Saturday, June 14, 2008

How does a Costume Designer become a Writer?

After training as a theatrical costume designer at Seton Hill College, and spending six years fun-filled and exhausting years in professional theater I decided I needed a steady paycheck. Eating was never much of an option for me and the landlord got cranky if I failed to come up with the rent on a monthly basis.

I decided to head back to school for Interior Design. Even though I had a BA and an MA in Costume Design and History, with professional credits in opera and various other theatre productions, I had never had a full-time "real" job. I had absolutely no confidence in myself. I knew I needed to face the "real world." I enjoyed ID, and had "done" a couple of houses.

I spotted an ad in a day-old issue of Newsday, our local newspaper. "Swimwear Designer Wanted. Experience Desired but Not Necessary." I knew less than nothing about swimsuits, but I took a chance. After all, I had nothing to lose but my pride.

The interview was arranged, and after digging myself out of a snowdrift-filled driveway, I made it to the interview. I felt like my life was on the line. The man who interviewed me was very nice and we shook hands and parted company.

I did not get the job. Oh, well, I thought. So what. I am still going to school.

About two months later, I got a phone call. Would you like the swimwear job? The person who had been hired did not work out and the job was mine if I wanted it.

Oh, boy! What do I do NOW? I was getting great grades in school, and really liked ID. If I quit, I'd be in debt up to my eyebrows and the student loans would come due before I could blink. Plus, there was no guarantee I would succeed as a swimwear designer.

I opted to take the job.

In the next 24 years I designing every type and variation of swimwear known to man-- and woman. I received awards as well as kudos from my industry peers and associates. I also started and ran the swimwear department for a major US manufacturer.

However, all good things come to an end. In December 2003, after almost 25 years as a swimwear designer, my job went off-shore.

It was a bad year for the US textile and garment industry. Many owners sought to make a financial killing
for themselves by sending their manufacturing to the cheap-labor plants in Asia. Unfortunately, that arrogance was rewarded with a failure. The company for which I'd worked went out of business in 2007.

When I lost my job, I thought panic would set in. Or tears. It was odd because I did neither. Maybe because I had faced being jobless already, I just made an effort to find something new.

I landed a one-day-a-week teaching job in the brand new Fashion Design Department of the Art Institute of New York City. I LOVED teaching. I felt as if I was giving back to the next generation of designers.

Through a good friend I made connections and I was offered a job as a patternmaker a couple of weeks later. I thought it might be a good fit. They were even willing to let me teach one day and work the balance of the week for them. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity.

But I kept thinking: What happens if the new company goes off-shore in five years? Then what? Do I look for another design or patternmaking position?

I hesitated about committing to the patternmaking job. The day I was to give my answer, an offer to be a full-time instructor at AI-NYC was presented.

I said "yes" to the teaching position and have not looked back.

I miss the excitement of the garment center with its action and creativity, but I have turned my life toward a different goal. The Art Institute of New York City has been a home for me, giving me the opportunity to teach, to learn, to grow and to share with my collegues and my students.

With free time available because I was not required to be at a job five days a week, I began to write historical fiction. The Writer's Voice Workshops at our local YMCA gave me (and later my husband, as well) the opportunity to get feedback on what I'd written.

I loved the workshops and bought everything I could on writing instruction. I wanted more. I wanted classes. So I started to hunt for a graduate program.

What is ironic is, while surfing the Web ond day for writing programs, I stumbled upon a familiar name. Seton Hill.
My alma mater had become a University, and had a graduate program called Writing Popular Fiction.

After submitting my application, I was accepted. In June 2008 I will be graduating with my MA in Writing Popular Fiction. My Thesis novel is The General's Son. The second novel of The Medici Prince duology, The Emperor of Florence, was also written during my tenure at Seton Hill. A third novel, The Illustrious Woman, about artist Sofonisba Anguissola, is in work.

I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I am living my dream of teaching and writing.

And THAT is how a Costume designer transforms into a writer.

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