What exactly is an effective Designer and Assistant team?

The job title Assistant Costume Designer is vague and often inaccurate, leading to a lot of misunderstandings in the profession.  The job of Designer is too large for one person to do in most circumstances- we cannot be more than one place at a time, yet many tasks must be done simultaneously.  Some designers work only in co-design teams, such as Motley or the costume designer- armor designer team behind The Lord of the Rings. Others prefer a Designer- Project Manager arrangement.

You cannot last long in the profession if you cannot delegate, explain tasks very succinctly or describe what you want.  Assistants, in turn, cannot last long if they don’t learn to ask incredibly precise questions, referee between conflicting tasks and assess the needs of a project.

Fashion BCBG Max Azria Fall 2008 Fall 2008A recent episode of Project Runway features the consequences of team work failure.  Click HERE to see designer Max Azria say it all!

For a more personal discussion of this topic, click HERE to read a blog entry on the subject.

At UCI, the specific tasks will be negotiated between Designer and Assistant for each show. Both designer and assistant are responsible for an efficient, useful partnership.   In general, we will use the following guidelines for design teams to negotiate their tasks.  Make sure every task is someone’s responsibility and stay flexible as needs change.

The Costume Designer will take the lead in creating an efficient team.

  • Share show information in a transparent manner with the team
  • Negotiate tasks and responsibilities
  • Remain aware of Assistant Designer 240 and Design Assistant 199 unit limitations
  • Devise a communication system to check all delegated tasks are done in a timely manner (morning coffee with team?)
  • Formulate clear guidelines of the artistic vision: appropriate textures, shapes, silhouettes, colors
  • Provide copies of research to the design team as needed to help rentals & shopping
  • Teach necessary skills so others may complete their tasks
  • Monitor the overall progress of the team
  • Take ultimate responsibility for the work of your team: never, ever hang members of your team out to dry!
  • Ask a faculty mentor for help if the team runs into trouble- believe us, we’ve been there too!


The Assistant Costume Designer

will fill three main functions: assist in the design process, act as First Hand in fittings and transition the show to wardrobe during dress rehearsal week.

  • Read the script thoroughly
  • Learn the parameters and requirements of the show using Designer’s paperwork
  • Compile specific research with the Designer as necessary
  • Act as a liaison with the costume shop or in meetings when Designer is not available
  • Help coordinate garment acquisition and returns with Designer: pulling from stock, shopping, rentals
  • Participate in daily fittings set up and note taking as a First Hand
  • Act as back stage liaison for Designer during dress rehearsals
  • Attend fast change rehearsals and crew orientation
  • Create dressing lists for wardrobe and actors
  • Compile and maintain information to create costume bibles
  • Attach identification tags to all garments, fabric choices and accessories in the shop
  • Facilitates swatching and fabric shopping
  • Investigate rental sources and vendors as needed
  • Coordinate strike with wardrobe crew
  • Participate in dress rehearsal note sessions as required
  • Participate in garment & accessories construction, alterations, dying or painting as needed
  • Ask a faculty mentor for advice if needed– we’ve all been professional assistants!

An Undergraduate Design Assistant:

Some design teams will include one or more undergraduate Design Assistants.  It is the responsibility of each design team to assign and negotiate tasks from the list above that aid the show and contribute to the Design Assistant’s experience or portfolio.

Each Designer will negotiate the number of unit hours a Design Assistant should work and register for.  Design Assistants may register for the required 101 units until those are satisfied.  All 101 time sheets are turned into Vera for processing.

Students may register for 199 credit; these units require a faculty mentor.  There is a simple 199 Memo of Understanding the Design Assistant must fill out with Holly,  and all 199 time sheets are turned into Holly to process.

Why do we ask Graduate Students to assist past their first year?

Practical experience is invaluable; when you are fully engaged in a number of shows you learn more quickly.  You learn the specific performance needs and traditions of different genres.  You are exposed to different periods more rapidly.



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