Costume Designers: Andrea and Garry Wakely
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | January 30, 2013Andrea and Garry Wakely at Twin Roses Designs in Bristol, Va., provide costumes for film, theatre and television. They also design costumes for individuals.
In their family business, Andrea designs and sews the costumes. Garry dyes fabric, maintains their website, works on marketing and any other task set before him.
Andrea got involved in costume design at the University of Virginia. "I've always been fascinated by history," she says. "I majored for a while in studio art, but realized that it would not be as marketable on its own for finding work after graduation. I added a theatre major and found that backstage work with costuming was highly rewarding. I was also encouraged by family members to major in something they felt was more "reasonable,' so I added biology and dropped studio art to a minor. While I have worked as a scientist and science teacher, I was always drawn back to the more creative realm of designing and making costumes. There is still science involved with what I do, so I find it to be a good balance."
Both Andrea and Garry have science backgrounds. He says dying fabric "is truly a blend of chemistry and art because you can never exactly replicate a color; with each dye bath it ends up being ever so slightly different. So it's a matter of trying to figure out how to get as close as possible. The other thing with changing the color tone of fabrics, especially if something is going to be used on screen, is how the camera will see it.
"The camera does not pick up colors the way the eye does. For example, if you're watching a TV show and somebody is wearing what appears to be a white shirt, it's not white in real life. It can't be, because if you try to film something that is truly white, it will flare and just be a glare on screen, so it has been "teched' down, which means a white shirt is actually cream. The same thing goes with black. It's actually a very dark blue or dark green, because if you shoot something that is truly black it will just be a void on the screen, and you won't see any of the details."
Details are very important to Andrea. She is often asked to recreate historical costumes and spends a great deal of time researching at the library or online.
"My favorite site for a daily dose of history is Shorpy.com which features many photos from the Library of Congress," she says. "Fashion plates only give a rarefied view and an artist's interpretation of what some people were wearing — photographs are far superior as a record of what people actually wore, and how the clothes aged over time. You can search Shorpy by keyword and time period, and they have photos from the Civil War era to about the 1970s."
While she keeps the details accurate, she uses new fabrics. "Most of my customers are going to heavily use the items I make, so I have to plan and create for years of action. Older fabrics will not withstand that kind of usage. Luckily, things like linen and wool are readily available, and there are several modern replica fabrics available for things like Civil War era gowns. Many fabrics are only commercially available for about two years, so finding an exact match to cloth that was used more than about five years ago may be impossible, depending on the fabric."
Her favorite costumes to make are the ones she designs. One was for an incredibly popular television show that she cannot discuss because of a non-disclosure agreement. But she says, she saw the cape she designed on a t-shirt recently and thought "Oh my gosh, I made that." It was the most high profile show she had ever worked on and was a great learning experience. "It is probably the most viewed item I've ever made."
She has also provided pieces for an episode of "Rizzoli and Isles," called "Money Maker." She has also sent costume pieces to Broadway and Off-Broadway and shows in Chicago and Los Angeles.
"A lot of the time with stuff like that it's costume pieces," she says. She keeps items such as shirts, grim reaper capes, doublets and Renaissance clothing, for Shakespeare productions, in stock. "Usually with productions the money people won't release the money until the last possible minute, so everyone has to hurry and get everything done. When they realize they have to do 100 things in a week that's when they start looking for ways they can outsource some things, so they can actually meet the deadline." When that happens, they call her because she keeps multiple stock items. "I've found people will need multiples. You have to keep in mind, they need more than one because somebody's going to have to do laundry, and you have to treat each one the exact same way because it can't look different on camera. "
She was thrilled when she sent costumes to a production of "The Tempest" starring Mandy Patinkin; and the costume designer passed on to her that Patinkin had made positive comments about the costume.
She'd like to do more original film design, but she does lots of film replica work, which she says is valuable because you learn what people do to create costumes for film.
"Because my background is in theater, you don't have to deal with the lens and how fabrics are going to change and be perceived through the lens. When you're doing things for theater you have to think about how is the texture going to enrich the experience for the viewer who's 30 feet away and make it a more interesting piece and not flat. For a re-enactor you have to consider another set of factors because the person they're interacting with is right there. You have to pay attention to details more and make choices according to the level of historical accuracy that is required for that particular project."
Eighty percent of the Wakelys' costume business is custom work whether for individuals, film or television. The remaining 20 percent is for Halloween. "It's insane at Halloween, and there aren't enough hours in the day. We are starting now to restock for Halloween," she says. The Grim Reaper, Harry Potter and a black-work embroidered shirt are the most popular costumes.
Some of her customers give her a design and others say, "Here's the concept." The costumers for "Rizzoli and Isles" picked a design from their website and told her the modifications to make to it.
"One designer said make it look "aquatic.' That was lots of fun, because I had worked for him before and we had a rapport, so I knew what he had in mind," she said.
She has worked with Sam Balcomb at Rainfall Films for about five years. She worked with him on a "Legend of Zelda" teaser trailer. IGN contracted Balcomb to come up with a fake trailer for a movie of the video game. Fans of the game had been asking for a movie of the game, and IGN wanted to pretend that someone was making this film. Wakely made the costumes, and Balcomb produced the trailer.
"It was incredibly well done. The end result was so good IGN put it out on April Fool's Day and probably half the people who saw it really thought it was a film coming out. At last count it had five million views. That was good fun. I like working with Sam because he comes up with an idea and lets me be creative. I really appreciate that freedom to be creative." She sends photos to him, and he sends input back. Sometimes he tells her to shred it some more or add some more dirt to it. She does that outside.
"Sometimes I'm out in the front yard shredding costumes or putting dirt on them and people keep driving past trying to see what I'm doing. I just hope they don't hit my car. If they want to stop, I'll be happy to explain what I'm doing."
Her favorite costumes are from "The Damage Done." "It's the first project since being at the university that I have been on board from pre-production, all the way to being there dressing the people and taking care of the costume during the production. Because I was so involved with each aspect of it, it held a lot more meaning than one where I sent a couple of pieces." "The Damage Done" is a short Western film by Balcomb, which can be seen at www.rainfall.tv/projects/thedamagedone.
In addition to her film, theater and TV work, she designs costumes for individuals for costume parties, re-enactments and for people who want costumes for events such as Renaissance fairs or conventions. She is working on a Steamboat Airship costume and several film replica and video game character costumes for customers.
"You never know what the next project is going to be; you never know what the next time period is going to be and that keeps it interesting," she says. "If you ask me what I'm going to work on next, I would never have thought it would be a blaze orange coat for a guy in New Zealand who works along the highway."
Whether her designs are next to a highway in New Zealand, or entertaining her neighbors and passers-by in her front yard, she's always doing what she loves.
Wakely's costumes can be seen on her website, www.twinrosesdesigns.com.
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View of Andrea Wakely's fencing costume (front).
Back view of Wakley's fencing costume.
Andrea Wakely's desert costume, inspired by Obi Wan Kenobi.