Behind the Scenes on House of Ife: Costume Design

We caught up with House of Ife set and costume designer Frankie Bradshaw to find out more about her work as a designer and the reasons behind her inspiration for the costume on House of Ife. 

What is the role of a costume designer?

The role of a costume designer is really to think about how an actor’s appearance on stage helps defines their character. Every element of a person’s clothing, hairstyle and makeup helps convey information to an audience, helping them to better understand these characters they see.

So it is the costume designer’s job to carefully make choices about all of these elements. They will work with their costume supervisor to source all of the costumes, whether that means shopping for clothing, having garments made from scratch, working with hair and makeup artists or simply just deciding how somebody should wear something – e.g. are they smart or a bit scruffy?

Humans make choices, both consciously and unconsciously all the time about their appearances, and these visual indicators, chosen by the designer, really help us to get to know a character, before they even speak a line from the text!

 

How did you come to be a costume designer?

I’ve been working as a costume designer for 8 years and got into the industry via trying theatre design out at Wimbledon College of Art Foundation Course.

I always knew that I would like to do something artistic, but I had always assumed that meant creating artwork solo. When I discovered that designing for shows meant working with a whole team of artists to create a piece of art which was much bigger and more multi-disciplinary than anything I could achieve on my own, I was hooked.

I also loved that working as a designer fuses together art with literature, history, music and so much more. I then went on to study Design for Performance BA at LIPA, after which I spent some time working as a design assistant. During that time, I got small design jobs which I balanced with assisting, until I got so busy with my own work that I had to just concentrate on that.

I now have my own design studio where I draw up my costume designs, alongside creating designs for sets.

 

What stood out to you the most in this play that influenced the way you approached the costume design?

It’s a script which portrays one family, but one with five very individual characters within it, and with two distinct ethnic identities influencing the appearances of those characters.

It was important that we showed how the overlap of both Ethiopian and British identity was present in all characters, manifesting itself in different ways, to different extents.

At one end of the scale, we have Solomon, who still lives in Addis, who chastises his children for their ‘western’ characteristics, and at the other end we have Yosi, a self-defined London ‘roadman’, born and raised in Britain.

I thought carefully about how to portray those two identities within each costume, as well as the nuances of all the characters’ differing personalities, ages, and other identities.

 

What was your favourite House of Ife character to design for?

It would have to be Yosi – he is a really fun mixture of being bang on trend, in lots of branded sportswear, but also scruffy and teenage.

 

How would you describe the design of each character in three words?

 

  • Aida: artistic, progressive, exciting
  • Meron: strong, traditional, grieving
  • Solomon: conflicted, non-western, hard-up
  • Tsion: understated, approachable, homely
  • Yosi: mischievous, Londoner, boyish

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in costume?

You really have to enjoy working with people. It’s a real team effort, working with your costume supervisors, makers, hair and makeup designers, and of course, your cast to create your designs.

I always find that costumes develop so far from my initial drawings into what you finally see on stage, via all of the conversations you have with these people, who all input their ideas into the process.

My advice would be to really listen to them as more heads are always better than one!

See Frankie’s designs on stage in House of Ife until 11 June. Written by Beru Tessema and directed by Lynette Linton. 

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