Donna Meester on costume design and art

Donna Meester on costume design and art

CW | Amy Sullivan

Creativity is not a sudden moment of perfection, it’s a process. Donna Meester, a University of Alabama Costume Design professor, knows the process all to well. Meester’s exhibit, “The Life of a Costume: From Page to Stage,” will be open for public viewing from Sept. 4-Sept. 25. 

Meester said the exhibit’s concept began Dec. 2014, shortly after the the assistant dean for the College of Arts and Sciences visited the costume department’s portfolio presentation. Most people had no idea the labor that goes into creating a single costume for a show.  

Meester said she intends for “The Life of Costume” to promote an appreciation for the process of costume design, a process typically kept backstage. Construction alone on a detailed dress can require over 80 hours of labor, on top of the hours of research and sketching that happen before construction even begins.  

That research aspect, including the difference between costume design and fashion design, is why Meester was drawn to the world of costume. Fashion design focuses on trends: What is the trend? Who is wearing the trend? How can we modify the trend? In costuming, she said the designer focuses on one show, particularly one character at a time, researching them as inspiration. 

“[It’s like] looking into their closet and finding what else the character wears, if its dark, or light or bright, sharp edged or fluffy,” Meester said.

  From that point, she can create something that fits the correct period, setting and personality for that character.

She said alterations and fittings can require multiple days of labor.  No costume is truly ready-made.  The exhibit includes 15 costumes, most of which have been designed by Meester and produced by her students in the costume shop.  

“[You can never] just run and pull something from stock and put it on an actor,” she said. 

The skill set learned in the costume shop is multi-tiered, Meester said. From lead roles including cutters and drapers, all the way down to the beginners who spend their hours hand sewing, there is a job suited for any student’s skill level. 

“Even a complicated design can be broken down,” she said.

Everything is all about learning, and Meester, along with the department’s technical professor, Jacki Armit, have built a devoted costume program.  From the designer’s eye, Meester said some past favorites at the University include “Ragtime”and “All’s Well That Ends Well,” costumes from which will be displayed as part of the exhibit.  The designs Meester has used to explain the process of costuming are from the show “An Italian Straw Hat” set in the mid-19th century.

The exhibit will be free and open to the public Sept. 4-25th at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center.  

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