Interview: Costuming for the most Creative Holiday of the Year, Halloween.
Happy October everyone! We’ve made it this far, through an unforgettable, uncertain, and unimaginable year. We’ve learned how to be creative with our work and social lives. We’ve watched some of the most talented people in music come together for Versus battles. Attended baby showers and happy hours through Zoom. Viewed red carpet looks from celeb homes. We continue to create and celebrate life! I’m proud of us.
October marks the season of tricking, treating, and dressing up for a night of fantasy that people across the States have come to love. Some more than Christmas.. I see you, I hear you... I'm going to let you finish... but Easter has the best holiday color palette of all time.
But what is Halloween without the costumes?
To get in the holiday spirit, I reached out for an interview with Costume Designer and good friend/homegirl, Ella Brooks. Ella started making costumes in middle school and has gone on to design for the Carolina Ballet, musical theater, and owns Nchntd Costumes, bringing style to all the ghouls and goons this Halloween season.
I’m sooo excited for you all to meet Ella! She’s talented, speaks her mind, on top of her game, and is one of my FAVORITE people to work with in theater. If Ella’s on the show, I know there will be laughs, support, and intelligent conversations on social issues we’re facing today. She’s also an NC State College of Textiles Alum, so basically, my twin!
Check out our interview…
YOD: Thanks for talking with me today Ella, let’s get straight into it... how did you first get into costume design?
Ella: Costume design was, initially, the part time job that I loved and I thought I could never make a stable career out of and eventually (sort of) did.
I got roped into doing a school musical in high school which got me interested in costuming. Then, throughout college, I studied fashion design by day and worked in a costume shop/ backstage by night.
Post grad, I moved to NYC to pursue my fashion career.
Only to learn that NYC wasn't interested in hiring a plus sized black girl to design for their major brands. No matter how good your portfolio is.
So I decided to leave NYC and pursued costume design as a career in NC.
YOD: That’s the beauty of avenues like Etsy, no one has to wait for permission or mainstream acceptance to pursue their dreams. How long have you been making costumes?
Ella: Truth. Since high school. My junior year, 8th period, my friends talked me into auditioning for the show, Oliver Twist. I learned the song and the dance number just 2 hours before the audition. Got in the cast of the show and eventually started helping out with building the costumes for the show. At that point I already intended on going to college at NCSU for fashion, so I thought it was a good first step. Little did I know that the audition would change my career path completely.
YOD: I love it, that’s exactly how life works out. You never know when saying “yes” will turn into a life changing decision. What is most rewarding about making custom costumes?
Ella: As it pertains to my etsy store, I love getting messages from customers when they are happy and excited about what they just received.
With theatrical costumes,
I like going into the lobby during intermission or at the end to listen to what people thought of the show. The best part of being a costume designer is that no one knows what you look like so they will talk honestly about the costumes around you and to you.
YOD: Yes! There’s something so rewarding about being a part of the team that creates the magic. How long does it take to create a custom costume?
Ella: It really depends on the costume. I generally tell my customers it will take 30-60 days unless it's something intricate or complicated.
YOD: What's the most unique costume you've created?
Ella: It’s probably the male Elsa costume that I have been working on for the past year. It's been interesting reimagining Elsa as a dude. I can't wait to see what it looks like on him when I finally finish it.
YOD: LOL! I too am looking forward to seeing the male Elsa. How do you tackle a project like that?
Ella: The Elsa costume has been a year long project. He sends payments in small increments and I order the materials. He sent in the last payment and his measurements this past July. At that point, I went into build mode. Actually, just recently, I sent two of the pieces to him to try and send me photos, so I could make sure it fits well before embellishing it. So, if you reach out to me in advance, I’m willing to work with you on payment to get the costume completed.
YOD: Nice. Which costume has been the most difficult to create?
Ella: I’m working on a pair of spiderman costumes for toddlers right now that are stressing me out! I’ve made 3 different iterations of the webbing and I still am not happy with it. The 4th is in the works right now and it better work because I am running out of time to ship the project.
YOD: Yikes! I’m sure you’ll get it done beautifully. What type of costume do people request the most?
Ella: Thanks girl. I get a lot of requests for leotard/unitard costumes. Which I honestly like doing. The fabric is a lot more forgiving than nonwovens for example. It's especially helpful when I’m making costumes based strictly on measurements without having ever seen the person.
YOD: Getting deep for a moment...what is your mission as a Costume Designer?
Ella: I pride myself on being able to make things for all body types.
I don't discriminate on size, shape, skin tone, gender. I want to make sure that it fits and it flatters.
That has been my main objective since my first runway show in college and remains the same even now. I want everyone to feel beautiful or like a superhero or like a princess or whatever their goal is. Help them transform for that day.
YOD: Beautiful. Which costume do you predict people will wear the most this year?
Ella: I was hoping my baby yoda and mini oogie boogie would take off more this year, but as always pebbles and bam bam have been my top sellers. I think I’ve made 20ishhhh sets in the last two months. People love a classic.
YOD: What are you wearing this year for Halloween and how will you be celebrating?
Ella: No idea. Honestly my Halloween costume is always a last minute build because I’m scrambling to make everyone else's pieces.
If I had to guess... most likely my adult oogie boogie costume. I want to rebuild that one. I’ve also been playing around with the idea of adding an adult and kids Lilo, from Lilo and Stitch to my store so I may go that route.
This is going to be a low key year because of Covid. Chances are I will be at home with a movie or going to vote early in my Halloween costume.
YOD: Haha! I’d love to see a costume at the polls. What other type of garments do you make? Do you make costumes for any other occasions?
Ella: I can make pretty much anything that is clothing. There are some things I hate making, like lace up corsetry, and garments I’ve never tried making like, lingerie. But I totally would like to make lingerie at some point.
I constantly get requests for mascot costumes and armor neither of which I have the workspace for or the skillset to make. That’s why I state explicitly in my custom costuming listing, I don’t make those types of costumes.
I will make costumes for any occasion that someone requests. I have made costumes for dance competitions, comiccons, theme parties, weddings, santacon, drag shows, all types of events.
YOD: I foresee you having the workspace you need to continue building on your already amazing repertoire. Thank you so much for your time today, I truly appreciate you. Lastly but definitely not least, how can we order a Halloween costume from you?
Ella: No problem, anytime. I stop taking custom costumes for this Halloween on October 1st.
But if you are interested in any of the other costumes in my repertoire
I accept orders for designs I have available on my site until October 9th and they will be shipped by October 23rd.
You can find my full selection on my Etsy store Nchntd Costumes
Also, you can see my work on instagram @NchntdCostumes
Just like how we’ve celebrated award shows, movie releases, and milestones at a safe distance, we can create a spooky good time for Halloween this year.
There’s still time to order your costumes from Ella and come up with a creative night. And one top of that, you’ll be supporting a small black woman owned business! So hit her up. If you’re not into the holiday, that’s ok. She can also create custom garments for your special occasions.
Until next time, peace & love