Often times, the way in which a person is dressed offers one of the biggest and most immediate insights into who they are as a person. A viewer, if looking closely, forms a judgement, whether consciously or not, in regard to this person’s attitude, mannerisms, and beliefs. In a way, one’s costume becomes a visual introduction to their story, and the same thing goes for the characters in a film. A film’s costume design is a key component in building its characters and pulling us into their story, something world renowned costume designer Lucy Song knows all about.
Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Song was always fascinated and inspired by the world of costume design, but it was in Los Angeles while studying fashion design where she leaned fully into her passion.
“Having a strong fashion industry background built the necessary foundation for me to bridge the move to being a costume designer,” Song explains. “They are very different jobs, but they utilize a lot of the same skill sets, which allowed me to marry both fields together and develop a unique style and approach to the costume design industry.”
Without question, Song’s cross-training in the field sets her apart from others. With a larger understanding of the garment industry, her ability to dress her actors exceeds far beyond the industry standard. In fact, Song’s extensive training has even enabled her to craft stunning and elaborate costume pieces by hand, if necessary.
A critical part of the costume designer’s job is the ability to capture what a director wants to articulate about a character on a visual level. In this sense, Song is nothing short of brilliant.
“Many directors have a vision of the film’s mood and tone, but not the exact costume design or look,” says Song. “[I then do] the necessary research to present key costumes based on mood, color, texture, tone, time period, and character personalities presented in the script, so that the director’s exact visual statement is captured.”
From her research, Song creates a lookbook and costume plot for each character with hand-made sketches and photos to present to the director and the production team. Once the script is cast, she goes in again, this time tailoring her vision to each individual actor. What audiences see on screen is, in essence, the final step in a much longer process, that of which Song makes look easy and, well, rather seamless.
A beaming example of her strength as a costume designer can be seen in “The Poison of Grapefruit,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Marina Del Rey Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival.
A film set primarily in a courthouse, “The Poison of Grapefruit” takes the audience into the heart of a murder trial, and into the mind of an “obnoxious but fascinating anti-hero.”
The film’s costume design is poignant and beautiful, without being distracting or cliche. As Song tells it, “My job as a costume designer in these types of situations is to provide costumes that serve the characters so the story can be conveyed in an authentic tone. I enjoyed designing the formal prison guard uniforms from that time period, as there were several details to capture; all the shapes, textures and accessories were very interesting to research and put together.”
When designing clothing for a film, precise attention must be paid to the color pallet. Too bold, and it can result in upstaging the action and importance of the scene itself, and too mute, and the action can be swallowed by the surroundings. To avoid this, Song refrained from using orange or white prison uniforms, and instead chose dark blue and sage uniforms to ensure an effective result. Her ability to blend while still drawing enough attention to detail is profound in the industry.
It’s easy to be pulled from the context of a film by background costumes in a scene that don’t fit into the film’s visual statement. Song didn’t only focus on the main players in the story, but she paid close attention to the background actors in “Poison of a Grapefruit” as well. Song dressed the actors in complementary tones, all while staying on schedule and true to the film’s budget.
Song’s commitment to the director from beginning to end was also exemplary. “The director needed a very specific time period to be represented, so it took some time to ensure we met that vision, but I honestly had so much fun doing it that it got me through some sleepless nights,” Song recalls.
“The vibe I wanted to create with the costumes styles was in the vein of a period drama. I ended up going with tones and colors of browns, cold navy blues, and blacks to represent and stay within the tone of the story.”
Not only has Song created such a world, but it all works together aesthetically– each actor’s costume seems to compliment the others, all while staying visually exciting and perfectly executed.
While many people are involved in the production of a successful film, the costume designer is an integral and often overlooked part of the equation. Lucy Song is an exceptional costume designer, creating masterpiece after masterpiece, giving each actor the gift of furthering his story visually, and sometimes even enhancing an actor’s performance by providing confidence and believability. The film industry is truly lucky to have talents like Song, and audiences everywhere await her next project with excitement and anticipation.