Profiles in Art: ane crabtree, pt 1

Ane Crabtree is the costume designer behind The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, Masters of Sex, Pan Am, and many more award-winning television shows. Although she grew up in Kentucky, Ane is currently based in “Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, and all beautiful points of the world in between.” You can see more of her work her Instagram and Twitter (@anecrabtree). This week, we sat down to talk about her personal journey into costume design.

Interview conducted by: Tiffany Chan & Katie Constantine

Interview edited by: Morgan Moore & Tiffany Chan

Cover Image Credit: Kimberly M. Wang (@eardog)

Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with fashion and costume design in particular?

i was a kid in ky who decided that i wanted to be a ballerina or an archaeologist (not very original!). i was in love with mikhail baryshnikov and before him, rudolph nureyev, giant crushes. through reading about the russians and ballet, i stumbled upon info on the ballet russe, which led to diaghilev,  which led to reading about diana vreeland and her love for all of that. once i read about vreeland, and chanel after her, i connected with their love of fashion and the arts as a way of life. the notion of fashion was something i felt i couldn’t get in ky, so i studied in england, and afterwards new york, which led me down an irregular, unusual path to costume design. so see, my life and the approach to art and its influences has always been round-about.  i think this is true of anyone self-taught and self-actualized.

Diana Vreeland surrounded by red furnishings- series, 1979
Diana Vreeland, fashion icon, in her living room.
Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get into the field (apprenticeships/schooling/general work experience)?

i don’t want to leave this one blank….but the only thing that applies directly is work experience, i guess. haha. in england, at a tiny sister school to univ. of evansville, called harlaxton college, i studied shakespeare [and] art history, and i believe that may have been a giant step towards what i do. it’s all a bit unorthodox, but i find now in my career that those subjects, and even studying latin in high school, have helped me the most. in new york i studied fashion design at f.i.t., did window display at bonwit teller, and worked for a knitwear designer named miriam klein before that. i didn’t have any apprenticeships, nor did i finish school, but through life experience, and being inspired, i created a career of costume design.


Q: What is the quirkiest side job you’ve ever worked?

i once left the film business to try my hand at working at a vet’s office. in truth i wanted old x-rays of animals, and legally the only way to get them was to work there and take the ones that had been thrown out after 10 years. i was making light boxes with the x-rays. unfortunately, my job was as a receptionist, and to usher people into the vet’s various offices. i  got fired after the first day, as there were so many pets being euthanized, that i would cry with each family, and they don’t want you to cry…


Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced as a designer?

i think the biggest challenge is respect for the work that we do. some uneducated, unenlightened folks think that what we do is shop and handle clothes. and perhaps some designers do that, but i don’t. the concept of what a costume designer does changes upon the experience of the director, dp, producer working with them. i take what i do very seriously, and have always believed that costume designers give as much to a project as the production designer, the dp, and even sometimes, the director. to be relegated sometimes to “the girl department that handles the clothes” is the biggest insult. so for sure, i am that loud norma rae voice in the room that demands respect for my team. we are the architects of costume, really. and we are always building a world.

Ane Crabtree, by Kimberly M. Wang (@eardog)
Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?

the ability to see the birth of a creation so quickly, and to know that so much emotion, psychology, and love went into each creation. i don’t know of many jobs that give a person this.


Q: Were there ever moments throughout your career when you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those moments resolve?

each and every day. i  have always wondered how the heck did i get here, even when i finally counted up the years, after 20(!) that i was still doing the same job. i think most artists, by all accounts, have that moment of guilt…that fraudulent feeling that someone is going to wake up and realise that they have given a fraudulent artist the job! mostly though, i have a very still, quiet voice that is constant, a kind of knowing, that i can only liken to my ancestors, or something otherworldly to be honest. it’s a voice that never leaves me, and it’s a knowing, an artistic vision, that even on days when i am not feeling confident in self, this voice knows the right answer to all that i am doing creatively for any job. i relax into that voice, believe in it, respect it, and it serves me well.

The Handmaid's Tale
Image Credit: George Kraychyk (Handmaids Tale season 1 Stills Photographer)
Q: What inspires you? What motivates you to continue taking projects and creating costumes? And how have you worked yourself out of creative ruts/designer’s block?

see the response above! haha. i think i thrive on the hunger for more knowledge. and as an immigrant’s daughter, i always feel lucky that i am in the position that i am in. i get paid for my creativity, for my emotional response and birth of that response. i don’t know many folks that are.

as for designer’s block…i just went through it at the beginning of the handmaid’s tale season two. I couldn’t start sketching…[i] thought all of my ideas were spent. now looking back a bit, i realize that the subject matter is, in big ways but mostly little ways, too close to me, to the landscape of my own personal history. in thinking of a particular world that is coming up in season two, i kept repeating this phrase, when describing the world: “this bitter earth”. I googled it, to be honest….when i was blocked. and what came up was the most beautiful mash-up of dinah washington’s original piece, “this bitter earth”, mixed with a max richter song. and it was stunning! it got my emotional and creative juices flowing and that was that. now i can’t sleep, i’m flooded with inspiration…..which is intense, but that is the point i guess.


Q: What advice would you give someone just starting out in the field? Or, what is the best advice that someone ever gave you?

no one ever gave me advice, at least not that i can remember. the only advice, and perhaps it is a culmination of all of the voices that i respect, as one voice,  is the following: work hard, and when in doubt, work harder. you have to try harder because you are not white. everyday, just walk. it answers all problems. have humility as a human being. respect all things, all beings— two-legged, four- legged. be yourself, everybody else is already taken. don’t believe the hype. keep doing what it is you adore, and do it well—there will be a time when others see the merit of your worth, and ask you to share your gift with them.


Liked this interview? Stay tuned for Part 2 next week! In the meantime, check out some of the other interviews in the series.


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