VINYET ESCOBAR: "I think costumes have to explain what the characters are like, their emotional state and the role they’ll play in the development of the plot."

11/29/2021

This month we interview Vinyet Escobar, a costume designer and stylist who has worked on films such as The Laws of the Border, Libertad, The Days to Come, Anchor and Hope and series such as Perfect Life or To Kill the Father. We talk with her about her profession.

How did your passion for costume design arise?

To tell the truth it was a little by chance. It wasn’t at all vocational. It’s true that my grandmother was a seamstress and that since I was little I’ve always been surrounded by thread, needles, fabrics, sewing machines... and that we used to like playing at making costumes for Barbies. But I think it’s more to do with the fact that I’ve always liked handicrafts in general. Before making costumes, I began working on the art team and, a little unintentionally, one day I set foot in the world of costumes and I liked it so much that I stayed.

 

What did you study in order to devote yourself to this?

I studied Audiovisual Communication. It’s a wonderful course which I really enjoyed, but in actual fact it never deals with costume design. I think it’s a degree which taught me to watch films and I believe that it’s very good to have seen a lot of cinema to be able to do this. As for the rest, it’s a profession you can learn on the job.

 

Were you sure right from the start that you wanted to be devoted to costume design for films?

Not at all. Initially, I began working on the art team, as I said. After a few shoots, they called me to work as an unpaid trainee on the costume team of a period film. I’d never done this before, but I was curious and surprised to see that I liked it even more. It’s true that they are two departments which have many things in common, as regards both sensitivity or interests, and work and team dynamics. I think they enhance each other and that everything I’d learnt doing art now helped me a lot in costumes.

 

You’re a costume designer and stylist. Maybe a lot of people don’t take into account the importance of your work in films. What does your work consist of and what do costumes contribute to a film?

I like to think that costumes have to contribute to a film on both the narrative and the aesthetic level. I think they have to explain what the characters are like, their emotional state and the role they’ll play in the development of the plot. In a certain way, in the first second in which we see a character in a film, before the actor has been able to say a word, or make a gesture or walk in a specific way, we can already see how they are dressed and these clothes already tell us many things about the character we have just met. For me, the motivation of my work is to ensure that the costumes add something in this respect, that they help the actor to find their character and that they help the audience to penetrate the story being told and believe in it. This doesn’t just involve selecting a specific costume, but also how they wear it. A good example is that a well-ironed, buttoned-up shirt doesn’t communicate the same thing as the same shirt which is creased and maybe stained.

 

At what stage of the project does the wardrobe department start to work? I’m sure you must work in close contact with other departments. Which ones?

Depending on the size of the project, the preparation time can be shorter or longer. On average, you start to work more or less two or three months before beginning to shoot. During this preparation period, you begin by reading the script and imagining what these characters are like and how they could be dressed in order to transmit what you want. Normally, you prepare a dossier with visual references in order to be able to show the director your intentions. You can work with photos from magazines, the press, archive material, stills from other films which might inspire you, drawings... I’d say that it’s a question of finding a visual way of showing your aesthetic approach and, starting from that, you begin to work on obtaining the clothes so that you can achieve what you’ve just imagined.

On an aesthetic level, the department with which we have the most relations is the art department, since it’s very important to work with the same concept. For example, the house where a character may live determines their costumes and vice versa. You also need to talk about what palette of colours you’re going to work with so that the costumes and the sets make sense visually. It’s also very important to work with the hair and make-up team since, together with them, you create the overall look of the characters.

 

How does someone who wants to devote themselves to this begin? Was it difficult to take your first steps in the world of cinema?

Unfortunately, there’s no specific formula. I think individual experiences are very different in this respect. It’s essential to be very eager and persistent. Personally, there were times when I almost gave up. When you finish studying, it’s very difficult to get on a shoot, above all if you don’t have contacts. In my case, I chose to sign up for all the shoots which came my way. They were obviously all unpaid projects. I was very eager to learn and to take part in shoots. I was lucky that I lived in Barcelona in my parents’ house, and I worked as a waitress to offset what I didn’t earn on the shoots. Shorts, video clips, teasers for projects that didn’t come to anything... Over a year like that. When I began to become disenchanted and thought I wouldn’t be able to enter the industry, I decided to envisage a Plan B for my life and study a Master’s degree in Cultural Management. On the day that I had to pay the enrolment, they called me for my first paid shoot, and I decided to continue trying. After this, there were more which were unpaid, but then another paid job, then another which wasn’t... Until I gradually found my place in this world.

 

What was your first experience in the wardrobe department?

It was as an unpaid trainee on Black Bread, a beautiful project with period costumes and a team which taught me a lot and which included me on its next projects, thanks to which I gained experience and a love for this job.

 

Is it very different working on films than on series or for advertising or video clips, for example?

Yes, it’s very different. Series and films are very long projects, on which you focus for a long time and on which you can develop ideas together with the director with whom you create a very close relationship, and the two of you create the aesthetics. I’d say you form an active part of the creative process. That’s the part I like the most. Talking about the characters with the director, trying to decipher what they have in mind and trying to portray their ideas in an effective way. On the contrary, with advertising the project is much shorter and on an artistic level there are many more intermediaries who influence the decisions (the brand, the client, the advertising agency...). All this means that the result is much less personal. Personally, although there are fantastic adverts, I prefer to work on fiction, although I’ve done a bit of everything.

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered on designing costumes? And which project was most satisfactory for you?

I’d say the biggest challenge I’ve had was Daniel Monzón’s film, The Laws of the Border. It’s set in 1978 and, for the first time, I had to recreate a period I had not lived through. Although you have a great many references from films, music, family photos... I had a great deal of respect for it because I hadn’t experienced a time which was very recent for the majority of the people around me. I really missed not having those memories or a personal perspective, when it’s something as close as your parents’ adolescence. It was also a very big film, with a lot of extras, and very different atmospheres to recreate. From a psychedelic party of foreign tourists in Cadaqués, to prostitutes on the streets of Girona’s red-light district, or a police station.

 

What are the main difficulties for a costume designer?

Unfortunately, I think the most delicate issue is always the budget with which we work, which is always very tight compared with the ideas and expectations of the project. It’s difficult to do what you want to do and what they expect you to do with the money that you have to do it.

 

A costume designer doesn’t just design; they also have to seek out articles of clothing which already exist and which fit in with the story. How do you do this research work to find the right mood before you begin to work?

As I said earlier, it depends on each project. It might involve watching films which deal with similar universes, or watching films from the period that you’re going to recreate. Listening to music, seeing exhibitions, looking at magazines, documentaries... Even travelling and taking in the atmosphere of the place you’re going to recreate. Anything which allows you to soak up the essence of this world.

 

On several occasions you’ve worked with Leticia Dolera, Carlos Marqués-Marçet and Paco Plaza, three very different directors who also have a very personal view of films. What did you learn from each of these experiences?

It’s been a blessing to be able to work with each of them. I think the most enriching part of my work is to work with different people and try to understand them and what they have in mind. The most precious aspect is that in the end you also create a human relationship which means that you know each other on a personal level and this means that each film takes you closer to this person and that you have even more things in common when it comes to the next one.

 

If you can talk about it, what project are you working on now? Or what was your last project that we will see on the big screen?

This is a really good time for me because Daniel Monzón’s The Laws of the Border is already in cinemas, next month we’ll be able to see Clara Roquet’s Libertad, which was already shown in Cannes and is a lovely film, and in two months’ time Paco Plaza’s La abuela, which we were already able to see in San Sebastián and in Sitges, and which for me is a very special and very different film. Right now I’m in Tenerife shooting a series for the BBC, and looking forward to going home to be able to see all these films in the cinema.