Nadia Farah Malik
Can you tell us something about what you were doing before you started on the MA?
My degree was in Textile Design, from Nottingham Trent Uni. I then worked in the fashion industry for six years as a private label lingerie designer for various high street stores in the UK and America, but mainly Victoria's Secret. Outside work I was in a live art company, two dance companies and a band, so I designed and made costumes for everything I was involved in. I realised that costume design was what I really wanted to pursue.
Why did you choose this particular postgraduate course?
It is one of very few courses that offer costume design at MA level. I was first drawn to it because the location could not be better, in terms of access to all the things that London has to offer. However, I made up my mind when I came to the open day and saw the kind of work that previous years' students had done.
It was both intriguing and inspiring work and the course leader, Donatella Barbieri, spoke so passionately about the course and about costume that I knew this was the right one for me.
And something about the course structure and how it has been taught?
The course is structured so that there is one set project per term, for the first two terms (a theatre project and a film project). The texts that you design your character costumes from, in terms one and two, are different every year. Over terms three and four you do the final project, which you propose yourself.
As well as design and drawing tutorials from the staff, throughout the year we have constant contact with theatre makers, designers, choreographers and other performance practitioners who work with us as tutors/assessors/workshop leaders etc. This is an incredibly valuable experience as the extra input feeds into our own work and is continually inspiring, especially in terms of context and current performance practice, which is an important part of the course.
On the practical side, we make a costume for one of our designed characters per project, for which there is really good support from technicians, and at the end of each project we stage a performance.
This is a great learning experience as again, we collaborate with lighting engineers and camera men and have the opportunity to direct our own show. There is also an essay in the second term, which allows us to put our practice as costume designers into the context of current debates within performance.
Can you give us an example or two of particular projects that you have undertaken on the course?
The first term, I designed costumes for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, for a theatre space. I created Alice's nightmare world, where she felt caged in by the strict society of the times and couldn't understand what was happening to her body, as she was growing up (she constantly changes her size throughout the book). All the other characters were somehow threatening towards her and this left her alone and in despair - a Beckettian take on Alice.
The second term I designed costumes for Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. This was a film project, which I turned into a dance for camera, set in a freak show world because of the strange physicalities of the characters and the fact that they lived in an enclosed environment, with their own traditions and values.
In each project the themes and meanings that I chose to concentrate on were embedded into the design of the costumes somehow, either through shape, colour, texture, transformation or movement. It is this idea that lies at the heart of the course that through costume, a story is told.
What do you hope to do after completing the course?
I definitely want to stay in London. My aim is to work as a freelance costume designer and alongside that to continue to work collaboratively with other performance makers, to create innovative performance work with a strong emphasis on costume, pushing ideas of what costume can be and how it can shape performance.
How do you think the MA will have helped you with this?
The MA has given me a lot of contacts, including performers and practitioners involved in all aspects of performance (not just costume design). It has also developed my drawing, design and research skills for costume and my understanding of performance. All this has given me confidence in my abilities and knowledge so I feel able to seek out the kind of work I want to do when I leave.
And finally - do you have any words of advice for other students who may want to follow in your footsteps?
This course is really unique because of how it is run and the opportunities that you get. I have learnt so much from doing it and believe this was definitely the right course for me. It is also immensely hard work, so you need to have a passion for costume and be prepared to hit the ground running, with an open mind! Oh, and if you move to London, get a bike!