Q&A with Costume Designer and Stylist Rosemary Ponzo
Published on September 13th, 2011 | by Carlos J. Segura1
During 2010′s Fashion Week, Cinespect had the pleasure of sitting down with one of its first interviewees, Rosemary Ponzo, an industry veteran who’s worked with the likes of Coppola, Prince and beyond since her entry into the world of fashion design and styling. This time around, appropriately during Fashion Week once again, we sit down with Ms. Ponzo to talk about her latest ventures, her take on what it takes to be a successful designer/stylist for anyone looking to break into the business and, of course, fashion.
Ok, so tell us what you’ve been up to since our last interview; what you’ve got in the works, etc.?
My most recent projects have been working with pharmaceutical companies, doing commercials for them. Although they’re not glamorous they have teeth because they pay a lot (laughs). I have also been working with a company that is doing a movie called “Harley Quinn,” and it’s an independent film. It’s a very exciting movie because the character of Harley Quinn transforms herself from a psychologist into someone that is quite the diva, almost like Catwoman. And the make-up I’ve done should be very exciting, almost “Black Swan” like.
I worked for Jeff Gordon, grooming him for his charity, which is on television right now, and also for events that he attends with his wife. I also worked on a rap video for Jim Jones; the video is called “Money Bags.” And he is all real Louis Vuitton (laughs). And then I did a Blackberry apps commercial. I love the theater but movies and commercials are fast money. I also did a Sharp Television spot in Japan based on the work of artists like Duras, Degas, Van Gogh, and I had to bring their paintings to life. And it was done in 3D.
Now, speaking to someone that’s reading this and possibly looking to get into costume design, what does it take to be a costume designer?
I think style and taste is innate. I think you either have it or you don’t. And to acquire it takes a lot of motivation and a lot of research. And it really takes someone that is so motivated, that will go that extra mile to do their research to design costumes. I tell my students today that the internet is the best tool there is but I still tell them to get a coffee table costume design book to have the pictures, so they don’t always have to go online. But in a pinch the internet is the best tool.
The research is a 24/7 job. You have to love every second of it. I love every minute of it. The traveling with your actor, the arch, the changes, how their costumes change, why their costumes change, why they’re wearing something, all of the reasoning. It shouldn’t be just putting clothes on people. It should never be that. So what it takes is someone really, really determined, dedicated, and someone who has a definition of who they are before they can go out and say I am a costume designer. The three Ds. And then you’ve got the three Ps: persistence, positivity and perfection. Because I’m never happy (laughs). I always think I could have done better. But in some ways that keeps you going because if you start to lay back you get lazy.
A recent example of mine of going that extra mile was a spot I did for a Parisian shopping mall, which I had to research. For my research I went to a lot of French restaurants and I met people that were from France or their daughter was in from France or something and I asked them, “What do you wear when you go shopping?” Jeans, t-shirts, sunglasses, shoulder bags (had to be Chanel or Hermes) and such. But then I asked what is the difference between a New York shopping mall and a Parisian shopping mall in terms of the clothes. They said the fit. It’s the fit of their jeans or t-shirts. The fit is so perfect. And they hardly wear make-up. And they smoke a lot. I had to put that in the commercial. I asked people visiting from Paris in the restaurants if I could take their photographs. So that’s a way to research. Being out there constantly. Talking to people, seeing what they’re wearing and why did they choose that outfit for shopping
I think we have become so fast paced with the computer technology being faster than the human mind that we have to take the time to think through a character–and this is especially important if you have a director who does not haave an idea and will let you come up with something–what you need to do is create a back-story. “This person lived in Ohio and she’s moved to New York and she went to this school and she goes to this club.” And from there I would make my clothing choices. Maybe she shops at American Apparel, maybe she shops at H&M or Bloomingdales.
Now I don’t want to risk generalizing too much but in the last 10 years what are trends you’ve noticed in fashion in film?
It has been Hollywood-formulated and geared toward the layman. Geared toward people that just want to have mindless entertainment like “The Hangover,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “ No Strings Attached.” Films in the last 10 years have not made you think. They think for you. People don’t want to think. And a lot of people like to see a lot of special effects, especially these days. Also, there isn’t a lot of prep work allowed for films these days so that affects the approach.
So far as challenges or pitfalls are concerned what should new designers avoid doing?
First of all they should know their resources. Where to get things at any hour of the night. What stores are open because sometimes you’re on a set and a director will change something and it is midnight or 2 in the morning and you’ve gotta have that in the trailer. And if you don’t you better know where you can get it quick. Places like Target, stores in the East Village, Times Square, etc.
Now for some fun questions. What about veteran costume designers that are just really at the top of their game? Who are your picks?
Costume designers can always do better when they have a larger budget. So who’s bringing it home are the designers who work with larger budgets because they have more choices, they can buy more clothes…so I would say Ann Roth. Catherine Martin, who did “Moulin Rouge.” It helps to be married to a director (laughs). I still love Milena Canonero. I don’t know what work she’s doing these days.
I think people like that, people that have a budget, they can bring home the best. The people that do indies they must work harder. They must work smarter.
Continuing on with favorites could you name your favorite decade in film, fashion-wise?
It would have to be in the 40s. You knew that! You didn’t even have to ask that! Let’s say 30s to 50s. There was Edith Head, Travis Banton, Adrian, Ruth Morley and many, many, many more. Also Givenchy.
One last fun question: movies that you watch just for the costumes.
“Marie Antoinette,”(the new version designed by Melina Canonero and directed by Sophia Coppola) “Auntie Mame” and “Clueless!”