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Lindsey Holmes graduated from MA Costume Design for Performance in 2010 and has been making costumes for live and filmed performances and static displays for over fifteen years. She specialises in the making of costumes for museums and heritage sites and has worked with many collections both in the UK and abroad. She's also a qualified teacher and regularly runs workshops about making historical costume, as well as giving costume lectures on a wide range of topics.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on my PhD at the University of Derby, which is looking at the wellbeing benefits that costumes can bring within a museum education environment. My research has a practical focus, so I have spent a good deal of time in museums' costume collections, which is one of my favourite places to be; the next stage will involve a good deal of making, which will see me in my studio, another place I love to be. It's hard not working though, as all the best projects come up when you can't take them, so I am trying as much as possible to incorporate industry work into my research practice.
How did you find the first years after graduating?
Its always hard establishing yourself. I was lucky that I was working as a costume designer before I did my MA, so I did have contacts in the industry.
However, it was still hard — I worked on a wide range of different projects to make ends meet, which weren't strictly costume related: fundraising for theatre, education management for a college and project management for a charity. It's amazing what can be applied back to costume, even if it doesn't feel relevant at the time. Costume wise, I just said yes to everything and then worked out how I would fit it all in later. I worked long hours and with tight budgets, but I have always enjoyed a challenge. I guess it can't have been too bad as I now look back on those years fondly!
Which of the projects you've worked on have been the most challenging?
Gosh, every project has its own challenges, but generally they relate to time and money! Costuming sixty men for a Bond themed musical in Vegas, which involved a good deal of rip off costumes, was memorable and lots of fun! I also recall running like crazy through the centre of Bath one evening in full regency costume (but with trainers) to get a waistcoat onto an actor in time for a performance.
And which one are you most proud of?
I'm still proud of my costume art exhibition at Keats House in 2012, The needle is always at hand. I had free reign in the design of everything as it was my MA final project and it includes one of my great loves, medical history. In fact, it shaped a good deal of my current practice led research for my PhD and it allowed me to travel quite a bit to share it at conferences.
What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?
Recently, I have started being asked to consult on costumes for films, which comes with enormous pressure but is really interesting. One of my first jobs was as a men's weather-proof clothing consultant for Ridley Scott's The Terror. It was wonderful to see the designs coming together without the pressure of being responsible for it all. It's great when all the hours spent in archives studying and in the studio testing can be of use too!
You've collaborated with projects for different performance areas (museum, TV, theatre...). Where do you enjoy working the most?
It's hard to say, they all have their own benefits. I think I enjoy having a mix to be honest, as every day is different. However, on an enjoyment front, I would have to say working for festivals is always enormous fun, it's the only time I really get to wear costume and you always meet the most interesting people — I have made some amazing friends at costume festivals.
Why did you decide to focus on historical costumes? Where does your passion for heritage come from?
Way back when I was first teaching, one of my students worked at a local museum. When I found out I volunteered to help document their costume and dress collection — it was for this museum that I made my first historical costumes and basically my business spread from here by word of mouth through local museums. I do love research and I have always been more focused on fashion's past than it's future (I would be a rubbish fashion designer).
What is the best thing about your profession?
The places it takes you! It's the closest thing to time travel you can get and nothing beats being almost alone in the Tower of London at night, or waking up in a Viking village just before sunrise, or handling original garments few people have had the chance to see. It beats working for a living!
Did you always know you wanted to become a costume designer? What sparked your interest in this profession?
I have always made clothes; I started making outfits from plastic bags for my younger sister before she was old enough to complain. I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer until I discovered that costume designer was an actual job. Working with museum collections really sparked my interest and made me think I could make money from it.
Why did you choose to study at LCF?
I wanted to study somewhere well known and the course, which was new when I applied, sounded so exciting and interesting. Being in the middle of London was a huge draw - so many things to see and do between classes!
How was your experience of studying MA Costume Design for Performance?
I found the course really blew my mind — we covered all kind of things I had never even thought of, let alone knew about. I used to come home exhausted, with eyes like saucers trying to process it all, but yes, I did learn a lot and I do use it almost every day in my work.
What was the best piece of advice you received during your time at LCF?
I was always being told to really look and to see as many performances as I could. Turns out this really does make a difference, put your cameras aways kids and look with your eyes!
Do you think that studying at LCF helped you to launch your career in any way?
Yes, it helped me make good contacts and see a much wider world. Having so many guest lecturers gives you a real insight into how things work in the industry.
What piece of advice would you give someone looking to pursue a career in the performance arts?
Value your skills, whatever level you are, and don't work for free if you can't afford to! I'm proud to say I'm a working-class woman and I managed to make a living from doing something I love while being paid — it hasn’t always been easy, but it’s all the sweeter for being hard won.