EXCLUSIVE: An interview with Costume Designer Rebecca Hofherr
Rebecca Hofherr is a successful costume designer for both TV and film, best known for her work on the US series Elementary, the Oscar winning Black Swan and most recently the romantic comedy Set it Up. Here Rebecca talks about her most recent work and discusses the differences between working on film versus a series as a costume designer.
Rebecca, tell us how you became involved in costume designing?
I’m based out of New York City and growing up, I didn’t think I’d become a costume designer. I had always thought that I would go into fashion, which is where I started in New York.
I loved fashion, but I realised that what I considered ‘fashion’ wasn’t really mainstream. I had always been interested in creating characters and looks and I was way more interested in what people chose as their fashion, rather than what design houses chose as fashion. I realised when I got to New York City that this thought process can lead to a job as a costume designer.
I was lucky enough to do an internship on a film called Imaginary Heroes and from there was a production assistant and an assistant costume designer. My first big break in the business was costume designing a film called Winter’s Bone.
You got involved in Set It Up because of Elementary – is that right? If so, can you tell us how you got involved with it?
I’ve been on Elementary since the first season and I developed a working relationship and friendship with Lucy Liu. Working on a show for almost 10 months out of the year – for six years – you see them more than you see your family, so you have to become friends more than co-workers.
We were finishing up our season and sometimes I decide to work over the break and sometimes I don’t, but Lucy was up for this movie called Set It Up and her character Kirsten in the film was a really big fashion opportunity. On Elementary, I loved dressing Lucy – but the character she was playing on Set It Up was really, really different and when she mentioned she was doing it, my agent reached-out to Claire, the director.
I interviewed with her over the phone and I think I was in my car. We both had a really similar idea for Kirsten, for Zoe’s character and for Glen’s character as well, but Kirsten was definitely the female boss of the movie.
It was so cool that we spent six years doing Elementary costumes, where Lucy’s a New York City detective, and her clothes are definitely toned down, to then do something much more fashion forward, bold, bright and colourful. So I jumped at the opportunity and was really happy that Claire, the director, and the production company also thought that it would be a good fit.
What are the challenges of working on a film, where there’s less time, rather than a series that builds a longer character arc?
I think for my particular position as costume designer, the way that I approach film and TV generally is the same system, but as far as outfits are concerned; each outfit on film holds a little more weight because, first of all, there’s less of them and you only get one opportunity to develop a character from start to finish.
While on television, there are a lot more outfits during the season and the arc of the character has much more gradual build to it because there’s so much more time to explain things.
When I do fittings for film, I do a lot more with each actor than I do on television. Also, you finish a film in the allotted time, say four months, six months of the year – whereas TV, you can change the style, the character’s arc.
On Elementary, the profession that Lucy has as Watson has changed through the season. While in Set It Up she was just the head of a sports website, so you only have so much time to get it right and I really, really wanted to get it right with Lucy. In the times that we’re living in – to have a female boss as one of the main characters it’s so important that she not only looks like a strong, empowered woman, but also beautiful.
What was it like working on Black Swan?
That movie was really interesting to work with. I worked with a costume designer named Amy Westcott, who again is a co-worker and a really great friend. That was a film I can say I learned a lot from because the approach to it was so stylised.
We were only allowed to use four colours in the wardrobe on the entire film; black, white, grey and pink. As a costume designer, you want to get the perfect outfit but normally your guidelines aren’t as restricted as four colours, so it was even harder to find the right outfit. That’s something I have never done on any film since – but if I have to do that in the future then I’ll have a little knowledge of how to accomplish that!
It’s funny, because it was an Oscar-nominated film, but just like Winter’s Bone and Set It Up, which was trending at number two on Netflix, when you’re making the film you want it to be great, but you don’t actually know if anyone is going to see it.
What advice do you have to people wanting be involved in wardrobe and costume department?
Number one – have a really thick skin. Number two – you have to be really, really passionate about your craft because it’s a tough job, but it’s also really rewarding.