Behind the Seams with Costume Student Leigh Telford
We caught up with BA (Hons) Costume Interpretation & Design student Leigh Telford to find out more about her role working on Preston Parks Behind the Seams exhibition! The exhibition returned last year and runs until February this year after its successful first run in 2018. Featuring stunning costumes from major productions such as The Crown, Fantastic Beasts, It’s a Sin and Rocket Man.
Speaking to Leigh we gained insight in to taking those first steps in to a creative career, read on to find out more!
Tell us about your position with Preston Park as an exhibition installation assistant and dresser, what did the role include?
During my time within the team at Preston Park Museum, I was an exhibition installation assistant and dresser; essentially meaning I was an assistant in helping set up and organise the exhibition, more specifically the costumes, accessories and props. This covered un-bagging the exhibits which would be part of the installation, preparing them for display, and applying costume knowledge to give the best presentation of the exhibition possible.
Give us insight into the workday and tasks.
The workday within my role was a lot of fun and really rewarding. Obviously with having such a passion for costume, especially in television and film, being able to handle and work with costumes from such hugely recognised productions was a dream. Beginning the exhibition preparation meant removing all costumes, props and accessories from their bags and boxes, while gaining knowledge of handling and maintaining the items in the best way possible for preservation and display.
Next was to get each of the costumes allocated to a suitable mannequin or display. Each of the costumes were made for different actors and actresses, this meant the costumes would not all easily fit the typical dress makers and tailors’ mannequins, meaning myself and the team would have to shave down mannequins for the smaller costumes and pad out the mannequins being used for the larger costumes using wadding and tissue paper.
With all the costumes temporarily placed onto mannequins, the costumes would be less likely to crease or damage – likely in the original bags and boxes. However, to begin making the costumes more presentable and appropriate for the historical period silhouettes, I started padding out and repositioning the garments of the costumes to be more accurate to how they would have been worn in the production and therefore more reflective of the character being played.
Examples include; filling the bust of the costume designed by Sandy Powell for “The Young Victoria”, achieving the appropriate silhouette of the dress worn by Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love”, simple accessorising of the costume from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” including styling the open jacket to reveal gloves in the pocket, and simple display changes to the costume worn by Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by padding out the sleeves to provide volume rather than being poorly draped.
Once all costume display changes were made, the exhibition simply needed final changes including the additions of backdrops and display description boards accordingly with the appropriate costumes to then assist with lighting changes to display the costumes in the highest standard possible for the exhibition. Accessorising the remainder of the costumes also followed by the dressing of the accessories display case – essentially dressing the display case with the other costume details and accessories and props used within other productions not exhibited with full costume pieces. Finishing touches then included adding navigation stickers throughout the Museum for guests to reach the exhibition easily and safely following Covid-19 guidance.
Did you feel inspired by the exhibition and what were your favourite costumes?
The exhibition was massively inspiring with being able to gain so much new knowledge of costumes I had seen in television and film, while also providing new insight to costume design, construction and also maintenance. Within my own interests, I am always drawn to fantasy and fiction but also history, so the combination of such a broad range of costumes hit all aspects of my favourite genres.
Also, with costumes of some of my favourite productions or worn by some of my favourite actors and actresses being features in the exhibition and therefore handled by myself, was so surreal as part of my experience. Some of my favourite costumes of the exhibition have to be those of “The Crown” worn by Claire Foy and Matt Smith, with the beautiful embellishments and innovative approaches to embellishment to replicate the 60th anniversary coronation dress worn by Queen Elizabeth, the dress worn by Dame Judi Dench in “Mrs Henderson Presents” with the heavy use of feathers providing inspiration and extremely beneficially feather handling/embellishment techniques for my current project, and most favourite “Rocketman” costumes. I have always been a huge music fan, especially Elton John so to be able to work with these costumes was incredible.
How did you find out about the role?
The role was brought to my attention by my tutors, who continue to bring such amazing opportunities to our attention. However, a lot of museums offer work experience and volunteer roles year-round which can be applied for via their websites most commonly.
Tell us about any projects you are working on?
I’m currently working on my dissertation as part of my final year of study, looking into perception of fictional and imaginary characters, including costume, and the characters’ effect upon child psychology and social development. This also links into my Final Major Project of creating costumes I have designed for a ballet interpretation of the children’s book series “The Guardians of Childhood” by William Joyce, more commonly recognised for the DreamWorks animation interpretation “Rise of the Guardians” with voices of Jude Law, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher. I have designed for the characters; E.Aster Bunnymund (the Easter Bunny), Toothiana (the Toothfairy) and Sandy (the Sandman), which will all be brought to life in costume during my FMP, showcased in a final Degree Show.
In terms of further work experience, I’ve recently been working as part of the costume department of a pantomime theatre production of “Cinderella”, as a costume designer, maker for some of the dame costumes (the ugly sisters), and also dresser throughout the run of the production over the Christmas period.
I’m currently working on designing and making for two of the lead characters for the Summer pantomime of “Wizard of Oz” – the Scarecrow and the Tinman. As part of the show in the summer I will be taking on a Supervisor role of the costume department and Wardrobe Mistress throughout the run in August.
Any ideas for what you want to do after university?
After my studies at the university, I’m hoping to gain as much experience in different settings, companies and production styles as possible. This experience will benefit my career path as a costumier no matter what role, as each will contribute to my knowledge of the costume industry. I have no preference of the elements of being a costumier as I enjoy designing, making, sourcing as well as the backstage/behind the scenes roles of productions so I have no set path or goal other than taking any opportunity that comes.
Any advice for people considering studying costume?
I’d say with studying costume that you gain as much knowledge and skill in as many different avenues as possible. Obviously with being on the costume course at the Northern School of Art, I’ve gained skills and mounds of knowledge in so many different areas – corsetry, tailoring, millinery, embellishment etc. but having the knowledge and confidence in working with such skills and materials, I’ve grown myself and became so much more open to working with different approaches as well as being braver and bolder with my own design processes as I continue to find myself using these different areas within my own designs. However, I also have found that working amongst so many talented and experienced peers and tutors, I’ve picked up so many different approaches to my own work that wouldn’t be achieved without studying on a costume course.
Head to @leightelfordcostumier on instagram to see more of her work!
If you are interested in studying costume at degree level or would like to find out more about the opportunities this degree can give make sure you check out our course page. This degree is well established, connected and has a fantastic track record of setting students off on a successful career in the costume industry.