At the beginning of December After Nyne were lucky enough to be present for the stunning final showcase of work from the London College of Fashion MA Costume Design for Performance graduates.
We sent After Nyne’s Ria Laskaris to meet the course director Agnes Treplin to find out more about the course, her highlights from 2014 and find out what challenges present themselves ahead of the graduate show.
Agnes, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, especially after such a dazzling Final Show. Could you please give a brief overview of the course content and structure?
The MA Costume Design for Performance at London College of Fashion aims to develop confident and experimental practitioners who will push the boundaries of what the subject of costume beyond its established traditional role. Taught largely on a one to one basis by international practitioners, experienced teachers and senior researchers, the programme nurtures creative ideas about costume and performance.
The course goes beyond the understanding of performance and the role of character creation through costume and allows students to locate their practice within the wider realms of contemporary culture and art, as well as within the relevant dramatic, social and philological contexts.
What is your overall aim for the students?
The development of the performances is the culmination of the Masters Project, the final piece of work undertaken by the students on the MA Costume Design for Performance. The course encourages its students to initiate ideas whilst articulating a visual language of performance centred on costume.
The choice of the text or the creation of thereof as a starting point for the development of the performance concept, context and meaning is often a very personal journey. Having undertaken extensive research into their source material, the students are encouraged to explore their specific fascinations, stated as initial research questions, in relation to the body in performance and the text studied. Their research involves both speculative and theoretical approaches, in parallel with practical exploration of fabrication in the costume workshop, involving pattern cutting, extended bodies and frames, surface textile, print and dye and costume-props techniques.
Have you or any of the students faced any particular challenges in preparation for the Showcase?
There are always many challenges that the students and teaching team face because if the experimental nature of the students performance concepts. The often unprecedented use of materials in performance which are usually associated with architecture, construction or product design create many challenges for the designers to work with and create costumes that the performer can interact with in interesting ways but also safely.
For the suspended performer we had to hire a specialist circus space for the rehearsals and for the large structure of the Queen of the Night we had to obtain special H&S certificates to be able to use the expanding foam in close proximity to the body. Most of the challenges are not necessarily technical but in the creation of meaningful narrative through the use of costumes. To focus the often complex themes into a short costumes specific solution is the hardest task of all.
How does this course differ from the BA in Costume for Performance?
In its aims and objectives there are many parallels with the BA but the MA has embedded in its programme the constant and repeated practical workshops with performers and choreographers where the narrative potential of the costumes are tested on and with the body in performance. This is done for live performance and for film. This enables the students to see how their ideas work and where they don’t convey the anticipated meaning.
The Final Show is a very important part of the MA because it offers the students a fantastic platform to work with professional practitioners over a length of time in rehearsals and then also within a world class venue such as Sadler’s Wells with excellent support from technicians and management. For many this is their first time in a professional theatre environment and it gives them an opportunity not many students ever have. These practical elements of the course are the crucial differences to the BA which enables the MA Students to experience their role as professional designers and performance creators.
Do many students who study the BA go on to do the complete the masters?
There used to be a small but steady number of students from the BA Costume Design progressing onto the MA but with the new high fee structure there has definitely been a decline of BA Students to go onto the MA because they simply feel the pressure of debts and the need to get a job in the industry as quickly as possible. This is sad because the time for experimentation and innovation which the MA offers is cut from their learning. This is a problem a lot of small and specialist practice based MA’s face.
We do however have BA students from other LCF courses such as Fashion Design and bespoke Tailoring who progress onto the MA Costume Design for Performance.
From a design perspective, how does designing costume for performance differ from designing fashion for runway?
The main difference is that the costume designers are not designing a product for a market. Costumes are not for sale directly but are part of a production or film that the is sold to an audience, so in that way they are ‘sold’ indirectly. This is a completely different process and purpose to fashion where the purpose of the product on the catwalk is very clear and directly linked to the buyer. We share many techniques and innovative ideas with the fashion industry but the costume designer uses these techniques to aid the creation of a narrative through clothes conveyed by a performer.
I have however witnessed an increase of the fashion industry to engage with narratives. In advertising this has been done for decades where not the actual product is on display but the narratives that engage the public to dream and hope and therefore go out and buy the product.Having the product is like buying into that dream or that beautiful world mediated through the advert. Now we see more and more of that in the fashion industry and their shows in Paris, New York and London.
Karl Lagerfeld for example has over several years now created much more than a mere runway for the models to ‘walk’ the clothes. He has become much more interested in the creation of the ‘dream’, the narrative, the escape from reality into a land of history, mythology or fairytale or even exaggerated reality like his recent show set in a supermarket. These fashion shows are more and more becoming theatrical events where the clothes are part of a whole world and the viewer engages with the product more indirectly. This is a long way from the days when designers used to show the latest collection in their shops to a selected audience of high profile customers.
What particular types of performance do the students tend to design for?
The students on the whole tend to shy away from comedy and funny stories. There usually is only one out of a group 13-14 who bravely goes for that. Comedy is of course much harder to achieve and depends very much on the performer. Most pick personal stories from their own cultural background. Sometimes these are highly political issues like last year where we had a Greek students showing a performance about the European Financial crisis and the effect it has on Greece. Usually the students choose short stories, Greek Myths or fairy tales which all offer a lot of scope for costume interpretations.
Any highlights of year?
My personal highlights this year were Icchapuran (the comic piece with the wooden costume) Narcissus with the mirror slats, Meade with the large inflated red balloon, Ping with the smoking costume and Piecework, the final costume about the factory worker. All those performances really challenged what costumes can achieve and convey live on stage.
What is the success rate of the students? Which areas of work do they usually continue on to?
The students achieve great things when the leave the course. Last year one of the students won the prestigious and international Linbury Prize for Stage Design and has gone on to design for the Scottish Contemporary Dance Company. Others work in the film industry first as costume assistants later as designers themselves. We have good relations with the National Film and Television School and several of the students, while on the MA course, work on short films with directors from the NFTS which lead to often lasting relationships afterwards. Several students get selected to participate in international exhibitions in Beijing, Helsinki and Prague. Several of our alumni now hold excellent teaching posts in London such as Central School of Speech and Drama, Goldsmiths University, Nottingham Trent University and also now at LCF.
Our international students go on to do very well in their own countries because the MA at LCF is highly regarded there. They work in for the fashion industry creating costumes to enhance the shows or work in styling, others work in the Chinese film industry or for international cultural festivals in Singapore. It is a very specialist field, so we are happy that so many of our students are increasingly getting good positions and this often generates opportunities for future generations of students to follow into their footsteps.
Currently the students who have just finished the MA are working on a collaboration between LCF and Maison Lafayette in Paris on a theatre production in Brussels, Paris, New York and Riga (Estonia). This offers them a great opportunity to get involved with the industry and it is fantastic opportunity for them to work as professionals with the support of LCF, offering them a transition from MA to Industry.
For more information on this course visit