In this Life of Alumni feature, we're interviewing Oliver Cronk, MA Costume for Performance alumnus. Oliver tells us the ins and outs of becoming a freelance costume designer and has some top tips for anyone looking to pursue a career in the industry.
Hi Oliver! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. How’s everything going?
All is well! I’ve had an exciting and varied summer with projects ranging from New England Puritanism to the trenches of the First World War, to snooker in the 1980s ! I’m currently in Bristol working on a Tudor television series, which is fun and very busy.
Can you tell us a bit more about your line of work?
As a costume designer I work with directors and performers to discover and inform character through the visual language of clothing. My process starts with research into a subject or period and develops into a strategy for costuming all the performers involved in a project. Sometimes this requires drawing and making the costumes from scratch, and other times sourcing options from rental houses, shops and further afield.
The majority of my work is for film and television – conversations with actors are often fascinating as they develop their characters through the fitting process, and it’s always a thrill to see the costumes come alive on set and on screen!
You studied Arabic and Spanish before you came into Fine Art. What made you take the route into costume design?
I was so lucky to be able to take a year abroad as part of my languages degree. I spent it studying fine art in Madrid and Cairo- it was a very exciting year for me! The work I made whilst away centered around experimental forms of performance and clothing, which I continued to explore on a foundation course at Central Saint Martins after graduating. This interest in performance and costume soon developed into a real passion and a fully-fledged costume design practice.
What has been the highlight of your professional career to date?
Designing my first feature length film – Simon Amstell’s ‘Benjamin’ – was definitely a highlight. It was my first Head of Department position, a big learning curve and a really fun (and funny) shoot. We shot all over London, which was a real adventure, and it was great to see the film receive critical acclaim upon release.
Another highlight is definitely the travel – I have ended up in some extraordinary places for work, ranging from the Saudi Arabian deserts to the Austrian Alps to derelict industrial estates in South Wales, with locations specifically chosen for their cinematic qualities. We’re also often up to see the dawn, which is always a treat.
What do you find the most challenging part of your work?
Time pressures, tight budgets and very long hours in the film industry – but it all feels worthwhile when you love what you’re doing.
Let’s talk a little bit about your time at LCF. How do you feel your course has helped you in your professional career? Do you feel it helped to you prepare for industry?
I had been working for a while in costume before starting the MA course at LCF, without ever having learned properly how to sew. The support I received from the brilliant technicians in this regard was invaluable. The tutors were excellent, and I benefited greatly from the opportunity to explore my creative practice in such a supportive environment.
From your own experience, what piece of advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your line of work after their studies?
Jump on any opportunities to get involved in projects outside college, as it’s very useful to get to know people already active in the industry.
Most of all work hard and enjoy your time at university to experiment and explore what you enjoy creatively. A solid understanding of this is really useful for what you choose to do afterwards. Watch as much film, theatre and performance as possible, and have fun!
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