Wardrobe Mistress Alison Lyons
We were thrilled to catch up with alumni and Wardrobe Mistress Alison Lyons who has worked on some fantastic productions since her graduation with us during our former days as CCAD. From her first work experience on Channel 4’s Shameless to her recent job on the Netflix production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover Alison has had a lot of experience and offers great insight into working in the screen industries.
Future and current students will find her tips extremely insightful, read on to find out more:
Tell us about your steps leading up to your current job since you graduated from the university.
I would say there were two main things that led to me getting my foot in the door in the film/tv industry. The first opportunity I probably had was when a previous student, who had become a costume designer, came into one of my professional studies lessons to talk about her career progression. At the end of the talk, I immediately asked her if there was any chance of a work experience placement with her. I was lucky enough to join her for a few days on the set of the Channel 4 show ‘Shameless’. This gave me an invaluable insight into the day-to-day running of not only the costume department but a whole crew.
The other came in the form of a meeting I had with Northern Film and Media (North East Screen). I had written to them asking for any advice on getting in contact with productions filming in the North East. They invited me to join their crew database, where productions shooting in the area could search for local crew. From the database, I ended up working on two short films and eventually as a costume trainee on ‘Inspector George Gently’.
Both of these steps I would say were equally instrumental into my first steps into the industry. I wouldn’t have been eligible for the crew database had I not have gained my work experience first, but without the database I never would have made the contacts that gave me my first major roles.
Let us know about your current role as a Wardrobe Mistress, your tasks and what your days look like? What next steps would you like to take in your career?
As Wardrobe Mistress my main role is to supervise and oversee the team that deal with the costumes heading onto set that day. I work primarily with the costumes for the main cast and closely with the costume standbys who are the ones that are responsible for the costumes whilst they are being filmed.
My day is usually formed of dressing the cast, dealing with any issues that may have arisen whilst dressing (e.g. last minute alterations and repairs), laundering of costumes, checking the continuity and lining-up the correct continuity costumes for the immediate days ahead. I also deal with logistics of costume changes in between scenes and liaise with different departments to facilitate our needs.
My aim has always been to become a costume supervisor. I currently supervise the principal team but I would like to do this on a larger scale and supervise all the sub-teams within my department.
Are there any projects you would like to mention that were a learning curve for you in your career?
I would say that every project is a learning curve of some sort. Whether it’s a professional learning curve where you learn a lot of new skills or whether it’s a personal one where you learn more about yourself and how to deal with certain situations. Every job is a different experience and I can honestly say, whether that job has been a favourite of mine or less enjoyable experience, I have always learnt something.
You’ve had some amazing opportunities working on shows for Netflix like the recent Lady Chatterley’s Lover, do you have any tips for graduates looking to work on a series like that?
I would say that the most important thing I would tell graduates is also the biggest cliché – working in the TV/film industry is not glamorous!! Be realistic about your expectations when entering the industry. The days are long, you shoot no matter the weather or the temperature, and sometimes you have long breaks between jobs, which can be quite unnerving.
I love my job and I am certain that I would not be able to do it without that love. I have travelled to some fantastic places, shot in some beautiful locations, and worked with some amazing people but it is hard work, both mentally and physically.
Being from the costume department, I have a particular love of period dramas, and I always have. Anyone that knows me, even from my degree course, will know I became obsessed with Downton Abbey, which first aired when I was in my final year at CCAD.
My aim was to work on that show, and it finally became reality after 10 years, when I was lucky enough to be standby on ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’. By this time, I had more than enough experience to know that, despite this being my dream job, it was going to be extremely hard work and a lot of pressure. I still had the best time! But I am really glad that I had gained enough knowledge and time where I could be more realistic about what the job entailed, as opposed to if I had been given that role a lot earlier in my career.
What would your advice be to a students just graduating and looking to take their next steps?
Take every opportunity that is put before you whilst doing your degree, you never know what can put you even a small step closer to getting your foot in the door. Network as much as possible, because in the early stages it becomes a lot about who you know rather than what you know.
What was special about your time at The Northern School of Art, what did you like about your course?
I studied Costume Construction for Stage and Screen, back when the Northern School of Art was called CCAD! I always knew that I loved costumes but it gave me the opportunity to explore where I wanted to end up as a career. When I started the course, I absolutely believed that I wanted to have a career as a costume maker/cutter. Despite how much I loved it, I soon realised that wasn’t for me, but I could still use the skills I was learning to take a different path through the costume department. The technical skills I learned whilst there have given me such a great knowledge that I have learnt to apply slightly differently day-to-day.
You can find out more about our BA (Hons) Costume Interpretation with Design degree here.