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Helen Johnson

Theatre costume designer

What made you want to go into your career path? 

 

I have always been interested in craft and doing things with my hands. I also used to be really keen on the dressing up box when I was in nursery. I originally thought that I might like to work in fashion but I am really interested in history and books and storytelling. For me high fashion was too temporary and changeable. I realised that costumes are a a really good way to combine a passion for storytelling, craft and fancy dress.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 Did you always think you’d go into this career? How does it compare to how you thought it would be? 

 

When I was at school I had no idea that this career existed. Everyone I knew had a 'proper' job. My parents are both teachers and My mum was he first person in my family to get any further education. I realised it might be what I wanted to do when I went to university in Bristol. The people there had parents that did all sorts of exciting jobs and seemed to be very confident that they could get exciting and interesting jobs too.

 

I didn't really have any expectations of how it would be because I had only met one person who did costumes professionally when I started. I'm really grateful to her for giving me the confidence to tell me I was good enough to consider it as a career. I started to get a good idea of what it would be like when I designed the costumes for films and plays at university.

How was life at school?

I went to a lovely comprehensive school in Devon. We had really excellent teachers for drama and art and lots of extra curricular time spent exploring our interests in those fields. There wasn't a great deal of academic pressure which was helpful for me as I had time to explore my interests in art and drama and music, all of which has been very useful to me later on. 

How did you get into your career? 

When I was at University I was lucky enough to be offered a job at a fashion magazine to start as soon as I finished, so I thought that was what I would do. 

 

Just before I finished University I was offered a job for a day holding umbrellas on a film set where lots of actors were going to jump into a lake naked. The film company rang the drama department and I just happened to be in the office when the call came in. On the film set met a costume designer who worked lots for the BBC. She very kindly offered me a job as a trainee costume designer for a year. I realised I was much more excited about that so went ahead with it!

What do you enjoy most about it?

For me it is all about being part of a team that is making something that makes people feel something. I also love to be able to employ incredible craftspeople. I started working in Opera and Ballet because I realised that those art forms like to make productions that last a really long time, so it make sense for them to use the best materials and makers. I love finding those extraordinary talents and bringing them to an audience to tell a story that makes the audience excited in some way.

What are your ambitions?

I'd like to be able to carry on working with the best people in the world.

Tell us a fun story about your work  

Oh cripes - it's hard to think of just one. I currently am collaborating closely with Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark for a ballet in Copenhagen - there is lots of royal protocol which give plenty of opportunity for mischief! Lots of theatre stories are better told face to face, especially if they are about naughty actors, singers and dancers!

Helen's recent work: The Costumes for English Nation Ballet's Giselle

To learn more about Helen, about her career, and about mentoring and opportunities, please contact us at info@thesixteen.org.