Costume Designer Karyn Wagner Visits LA Campus
Costume designer Karyn Wagner recently visited the Los Angeles campus as a guest speaker for the Premier Fashion Design Group. She shared her story, offered advice, and answered questions from students about the industry.
A native Angeleno, Karyn Wagner grew up in film. Her grandmother was a silent film actress and her grandfather won the Academy Award in Cinematography for Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. She’s always had an avid interest in everything, which she impressed the importance of upon the students.
An insatiable curiosity fueled her fire. In college, she earned a double degree in painting and art history, then decided to pursue work in the camera department, so she could “paint with light.” The atmosphere in that department turned her away and she moved into costume design.
It all started with her first feature film, Hard Target, shot in New Orleans starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Her passion, ambition, and focus has taken her career to exciting places. She now has Underground, Cake, Preacher, The Green Mile, The Notebook, and a slew of other TV and film titles under her belt, and she continues to unfold as an artist and deepen her place in the industry. She said that dark, moody pieces are her favorite.
Her process? “The first thing I do is read the entire script. And in the back of my mind, I start to build an arc,” she explained. “I see characters on their journey so that they end up in the right texture and colors at the right time. Costumes create an arch. You can’t pull out anything without the arch falling apart.”
She puts her vision together with tear sheets, drawings, inspiration, and swatches, to present to the director and often the actors.
The students asked her advice on what they can do now to prepare for a career as a costume designer for TV and film and she responded with, “Travel is the most important thing. Walk everywhere. Throw a dart on the map and drive there. Meet people. Talk to people. Read foreign literature.” She also added, “Be eager, and have an ironclad work ethic and good table manners. And stay curious, always.”