Tag Archives: Costume Design

From Ukraine to Hollywood: Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

Viktorria Vlasenko
Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

Now an in-demand global costume designer, Ukraine-born Viktoriia Vlasenko first discovered her love and innate talent for her craft when she was just 8 years old. Vlasenko used her spare time to make party clothes for herself, her mother and her dolls, she even designed to suit her younger brother wore to his graduation.

Keen to continue her love of costume design, Vlasenko completed a Bachelor’s degree in fashion design at the Milan Institute of Design IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) which is among the top 7 universities in the world which specialize in fashion design.

After she graduated from the prestigious university, Vlasenko went full speed ahead and participated in a number of fashion shows and causes. She showed a collection at the Fashion Show 2015 New Talents Vogue Milan for young designers, and even participated in the No War project. The No War project was something very close to her heart, as it allowed her to protest against the war in Ukraine. Her impressive creative contributions to the project were also published in the “No War” book, which sold over 100,000 copies.

Viktoriia Vlasenko is a global sensation, as her work goes a lot further than simply Milan and her home country of Ukraine. Some of her work includes creating costumes for high-profile theatre productions, philharmonic societies, music videos and more. Among her many highlights as a costume designer is creating the breathtaking wardrobe for the cast of the production of “Alice in Wonderland” directed by Dmitriy Obednokov, which was held at the Ukraine Philharmonic with musical support from the chamber choir.

Viktoriia Vlasenko
Actors from “Alice in Wonderland” in costumes designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

She has dressed stars such as Latin-Grammy-nominated singer and actress Natalia Oreiro for the red carpet, and has designed for SaM (Samvel Arzumanov) and his Freedom International label.

Vlasenko also designed dazzling costumes that singer Olga Pechko, the winner of the All-Ukrainian competition, wore during her performances earlier this year while on tour across Ukraine. Pechko discovered Vlasenko’s unique style after stumbling upon one of the designer’s doll collections, an area of design that she has become increasingly well known for over the years.

“She saw my Forged Iron Dummies collection and envisioned them as garments for her show and then asked me to design her costumes,” recalls Vlasenko.

Viktoriia Vlasenko
Forged Iron Dummy by Viktoriia Vlasenko

In addition to designing countless theatrical productions and costumes for the stars, Vlasenko has been tapped as the costume designer on an impressive list of films including multi-award winning director Catharine Lin’s (“Twenty Years After”) romantic film “Mr. Heart” starring Greyson Todd (“Mind, Body and Bullshit,” “Let Me Go”) and Ivan Sharudo (“The Lincoln”). As every project is unique in itself and requires something completely different to take it the next level, Vlasenko’s creative process understandably varies from project to project.

When it comes to designing costumes for the cast of a film production, like that of the upcoming Ukrainian film “Unworld,” Vlasenko says, “I read the scenario; then I learn the subject of costume and film epoch.. Then I think over the ideas, calculate the production and how much time it will take, then start to draw the design, select fabric and materials. After this – purchase of materials and the costume production itself after agreement of the design with the film director.”

Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costume for “Unworld” designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

As the costume designer on “Unworld,” an upcoming urban fantasy film directed by Mykhailo Andriiets, Vlasenko created a series of highly-technical costumes. While “Unworld” depicts a war between futuristic robots equipped with powerful digital technology and the mythical monsters of yore, the dystopian film has an underlying message of unity. In the midst of an all out war, the film’s seemingly disadvantaged human characters band together and use the robot’s digital technology in order to bring down the established order.

Bringing to mind images of films like “V for Vendetta” and “Blade Runner,” but placing her own unique spin on things, Vlasenko’s costumes for “Unworld” are incredibly stylized; and they’re a key in transporting the audience into such a far-out world. You can get a sneak peak into Vlasenko’s designs for the film from the clip below.

“Viktoriia created the concept images, designed the costumes, coordinated accessories and worked out the technical elements for the costumes to work for the actors performances, she pretty much did the work of a concept artist, costume designer, technologist, seamstress, and prop master,” says Ukrainian director Mykhailo Andriiets.

“Working with Viktoriia is inspiring… you can not see where the boundaries of her talent and optimism ends. She is a great professional because of her boundless imagination and diligence… She believes in success and does everything possible to achieve it.”

Though Vlasenko has made a strong name for herself in Ukraine, her unique skill as a costume designer has also attracted the attention of filmmakers in the US, such as Avi Agarwal (“Pieces”) who tapped Vlasenko as the costume designer on his 2016 dramatic comedy film “Loose Ends” starring Justine An from the film “A World of Contradictions.” Awarded at the 2016 Hollywood Boulevard film Festival, “Loose Ends”  depicts a young collegiate partier who’s potential futures flash before his eyes during different encounters over the course of the film, with the most rattling outcome being one of total vagrancy.

In stark contrast to her work on “Unworld,” Vlasenko’s task as the costume designer on “Loose Ends” required her to err on the side of minimalism to create a more realistic wardrobe in support of the story.

Vlasenko says, “I watched the vagrants and homeless people around Los Angeles, taking note of how they behaved and what they wore, as well as that of  prisoners. This project was actually very simple for me, but this is exactly what the film director wanted, it was his vision of the project.”

Always working in support of the story– that is the true role of the costume designer, as well as for anyone else working on a film crew, something Vlasenko knows all about. While her wildly outrageous designs for films like “Unworld” reveal her capacity as a creative, her ability to let the story guide the way is tantamount to the success of the films she works on.

“I can work with various materials, which some other costume designers tend to be afraid to work with,” Vlasenko says. “I can invent, implement and realize my designs, using my own hands to bring them life, I can make a more cost-effective costume design budget when I have to.”

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Costume Designer Spotlight: Claudia Sarbu

Costume Designer Claudia Sarbu
Costume Designer Claudia Sarbu

A passion that courses through her veins and experience far beyond her years have earned costume designer Claudia Sarbu her place at the forefront of her field. Her sheer talent is reflected in her diverse work on films ranging from the epic 2014 blockbuster “Divergent” to the heartwarming drama “20th Century Women,” released early this year. Few in the field are able to move so seamlessly between such wildly different productions, but Sarbu has been training her entire life.

She was born near Bucharest, and growing up she lived just blocks from the film studio where both her parents worked. Her mother made costumes for the studio and encouraged her daughter’s natural talent.

“I remember when I designed my teacher’s wedding outfit, and then my mom made it,” she said, recalling how she got her first taste of design. “It was very avant-garde for that kind of small town wedding, but she looked great.”

Having been immersed in the field for longer than she can remember, Sarbu knows better than anyone how crucial good costume design is to any production that aims to create a believable universe. She proved this on an enormous scale when she served as Costume Coordinator for “Divergent,” the first in a hotly anticipated series of films based on the trilogy of internationally bestselling books by Veronica Roth. As the costume coordinator, Sarbu was responsible for ensuring the film’s costumes were made and prepared perfectly.

Divergent

The cast of the film made raised the stakes for Sarbu even higher. In addition to Shailene Woodley, known for her roles in “The Fault in Our Stars” and in “The Descendants” (alongside George Clooney), the film also stars Ashley Judd (“Double Jeopardy”) and Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet (“Titanic,” “Finding Neverland”).

The events of “Divergent” take place in a dystopian future where every person must fit neatly into one of five factions, each representing a different virtue. Anyone who is unable to assimilate into one of these factions is labelled a ‘divergent’ and faces mysterious but almost certainly deadly consequences. At the heart of the story is one such divergent, Tris (Woodley), who defiantly resolves to fight back against the unjust system.

The world in which the film is set is fractured and extraordinarily complex, which is mirrored in the relationships between characters and factions. It was an indescribably difficult undertaking to create a costume for each and every character that both captures the individual’s personality and visually represents the character’s faction and their station in the world’s social hierarchy.

“The majority of the costumes for ‘Divergent’ were manufactured in Romania by two workshops, and I was in charge of overseeing both. My job was to develop and translate the illustrations into actual garments by choosing fabrics, deciding on patterning and finishing details, as well as overseeing the quality of the manufacturing, aging and distressing processes,” she said, detailing her staggering list of responsibilities. “At the same time, I had to keep up with the shoot schedule’s demands, meaning prioritizing what to ship first while working under very tight deadlines. It was almost four months of intense work, but in the end we’d delivered over 2,000 pieces of costumes.”

All of Sarbu’s tireless work proved well worth it when “Divergent” was released in March 2014. It immediately shot to the top of the box office in its opening weekend as casual moviegoers and longtime fans of the novels piled into theaters to catch the first chapter in the epic trilogy.

20th Century Women
Poster for “20th Century Women”

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum lies “20th Century Women,” the exceptionally moving autobiographical story of two women who help a mother raise her son against the backdrop of Santa Barbara in 1979.

“The script for ‘20th Century Women’ is one of the closest to my heart, and also one of the most challenging ones I’ve read… spinning between past, present and future and mixed with dreams and flashbacks,” said Sarbu. “The costumes were extremely important to the film’s authenticity. We were dressing real life characters whose personalities and vibes needed to be conveyed through their style.”

The film debuted early this year and starred Annette Bening (“American Beauty”) and Elle Fanning (“Maleficent,” “Super 8”). Audiences and critics lauded “20th Century Women” with praise, and the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Comedy, and a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for Annette Bening for her powerful performance.

Despite being completely unlike “Divergent” in every conceivable way, the importance of Sarbu’s work to the industry at-large is illustrated by the fact that both of these wildly different films needed costumes, and both relied on Sarbu’s talents. For both, and for any other film, Sarbu knows that good costume design starts with understanding the characters and the worlds they live in. In this way, the process she follows for a film set in a nightmarish future is much the same as it would be for a film set in ‘70s-era Southern California. In practice, Sarbu’s process requires the instincts and training that she has honed throughout her illustrious career. When she describes what she does, however, she makes it sound straightforward and almost simple.

“Film and TV are essentially visuals,” she said, “and what people wear is essential to creating that visual.”