Having recently finished a music video with Director Abteen Bagheri and cinematographer Isaac Bauman, Sara Şensoy is in Poland for the cinematography film festival, Camerimage. She answers our questions with the excitement that surrounds her, and tells us about her upcoming projects, and the way forward through costume design.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
I’m currently in Poland for Camerimage, the top cinematography film festival in the world. I’m here with director Abteen Bagheri and cinematographer Isaac Bauman, celebrating their nomination for best music video and best cinematography for Kodaline – “Ready,” for which I was the costume designer. It’s an amazing time here, surrounded by some of the world’s best filmmakers and DoP’s specifically. The quiet, cold city of Bydgoszcz has been transformed into an epic, seemingly never-ending party. The energy and shared passion of everyone here has been very inspiring to say the least.
Next, I’m working on the costumes for an iPhone app commercial with director Abteen Bagheri. It’s an exciting project and we’ll be shooting in Los Angeles. The information about the app and the concept are private right now so unfortunately I can’t tell you much else.
“I love working from a script and creating characters. Costumes serve a story–a character– and not seasons or attempting to please a buyer profile.”
How did you decide upon costume design?
I can trace it back to one of my earliest memories when I was 5. My mom’s friend brought back a book from Italy, which had the opera costumes that Gianni Versace designed for La Scala in Milan. I remember being mesmerized by the fantastic sketches in this book and dreaming that one-day I could draw like that.
I grew up with MTV, watching the great music videos of the 90’s from directors such as Jonathan Glazer, Chris Cunningham, Hype Williams, Spike Jonze, and Mark Romanek to name a few. I couldn’t help but feel inspired from all the amazing sets and costumes they had during the golden age of music videos. At that stage, I didn’t know costume design was something I could study. I thought I had to study fashion in order to go into that world.
I am very lucky to have come from an artistic family. My grandfather, Prof. Hamdi Şensoy, was the dean of architecture at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. My dad is a landscape architect, my mom is a jewellery designer, and my aunt is an art historian. They reminded me I had to practice drawing everyday. Unfortunately, my high school concentrated more on academia rather than art, so I dedicated my free time to the artist Deniz Orkus’ Studio after school.
During the summer after 10th grade, I attended Parson’s School of Design in New York to better my portfolio, and there my teacher told me to go to Central Saint Martin’s in London if I could. I thought there was no way I would be able to get in, but my mom persuaded me to go to London and show CSM my portfolio. That was it, I got offered a place and started my foundation year.
At CSM, I discovered Costume Design as a major. Designers like Sandy Powell (Interview with the Vampire, Wolf of Wall Street, Carravagio, The Aviator), Alison Chitty (designer for all of the Mike Leigh movies), Anthony Powell (101 Dalma- tioans, Indiana Jones) all attended that school. It was a very inspirational 4 years where I got to experiment and find my own design language and collaborate with mentors and peers alike. Soon after, I began working in music videos and commercials, and everything snowballed from there…
Why did you choose to pursue costume design instead of fashion?
I love working from a script and cre- ating characters. Costumes serve a story–a character– and not seasons or attempting to please a buyer profile.
Costume design can take you around the world. You could be working in the Bahamas or immerse yourself in the underbelly of Japan, a world you would never be able to see if you were just visiting.
I call our lives a modern gypsy life. You go to wherever the projects take you. It’s always evolving, not one single job is the same, and you’re constantly collaborating with artists with different voices and styles, which enriches your own craft.
What has your evolution been like starting and working as a costume designer?
It’s been a gradual process, with each project I learn something new, and meet new people that lead me to something better.
Starting out, I wanted an opportunity to work on ambitious, concept-driven pieces, so music videos seemed like a natural fit. It was a medium where I could get my feet wet and learn the foundations of working in film and have some freedom to experiment.
The company no longer exists, but I applied for an internship at this production company called Flynn in London. They were producing most of the Chemical Brothers music videos at the time, and there I learned the dynamics of putting a production together. Later I started assisting Hannah Edwards, a great costume designer, who I now share a stu- dio with. She’s behind many great music videos/commercials such as MIA – Bad Girls, Kanye West – No Church in the Wild, Paolo Nutini – Iron Sky and most recently the movie Catch me Daddy. Through her recommendation, I started designing for music videos myself, which also led me to designing for commercials and films.
Simultaneously, I knew I wanted to get into feature films, so I contacted Silvana Sacco, whose work I greatly admire (Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible). She looked at my portfolio and I got a job as her assistant. I assisted her for Gulliver’s Travels, which led me to working on films such as Clash of the Titans, War Horse and 47 Ronin.
Working on these films, I learned about costume design in detail, particularly costume effects, adding a real dimension to the characters in their costumes. It’s like the make-up of costume design, adding a final layer of believability and depth to the wardrobe.
The big budget movies afford you opportunities to try techniques and observe things you’d never see on a smaller scale, from working on the costumes for the stunts to the smallest details of crafting custom made buttons.
Many designers or creative people seem to have a very strong sense of confidence. Is that just a façade?
Confidence comes with time. You have to keep on doing what you do in order to really feel it. A project that might seem very easy might be the very bullet to break your confidence. In moments like this, I find strength in getting up and walking over it. You have to train yourself to be quite fearless and build a very thick skin in this industry.
I have built a strong relationship with some of the directors I work with, and we have a mutual understanding and trust. When someone you admire has faith in you, you start to believe in yourself and what you’re doing.
Where do you find inspiration? Do you look towards history, fashion designers, travel?
For historical pieces, the Victoria & Albert Museum Archive in London and the Bath Costume Museum are great research tools. I’m always collecting books, costumes, photographs, and even paintings.
Ultimately, my inspiration can come from anywhere, from the colour of a rock to a piece of music. I’m constantly observing real people and examining why they dress the way they do. As a costume designer, you are building a character, thinking about their past, present and future, justifying why the characters should dress a certain way. The colour palettes they choose, the textures, and their inner worlds and intentions all come into play. Someti- mes,Ilookatatextureonawallora pattern, and I can see something that evokes a character trait.
Photography: Can Evgin