BFA Costume Design '05
J.R. Hawbaker (BFA Costume Design ’05) can
pinpoint the exact moment her life changed. Heading into her second year at
DePaul, Hawbaker intended to study English literature, history and photography,
but she wasn’t passionate about her academic path. Then, as she browsed
classes, the course book fell open to the costume design program in The Theatre School. “I saw classes in
playwriting, design, the history of costume and Shakespeare,” Hawbaker says.
Suddenly, she realized the connective thread among her areas of interest. “I
liked those subjects because they were expressions of character, and that’s
what costume design is all about.”
Now, as an assistant costume
designer based in Los Angeles, Hawbaker’s credits include Mad Men, True Blood, Argo and the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of
also worked on American Hustle with costume designer Michael Wilkinson,
spending three months conceptualizing the sumptuous fur coats, slinky dresses
and plunging necklines that earned the film an Academy Award nomination in
costume design. “It was truly a dream script. Nothing about those characters
was clichéd,” Hawbaker says. Consequently, she avoided stereotypical ’70s
references in favor of aspirational and fresh pieces perfectly suited to the
film’s themes of projection, reinvention and the long con.
According to Hawbaker, the
process of bringing characters to life through costume occurs in phases.
“Typically, you start with a script and a conversation with the director, their
take on the characters, what they’re trying to evoke, their vision,” she says.
“Next up is the research period where you gather images and items that will
help you refine those ideas with the director.” Illustrations, full-size
renderings and on-set adjustments follow.
That said, the process
differs by director; when Hawbaker collaborates with Terrence Malick, as she did on The Tree of Life and Knight of Cups, standard operating
procedure goes out the window. “There’s no research, there’s no script,”
Hawbaker explains, noting that she has learned to trust her instincts in
developing designs that assist the actors in creating their characters.
“Costume design comes from a much deeper place than most people realize. At
some level, it’s a gut understanding of how people project themselves.”
Originally published in DePaul Magazine.