It may have been over a decade ago that I found myself sitting in my first day of class at the Ryerson School of Fashion, but I can still clearly remember that sense of excitement in a room filled with students full of stylish hopes and dreams. Everyone sported their very best outfits, and every day came to feel like you were taking part in an imaginary competition for ‘Best Dressed’ that we were all striving to win. Fashion school might sound fluffy to you, but getting through four years in the Ryerson Fashion program is no joke. If you’ve heard it’s hard, well, that’s an understatement. But, those gruelling hours do you help prepare you for the reality (aka demands) that come with working in the fashion industry.
An area that I wish that the school and professors had been more transparent about are the realities of being able to actually achieve a successful career in the fashion industry here in Canada (newsflash: it’s hella small). That launching your own fashion brand or business in Canada is one of the hardest things you can do, and there are a number of unfortunate factors that will limit your success.
Now that I’ve been out of school for over ten years, I’ve seen it with my own eyes; brands and businesses come and go, and I’d say only a handful of my friends from fashion school still work in the industry at all.
What’s been most interesting is seeing where these talented people–and the skills they acquired at Ryerson–have taken them on their career paths. For many, it’s been a venture into the world of graphic design or marketing. For some fashion designers, like my dear friend Paria Shirvani, it’s been a path that included her own eponymous label, that has since lead her into the world of costume for film and television.
Recently we had the chance to connect and chat about her career change and what it’s been like going from the world of fashion to the world of film as a designer. Keep reading for our Q&A:
An image from one of Paria’s past fashion collections
Edit Seven: You’ve worked as a fashion designer for most of your career and have recently transitioned to working on costumes in film and television. What are some of the differences when you’re creating clothes for runway versus film? And which do you prefer?
Paria Shirvani: I love to do both. Fashion and film costuming share a lot of similarities. As a designer, I am always drawing on inspiration from an overarching theme. At times there is a particular client in mind that I’m designing for, which is a lot like designing with a fictional character in mind. In fashion it can be broader and in film it can become quite specific to the character, but both practices are a way of telling a story. I love delving deep into a specific character and how the clothes can lend itself to the storyline.
E7: It sounds like film and fashion extend themselves to one another quite a bit, do you feel like those two worlds collide and how are they benefiting from another?
PS: They 100% collide and they reference each other all the time! You see designers like Raf Simons who recently drew inspiration for his fashion collections from Blade Runner and Jaws. You also have films like Crazy Rich Asians and Oceans 8 who look to contemporary fashion designers to elevate the scene or narrative of those specific characters who love fashion. Think about the gorgeous MET Ball scene in Oceans 8, it’s fashion and film colliding. I think the reason you see so much of this now is because there is a greater interest in fashion as a whole. The film industry is beginning to understand that fashion is far beyond just traditional costume design. Here in Toronto, there’s an initiative by The Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA) called “From Stitch to Screen” where the aim is to connect fashion designers to the film industry to create more opportunity and synergy between the two.
E7: You most recently worked on Star Trek Discovery and American Gods and you’re about to start work on the superhero-driven show Titans. What is it like working on these kinds of fantasy shows where the costumes can be so out of this world?
PS: I love it! It’s exciting because you get to create something that’s one of a kind. You’re imagining clothes that don’t necessarily exist in this time and space and you can run wild with materials could exist in the future. There’s an opportunity to source materials from all over the world. Take for example the neoprene fabric they use in scuba wear, it’s rubberized synthetic fabric and a lot of times you see these kinds of fabrics used in fashion because it has a futuristic look. When you emboss the neoprene, they take the fabric and engrave and mold a design into the surface of the fabric creating a raised texture or pattern. It’s so thrilling to explore new fabric techniques like this to help tell the story.
E7: Did you always know you wanted to work in film? How did you break into it?
PS: Since I was young I loved costumes in film. I was obsessed with Evita, All About Eve, Edward Scissorhands, Beetle Juice… all of Tim Burton’s films or anything that referenced the 20’s and 30’s (like The Aviator). That obsession led to me to focus on costumes for theater productions when I was going through high school and University. Once I was on the fashion scene in Toronto and working as a designer, I started meeting other people in the industry. When I was between seasons of my own fashion line, someone recommended me for a job where they needed a seamstress on set and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I just loved it so much and I sought out other opportunities to work in film.
E7: What advice would you give someone entering the world of fashion/film?
PS: I would advise you to say yes to any opportunities you get in the industry, no matter how large or small. You want to learn as much as you can and understand all the elements that go into working in that department. It’s one thing to want to be a costume designer, but learning what goes into the field includes more than just design. It includes buying, sourcing, managing the truck, working with a team, working on your own, cleaning up, sewing, and so on. By gaining exposure you’ll get more perspective and opportunities to grow.
An image from one of Paria’s past fashion collections
E7: What is your dream costume design job or kind of film to work on?
PS: I would love to work on a period film and build costumes from the ground up, where I can explore contemporary techniques from a specific time in history. I just saw The Favourite and Sandy Powell used laser cut techniques to recreate lace. I love the creative and innovative freedom in that!
E7: What are your all time favourite costumes in a film?
PS: One of my all time favourite films is Interview with the Vampire! Dark and dreamy with lots of elements of romanticism which I love.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)