IN EVERY PRODUCTION, THERE ARE TWO ASPECTS THAT REALLY HELP THE CHARACTER come to life:
The actor and the costume designer. Costume experts are tasked with creating the outer layer of a character to assist the audience when it comes to understanding just who the actor is trying to portray. And no one understands the importance of costumes more than the talented Meghan Kasperlik, costume designer for shows such as Moon Knight, Watchmen, and The OA. Spoiler had the chance to sit down with Kasperlik to understand her background as a costume designer and for her to explain just exactly how it’s made.
What made you go towards costume design and what was your process to getting to where you are at now?
So, I originally started out doing magazine styling and working in that capacity and doing catalogue styling and doing fashion PR after graduating college. After college, doing fashion PR, it wasn’t really where my heart was, so my roommate did extras casting and he said, “Hey, they need a PA (personal assistant) on a job.” And I had the audacity to ask who the costume designer was. It was Patricia Field who did Sex and the City. I didn’t do Sex and the City with her, I did someof her other projects, but because it was her, I was like, “Oh, absolutely, I will 100 percent do this.” That is how I got into it, and I just worked my way up from the bottom. So, I worked as a PA, Coordinator, and Assistant Designer before becoming a Costume Designer. I put a lot of hard work into it and said yes to any project for a really long time until I was an assistant and I decided that I only wanted to do projects that I would learn from. I sought out big designers and worked with Michael Wilkson for a while, who does a lot of Zack Snyder films, and he was like, “Eventually, just have to do your own projects.” Not because we didn’t love each other but because I was ready to move on.
Did you go to fashion school?
I went to school for fashion merchandising, so it was a lot of visual merchandising, and it was great. I learned the business side of it but was still able to do the visual. I went to school at Western Michigan, which does have a fashion program, but I knew I was going to move to New York so I wanted to do as much fashion as possible while still having a university experience. And then I instantly moved to New York.
Since you didn’t learn fabrics and how to put a costume together in school, did you learn that on the job?
It was a lot of on-the-job training, so when I was working with Patricia Field we were building a lot of things. It’s not like working in the opera or a period film where you build a lot, so any time something came in that I really liked, I would flip the label up and look inside the lid and I would be like, “What is the fiber content, where was it produced?” I am a big believer in power of observation, so I would just observe everything that was happening. Eventually I took myself to the fabric store and just walked all the isles at B&J and I asked myself those same questions. Because its not something I learned in college, and you don’t have to learn it in college. Going to a fabric store is your biggest learning experience; being able to feel those fabrics. In fittings, there is a big difference between styling for commercials and styling a magazine. There is a big difference in how it fits a model and how it fits a real person’s body. 90 percent of who you are going to fit in the TV film business is a real body, so you learn that with experience—how something is draped and how it feels and how it is going to look. You can just look at something and say, “Oh, it’s not going to fit this body type but it will fit this other body type.”
When it comes to costume design, there are different people who come together to make a costume. How do you work with other members of costume design to make a concept come to life?
On big projects you mostly work with illustrators because I am not a computer illustrator in that sense. I would say that I can do a rough sketch and say what fabric will go with it, and say this is how I want it to look and do more a technical sketch versus having this big, amazing frame that the Marvel visual team does, or how other illustrators do. They will illustrate it for me, but I will give them a lot of references or a rough sketch or both. So, if I work with someone, I give them what I want the costume to look like. If it is the top portion of this or the bottom portion of that and the fabric and texture I want, so they can incorporate it into the illustration.
You have a diverse background in costume design, ranging from realistic fashion to the superhero genre. Which one do you prefer working on and why?
I like to mix it up, so I never want it to be just one thing. I was doing Mare of Easttown before I did Moon Knight, so it was a big shock for people that I could go from doing something blue collar and aged looking to something that was so sci-fi. I think it is great to be able to do anything and not just being loop holed into one design. I always want to be learning and growing and I do a tremendous amount of research for all of my projects, so it is really nice to transition to each one.
When it came to your work on the Egyptian-themed Moon Knight, how did you conduct your research to create costumes that fans would remember?
That is exactly what happened. The research into Egyptian culture, ancient Egypt, what is happening in the comic, where the MCU is currently, and where they can be transitioning into. Because I didn’t know Egyptian culture, I was not educated on it in school and that is happening in a lot of topics for design. Costume Designers are working on that, where you might not have necessarily learned the subject in school, so you have to go back and do a lot of the research. New facts have come out and new information has come out that maybe you didn’t learn in that time,so I did a tremendous amount of research on ancient Egypt and current Egyptian culture. There were a couple of people in the project that where Egyptian who had lived in Egypt and the states, so I was learning from them on how they saw Egypt today. As far as Moon Knight, I wanted to have Egyptian culture, ancient Egyptian culture, but then also the comic books, so it was a blend of that.
How do you get costumes to be functional and realistic, especially for the ones presented in superhero shows?
All of the costumes that were Moon Knight, Mr. Knight, Scarlet Scarab, Ammit, and Khonshu were enhanced in CGI. Although Moon Knight and Mr. Knight were fully functioning, but the other were enhanced with CGI because of the animal aspects of the characters. It is very important to me after working on a number of these projects, that the suit is functioning. So, if anything, I want to make sure that the actor can move, the stunt person can move, they can act, and they are not restricted, and it is important for their character to do that. For Moon Knight, the stunt people tried on the costume way before Oscar (Issac) tried on the costume. I sent them to get fit in England and we were on lockdown and that was when London was in full lockdown, so they had to quarantine and sit in the hotels. And then when they went to FBFX, which is the company that built the costume, I made them move, kick, and do some of the action and some of the motions that they would do to make sure the suit was functional. That was really helpful because they were able to work out the adjustments or if the mask had to be tighter prior to Oscar trying it in on.
When you have a show or film based in the real world, how do you go about creating a character’s wardrobe? How can the viewers understand who each character is by their clothing choice?
When it comes to Steven and Mark from Moon Knight, I spoke at lengths with Oscar in regards to what he was thinking for the character, like where Steven lived, which was very important to the style of his character. He lives in a hipster Brooklyn-type area. And obviously Steven isn’t super cool, so he has to look cool enough to live in that neighborhood and play that part. I wanted to make sure that there were some interesting parts to that. I wanted there to be somewhat of a trend, like vintage shirts mixed with baggier pants since baggier pants are more on trend. I wanted to give him a little bit of those elements, but he can go to work and be functional. I like a lot of texture in costumes, so it was about mixing that up. For Mark, I knew that he was a special ops mercenary person, and speaking to some special ops people, they said you defiantly don’t want to wear black because black stands out. You want to wear navies and charcoal grays. In action films you want the main character to look so cool, but it was important to me to make sure Mark blended in and didn’t look so cool. It’s talking to people, researching the area, researching the job activity and what the person does, and then that transitions to this is functional for them and what style they can move into.
How often do costume designers collaborate with actors to bring about the outfits for their characters?
I think for most of us, that is part of being a costume designer. You are speaking with the director, you are speaking with the actors. I speak with the cinematographer and the production designer to make sure we are cohesively making the same show or movie. Because my ideas might not blend in harmoniously with what the sets look like. It is very important to always be talking to the creative director heads, and that includes hair and make-up, to make sure it is all flowing and working together. But you are collaborating with the actors to help build their characters. The character really comes out inthe fitting room and the costume designer, besides the director, is usually the first person who talks to the actor when they first come onto the role. They haven’t really spoken to anyone else yet. I always speak with all of the actors and their thoughts on the characters since they are the people playing these characters. It is very, very important that it is communicated, and great collaboration is that the actor speaks to the costume designer, speaks to the director, looks at the set and speaks with the production designer to find their character through these elements.
Costume design and the superhero industry is growing alongside technology. Where do you see the costume industry going in the future, and where do you see yourself in it?
There has been so much development and transition in the last few years, so definitely 3D printing will play a huge role, and it has already played a huge role, especially in the sci-fi category. Building costumes and building props through 3D printing. I would love to do more of that world because it is a lot of fun and there’s more creativity in it. In the history of costume, the silhouette of clothing has not changed tremendously in the last 50, 60 years. The silhouette will change slightly but we are still wearing clothing that can still be considered in the ‘60s. There is a long way to go before we get in that element of everyone looking sci-fi and I don’t even know if that will happen. We are also wearing button-front shirts and jeans which have been around 100 years, and I think that element will continue. But for myself, I really hope that I can keep working with technology and moving forward in that aspect because it is a lot of fun!