• Costume designer Ciera Wells´s sketch for her movie Inferno.
  • Costume Design by Ciera Wells for the movie Inferno.
  • Costume Designer Ciera Wells on the film set of Sleepwalk with Me.
  • Ciera Wells creates the costumes for the movie Sleep Walk With Me.
  • Outfits by Ciera Wells for the movie Damsels in Distress.
Costume designer Ciera Wells´s sketch for her movie Inferno.
The actor is wearing the actualized outfit from the sketch.
Portrait of Ciera Wells.
Costume Design for the film Sleep Walk With Me.
Three lovely girls in lovely outfits - Movie Damsels in Distress.

    Interview; Costume Designer Ciera Wells chats about garments and emotions

    19 June 2013

    By Hillary Sproul

    Ciera Wells has an easy smile that makes you feel immediately in the company of a dear friend. Actors on set need to be soothed by their clothing. They need to feel at home in the company of others. Emotionally naked, their garments are their only protection. It's in this smile, that Wells offers not only actors, but directors and writers- and the many other creatives at work- a place of solace. It's in her wardrobe room that you can seek salvation in the hotbed of balancing acts that often make up a film set.

    Her credits include Walt Stilman's Damsels in Distress, Sleepwalk With Me, and the upcoming Abel Ferrara film "Welcome to New York" which features Gerard Depardieu in a highly anticipated, controversial role inspired by the political turmoil and subsequent exile of would-be French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

    Having worked for her myself, I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to interview her and further delve into what makes her such an effective and uniquely talented costume designer.

    Hillary Sproul: The domino effect by which one usually builds a career is always interesting to me. You started in art education, your mother is a therapist and you studied psychology in undergrad. It’s interesting how much that background has ultimately played a role in your work as a costume designer.

    Ciera Wells: Yeah! No, definitely. I studied it (psychology) and I think that helped me be a better teacher. And it helps me be a better designer. Because I’m always looking at what’s underneath the surface. Which I think is what psychology does. It’s what my mother taught me to do. It’s what helps you be a good teacher as well. It’s being able to break down people’s motivations and look beneath the surface of their behaviors or their clothing to see why they’re behaving like that or why they’re putting those clothes on.

    H.S.: Carrying that kind of background, how did you make your way into design?

    C.W.: I always sewed. My mother taught me how to sew when I was five. So I always was making things and I got a clothing allowance when I was thirteen and I figured out really quickly that I could get a lot more if I made stuff than if I bought stuff. So for a couple of years, I just made all of my clothes. And I designed a lot of them too. Umm, but I just, I didn’t feel like- I never wanted to be a fashion designer- I just felt like it was too like superficial for me. I needed more than that. So I did studio art for a while and then after I graduated from college, I taught for a year. I was making art, and then I moved to Belgium. And I was doing the same thing. I was teaching and making art in Belgium. And I just got really lonely. I felt like I was making all this art about being a woman and the female legacy of my mother and grandmother and it was all very, like very much about the body, and very visceral. And sometimes I would incorporate clothing into it and installation and- but it was just lonely. And while I was in Belgium, my sister was with me and she started acting with an English language theatre company and that made me aware of this huge community in Belgium- in Brussels- of English language theatre groups. So I just sent out a blanket email to all of them. And was like “I can build things, I can sew things, I can do anything, like, who wants me?”

    H.S.: I mean, it’s funny because it seems like that would be easier to do there than here sort of. It’s a smaller community.

    C.W.: Well, yeah, probably, definitely. And I got very lucky because the people that wrote back. I had a designer who was a British designer who was like the Royal Shakespeare Company for a few years and she was a very good designer. And she had married like at forty. So she had already had a pretty good career. She had gotten married and moved to Brussels for him and she was the main designer of that theatre community. And she needed an assistant. I assisted her on Hedda Gabler. And then another director wrote me and was like “I’m always looking for fresh young talent, let’s meet” so then I did and I designed my first ever show which was Hamlet. This was a combination of 1930s and Mad Max. It was insane. And I did everything, everything. Because I didn’t know any better, I made everything, I designed everything. I did wardrobe.

    H.S.: When you don’t know any better, sometimes you overcompensate.

    C.W.: Oh, yeah.

    H.S.: But then you learn so much more.

    C.W.: I totally overcompensated. I learned a lot. And then I kind of become like the go-to person in the theatre community. I did like five shows, I applied to grad school. I got waitlisted and I said, “Well, fuck it. Let me go to Japan instead.” So I went to Japan and very quickly I became the resident costume designer for the English language theatre company in Nagoya, there.  So I did their theatre shows while I was teaching and then I came back and went to grad school.

    H.S.: At NYU?

    C.W.: Yeah, it’s a killer. It’s a killer program. It’s like going to med school except you get out and you have a lot of debt and no real prospects of making money.

    H.S.: Do you think that there’s a quality in a person that would make them a good costume designer?  A key sort of trait that really helps you work well in this world?

    C.W.: Happy pants. (Laughs) Okay....

    No! I really think it’s true. You have to be a trooper. I think the traits that make you a good costume designer make you a good person. You have to learn to roll with it. You have to learn to communicate well. And I think you have to learn to be- you have to have a mix of confidence and humility. Like you have to have an idea and you have to be able to follow through and you have to be able to talk about it but you also have to be really open to other people’s ideas. You have to be open to the director’s ideas, to the actor’s ideas, to the story’s ideas, and you have to be able to incorporate that. So I think it’s really like a mixture of being strong in your own shoes and being good at what you do. But being flexible and being able to not sleep a lot.

    H.S.: Thanks for the interview!


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