A career in the fashion industry is a tough cookie to break into…but what about costume design? I interviewed Jenn Rogien who I think probably has one of the coolest jobs ever. She’s worked on costume production for TV and feature films and is now the costume designer behind HBO’s GIRLS (total fave!). Season 2 of GIRLS just kicked off and Jenn recently got a deal with aerie Intimates, so basically she’s living the dream. Jenn’s message: “test drive” jobs to find the right one for you. Read more of her wisdom below — maybe you’ll want to take a career in costume design for a ride.
Amethyst: First off, congrats on all your successes! You’ve had quite the career working for TV shows and film favorites like GIRLS, Bored to Death and Enchanted. We have a lot of girls on the site who are interested in a career like yours. Can you brief us on how you got into TV costume design?
Jenn: Thank you! I’ve been so lucky to work on such engaging shows that connect with their audiences in such specific ways. I’ve always been interested in telling stories through clothing, starting with playing dress up in my mom’s closet when I was little. I spent loads of time in the theater in grade school and high school, helping put up shows and run rehearsals. I put together costumes on my own time because I loved the way the clothes helped tell the story of the characters. It wasn’t until I worked in my college’s undergraduate costume shop that I understood that costume design could be a career. I finally made the leap into costume design after helping a fellow designer sew for an Off-Off Broadway play.
What other jobs have you had outside of costume design?
I started my professional career as an Assistant Buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue. I always had a job in high school – both during the school year and through the summers. In college, I worked on campus during the school year and in the summers worked retail. I worked in a Shakespeare Festival box office and tried out financial PR as a paid intern in NYC. I’ve learned something through every one of those experiences and everyday I apply skills I’ve learned from those jobs.
If you weren’t doing costume design, what do you think you’d be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else at the moment. I have the best job in the world! Though when I can’t take the long hours on set anymore, I might look into becoming a fashion historian or a milliner. I’m a total costume nerd!
What are some of the challenges at your job?
The early call times can be killer. When I say early, I mean that I am at work, on a location an hour from my house and completely functional at 6:00 am. That usually means my alarm is going off by 3:30 am. But the whole crew is there too, and eventually you get used to going to bed at 8:00 pm! Like every job, mine has its challenges, but I find them exciting to solve—or not so demanding—that they overshadow the great things about what I do.
What would be your advice to young women looking for a career in costume production?
Test drive!!! Costume design is not an easy gig – the days start insanely early (see job challenges above!) and the hours are incredibly long. Costume design is truly about collaboration – much of the time you are helping to realize someone else’s vision and telling someone else’s story. For me, costume design is not always about fabulous clothes or “the look.” It’s about character and story and emotion. That can mean unglamorous clothes shopped at dingy thrift stores that make for a great character.
The only way to know if costume design is for you is to try it. Volunteer on a local theater production in your town. Take an intro to a costume design course. Intern on a film, tv production, web series, or indie movie. Develop your skills – learn sewing and construction, watch movies as research, study art and history and learn literary analysis. Everything in costume design starts from the script, and knowing how to read and break down that script will give you a firm foundation for building characters and telling stories. Lastly, check your ego at the door – the most successful designers I’ve worked with are great collaborators and team leaders who also happen to be brilliant designers with great vision.
You currently have a big collaboration with aerie Intimates. Can you tell us more about that? Do you have more in the works?
I’m thrilled to be working with aerie as their Style & Fit Expert. As part of our collaboration, I’ll be shooting videos with my favorite pieces for Spring and Summer, offering insider fit tips and style tips. I’ll join aerie girls in stores and participating in fit sessions. I’m so excited to bring my background in costume and focus on fit to help aerie girls tell their stories!
Right now I’m designing a new TV series for Netflix called Orange Is The New Black. I’m hoping to hear good news about possibly shooting GIRLS Season 3. I’d love to do something with shoes and handbags. And I’m delighted to be working with aerie!
By Amethyst Wang