I sat down with Gloria Bava, costume cutter on the upcoming The Nightingale to talk about her career.
You’ve held varied roles over your career. Could you describe what being a Tailor involved on The Great Gatsby, as opposed to Costume cutter for The Nightingale?
The difference between being a tailor on The Great Gatsby and a costume cutter on The Nightingale is very small. In fact most of my roles use all the same skill sets. I am usually credited as a tailor when I’m working on period productions. I’ll mainly be in charge of producing suits for the leading male cast utilising traditional tailoring techniques. For The Great Gatsby I made custom-fit, fully-tailored three-piece suits for the male leads. I also had to fit and alter garments made by other tailors – it was a real Saville-Row on set situation !
As a men’s costume cutter, I do everything and anything in any type of material. From suits to swimwear – whatever the costume designer wants – I produce with the help of the sewing team.
When approaching a new project, what cues do you look for, or take from, the script to prepare?
Firstly, I look for the era the show is set in. The characters age, physicality, personality and what actions they need to perform are huge factors. There’s all types of questions: will there be stunt doubles? How much will the action affect the costume? What type of harnesses will be used? Will the costumes get wet?
Do you draft the patterns?
I draft all patterns from scratch. I research the era thoroughly to maintain historical accuracy in my drafting and construction techniques. Sci-fi projects are a little different – the approach taken depends on the designer’s creativity and originality.
So how do you approach sci-fi?
There is a lot less preparation for a sci-fi film. But there’s a lot more workshopping of ideas since we are making original, inventive, very creative costumes. Costumes that haven’t been done before are a little risky. In cases like this, the director plays a big part in the decision making. I will workshop and interpret the director’s ideas through the artistic directive of the costume designer. It is a very intuitive, organic process sometimes.
You play a key role then with an entire costume department – how do you all work together?
My role dovetails a lot with the rest of the team. I sometimes inadvertently play small elements of the role of assistant costume designer, workroom coordinator or costume engineer. I say this because I am constantly fixing problems, managing my team, making lots of decisions and inventing new ways of doing things. It’s a very collaborative experience and other cutters have the same responsibilities and expectations made of them. I take my direction from the costume designer and supervisor and give direction to my sewing team.
You’ve worked a lot of Baz Luhrmann’s productions; what’s it like working alongside Catherine Martin?
I’ve worked on 5 Baz Luhrmann Productions — Moulin Rouge, La Boheme on Broadway, Australia, The Great Gatsby and Strictly Ballroom The Musical. Working alongside Catherine Martin is great, fun, exciting and inspiring. She always uses beautiful materials so it’s a joy to be so innovative and be part of such a creative team of talented people.
What’s the most unusual material you’ve worked with?
The most unusual material I’ve used is snake skin. I had to make a black leather jacket for Queen of the Damned and the surprising fact I learnt is that snakeskin hates being ironed. I accidentally put my iron onto a panel of the skin and it instantly shrivelled up into a tiny ball. Remarkable; great to know if you’re ever in the jungle – take an iron ! Also for The Nightingale I had to make a full poncho / cape out of wallaby furs that had to be all hand sewn. The skins came with bullet holes and all.
What happens to costumes once filming is complete?
After filming the costumes are usually put in storage. If it’s a big FOX or Warner Bros. film, the costumes get sent to Los Angeles for storage. Sometimes costume sales are held after filming ends, especially if they are contemporary fashion items. If the production company decides to sell off stuff at end of shoot, they’ll advertise. A lot of costumes also end up at costume hire shops to be hired out by new productions. A lot of films use hired costumes so stuff does get used again.
Gloria’s handiwork will be seen in the upcoming The Nightingale, directed by Jennifer Kent and stars Sam Claflin and Aisling Franciosi. Gloria also made the costume for Billy, the tracker in the following clip.
Cinematic release dates are still to be confirmed.