more! I don’t know!’
AO: You were telling me a while ago that Darcy had got you tickets to a convention in New Zealand? Tell me about that.
PP: That’s the World of Wearable Art, which is a competition in Wellington, which I’ve eyed off probably since I was in year 11 or 12. And it churns out the most amazing pieces. They’re all quite different, but usually, structurally, they’re just amazing. So much work goes into them. They’re really detailed or intricate, or just made out of the most ridiculous materials – I’m like, ‘How did you put that together?’ Every year, I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ll enter this year’, and then life happens and I get busy, or whatever, and I don’t do it. So this year, hopefully, hopefully, I will enter. But if not, me and Darcy will go and watch the show, at the very least.
AO: Are there annual themes?
PP: Yes. So, some themes change every year, and then there’s consistent ones that are always the same. So they often have a ‘Bizarre Bra’ category, which is always very fun. And they have a New Zealand section, so some of the ones that have come out include a ram made out of pillows. But then they also do have themes that change every year. I think in the later years, they’ve introduced a Weta Workshop-themed one, where the theme changes every year. I think that’s the one I’m most keen on entering, because I think – I haven’t checked it this year – that if you win that one, you get to do some kind of internship with Weta Workshop, which would be incredible.
AO: So do you have any idea of what you would create for it?
PP: The theme, I think, is ‘Baroque and Rococo.’ I have, sadly – well, not sadly! – been travelling, and so haven’t really started, which makes me a bit nervous already, because I think the cutoff point is about April, so if I was going to do it, I’ll have to do it real quick. But no, I really need to have a couple of days of sitting down, and a lot of reference images, and seeing what I can do. I think the biggest thing they look for is uniqueness, so the real kicker is trying to do something that has never been done before. Which is tricky, because sometimes you think you’re onto something, and then Googling, you’re like, ‘Oh, goddamn! Goddamn it!’ I remember one year, the theme was ‘Oriental Dynasty,’ or something like that, and I got really excited for a second, because I was like, ‘Maybe I’m going to make this warrior outfit, this armour, but I’ll make it out of porcelain plates’ – that blue crockery. And then I Googled it, and some amazing artist had done this whole series like that. I was like, ‘Oh, goddamn it! That’s it! I’m not entering this year! I will never have an idea as good as that again! It’s all over!’ So no, I don’t have a plan yet. But hopefully – and sometimes, it does actually happen – usually it happens to me when I’m about to go to sleep. I don’t know how it happens, but I’m like, ‘Aha!’ and I get out and jot it down. Sometimes it’s ridiculous, and I wake up, and I’m like, ‘Oh god, why?’, but sometimes it’s alright.
AO: When it comes to the aesthetics that you are most drawn to when you’re not having to follow someone else’s brief, what’s the aesthetic that really gets you going?
PP: I really like really exaggerated things. Really super over-the-top shapes and silhouettes. One of my favourite costume designers is Colleen Atwood, who does most of Burton’s stuff. So yeah, very wonky and asymmetrical, but also extremely exaggerated and quite cartoony. I think she’d probably be my ultimate. She’s also won awards for ‘Chicago’ – she did all the costumes in that, and ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ So she’s incredibly talented, and can do everything. But I like that really stylised stuff she does with Tim Burton. I also love Eiko Ishioka. I only recently discovered her – ‘Mirror Mirror’ was on the television one time, and the costumes in that – I was just like, ‘Oh my god.’ Again, so over the top, but so wonderful. Really bright colours, and really exaggerated forms. I ended up doing research on her, and I’m pretty sure she costume designed one of the Cirque shows, and just has this amazing resume.
AO: So if you got an email tomorrow that said, ‘Paige, we want you to come and design a thing for us’, in a perfect world, who would that email be from?
PP: I mean, I’d be pretty stoked if it were someone from Cirque du Soleil. Especially because I’ve done, you know, the pleb work we could even call it.
PP: Learning enough from that to put it into practice would be really interesting. But, if for whatever reason, Colleen Atwood was temporarily busy on another gig, and Tim Burton was just in a really tricky position –
PP: And he just needed a lowly costume designer from Melbourne, I’d be pretty excited about that, for sure.
AO: I was talking to Sam before, about how when you’re a photographer, people are often like, ‘Do you think you could just Photoshop X so it’s Y?’ And Sam was saying that people with what he does, people are like, ‘Can you just stop motion animate some smoke? Or water?’ The things that people preface with ‘just’, because they think that it’s easy. What are the things that clients are like, ‘Oh, could you just’ with your work, that is actually really hard?
EG: ‘Could you just make 15 goblin costumes…’
PP: Yeah, I feel like I hear that word ‘just’ a lot, now that you mention it! I feel like maybe every job that I get is a ‘just’!
PP: It’s funny, me and Bec were talking about it recently, when people are like, ‘Oh, it’s a really simple job, this one.’ And we were saying, ‘It’s literally never been a simple job, when anyone has ever said that. Ever. I mean, it’s probably very similar in your field, and Sam’s. I think it comes from a place where people who aren’t doing it just don’t know that they’re asking for something that actually isn’t simple. Even things that are seemingly quite simple, even the clip me and Eve are working on at the moment, there are just people covered in cloth, but 40 of them. And that seems fine, but then I was like, ‘Ah, I’m going to have to just sew the sides –‘
EG: And dye all the fabric.
PP: Just the sheer workload of that. It might be fine, but also, I’m probably definitely going to get sick of just sewing sides shut after about two hours.
PP: But I think it’s usually just either something that’s very simple but actually it’s times by 40, or something that actually just is very difficult in the first place.
AO: Art department and costume are such huge things, but I think people have a very poor understanding of the work involved.
PP: I think also, a lot of the time, it’s time frame as well. ‘Can you do this thing? But in a day?’ And you’re like, ‘Why in a day? Why in a day?! How long have you known about this? Why do I have to do it in a day?’
EG: The thing about costume and art department is that you kind of feel like you’re constantly saving people. Because people come to you really stressed, and you don’t want to say no because you know that they need someone, and you know how much work it requires, and that if you say no, they’re going to spend the next few hours just trying to call people to get that. But then, it means that if something doesn’t quite work out, no matter what short a time frame you had, or how blurry the brief was, it always feels like it’s your fault.
PP: And it reflects on you, which is scary. It’s not necessarily your fault, but –
EG: The visual is the first thing you see.
PP: In terms of what everyone else knows, it’s all on you. I can’t think of a specific example –
EG: That’s because you’re quite capable, though.
PP: That’s definitely not it! It’s because I have too much of a pool to think about!
EG: It’s true that you’ve been thrown in the deep end many times over, and so it’s hard to pick one thing, but you’re also the kind of person that will work – I was going to say tirelessly, but you’ll work tiredly –
EG: Through the night and get two hours sleep before a shoot, not because you’re unorganised or anything like that, just because you work so hard on any given brief. You know, you do save people.
PP: I tries!
EG: You do it!
AO: Does anyone else on the floor have any questions for Ms Prendergast?
EG: How do you feel about costume parties?
PP: I feel horribly stressed about costume parties!
PP: There’s a lot of pressure! You don’t have to ever attend an art department party! Although you do have to host your own parties, which are superbly, superbly designed, Eve.
EG: Oh, stop it – keep going.
PP: I love a good costume party, but I’m also very upset if I don’t have a good costume. But usually, whatever it’s for, I usually end up making, or helping make, at least three of my friends a costume, by which point I get to the day, and I’m like, ‘I don’t have a costume!’ Which means I usually go to Savers, or make something that I already have into another thing. But it’s very stressful.
EG: You’ll be set for the next one, considering your brother has just donated his underpants to you.
PP: That’s true. It’s really nice here at the studio, because people just donate me shit when I’m not here. So I just arrive, and there’s five items of something on my desk, and I’m like, ‘I guess this is going into the costume store!’
EG: Today, it was a hat with teeth and Darcy’s underwear.
AO: That’s charming. These teeth are very good.
PP: There’s teeth with googly eyes – I’m not sure where that came from. And my brother’s underwear. And I said, ‘Is this…supposed to be here?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s for the costume store.’ ‘Your…old underwear is for the costume store? Yes. Great. I guess I’ll just hang those up with the jackets and the overalls.’
EG: You should just work it into his next clip without telling him. Have the lead performer wearing them.
AO: So I always ask everyone to come up with a challenge for the people doing the Art Olympics. Did you have one related to SEW?
EG: You should just ask people to make whatever you need next.
AO: ‘Can you just come and sew and dye some pieces of material for me?’
PP: ‘Yeah, just sew the sides together and fade some fabric…’
SL: People really need to experience the stress of the costume department.
PP: ‘You’ve got one hour! And, go!’
PP: Okay. Go to the op shop and buy one item, or a couple if you wish, that you can alter to turn into a costume for a character from theatre or film. Sewing is not necessarily required. You can rip, paint, hot glue, burn, dye, whatever!
AO: Great. Thanks Paige!