Ane Crabtree is the costume designer behind The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, Masters of Sex and many more. Although she grew up in Kentucky, she now hails from “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). Last week, we sat down with her to discuss her personal journey through the arts but this week we got the chance to ask her more about the hows/whys of her work.
Interview conducted by: Tiffany Chan and Katie Constantine
Edited by: Morgan Moore and Tiffany Chan
Cover image: Kimberly M. Wang (@eardog)
Q: Can you tell us about your creative process? Is it roughly the same for each project you’ve worked on? What is the interplay between showing character development/evolution and sartorial storytelling? Do those two elements always work together?
it’s always different in my mind, but i do have banal character flaws in the repetition of how i go about my day with creating. oddly, when i’m on creative overdrive, i tend to wake each day at 3:33 am. that has always proven to be a good omen for me, so i go with it. when i was in art school/college, i tended to do my best work between 12-4 am, so i guess it falls between that time. i like to be alone at work before my costume kids arrive, so i usually start between 4:30-5 am each day. that gives me a good 2-3 hours of creative time before questions arise from the tailor shop and the set, and the myriad of meetings. oh! the biggest creative advice i can give is to go out into nature with no electronic stimulus. this is a rare thing these days, but it absolutely fuels my spirit and with that, my work.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
wake at 2 am, workout from 3-4 am, walk my dog, 5 am at the studio, sketching, researching, and go over the two scripts i’m shooting and the 2-3 scripts i’m prepping. Answer emails and interviews at this time, head to set anytime between 8-1 pm, fittings at set on the truck, or back at the office. meetings, meetings, and more meetings. more fittings, leave the office between 7-10 pm or later, bed early, unless i am up over-thinking the world, then start all over at 2 am. on the rare day that i sleep in and wake at 3:33 am, i’m happy as i know it’s creative kismet. (ps my days are boring)
Q: Westworld and Handmaid’s Tale are two wildly successful but also very dark, surreal, and dystopian television series. Why were these projects important for you to pursue? What drew you to them?
i was madly in love with the original film “westworld” and yule brynner with it. I was 9 at the time and watched it over and over, every time they re-ran it, which was all the time. then came the movie, “the handmaid’s tale” in 1990 which blew my mind in the cinema, and just afterwards, the margaret atwood novel (i read it after the movie, which is backwards, but there we are). i was the kid who fell in love with all dystopias, including “blade runner”, “mad max”, it all spoke to me in huge ways. this is all a beautiful dream come true….i was merely doing homework early on, as a kid.
Q: How is your process different for interpreting costumes already described in a book vs. developing designs de novo? Which has been more difficult so far? Why?
the only thing i can say is that i was petrified to follow the words of margaret atwood! but i had to get over it, as i was given a job to do, and i don’t like to fail. i had to create costumes for another dystopia called the passage, recently. you read the original, interpret as best you can, the written word, and embark on a visual journey. all in all, you hope to respect the writer without ruining their words.
Q: Can you tell us about a costume of which you are really proud? (especially if it is not a very well-known one!)
i truly fall in love with all of them. not a pat answer at all….all artists fall in love with their subject matter, their subjects, and what lies in between.
Q: What is your process for choosing materials and colors to help visually represent a character? Do you have many guidelines set in advance for you within which you must work, or are you pretty much given free reign?
most times i am given free reign, as most creative partners in each job, director, producer, etc, won’t have the same concentrated experience as a costume designer, and they have to trust. over time, and over many experiences and trial and error, i am finding that i am trusted….thank god.
Q: What is the funniest/snarkiest/most memorable reaction someone has had to your work? (actors seeing their costumes inclusive!)
morgan freeman: “i trust you to do the work. you are the costume designer.”
antonio banderas: “i had a whole different idea of this character on the plane coming here to this fitting and you have changed all of that(in a good way!).”
dustin hoffman: (dead silence……..) hahaha! when i finished a fitting with him, and he hustled me out of the fitting room, into his car, and took me to meet david milch, unannounced, so that i could ask milch questions in person regarding hoffman’s character in luck.
ann dowd: “i’ve never worn anything as comfortable, or as beautiful, or something that i’ve wanted more to put on”. (after her first fitting as aunt lydia, where i made her do a mini film with me to a beyonce song from lemonade)
Q: What do you wish the general public knew about being a costume designer?
that we don’t just “handle clothes”….haha
Q: Do you have any advice for artists (specifically) in our current sociopolitical moment?
speak your truth, and know what truth you speak of.
Q: Some parents may discourage their children from following a creative path, out of concern for financial stability (or at the very least, worry greatly about their children). How would you address those parents/their concerns?
you can try to stop creative impetus, but it will creep up and win out every time.
Q: What are the most important actions that former art history students, or simply enthusiasts (especially if they’re not currently in a job in the arts) can take to stay observant and keep their skills sharp?
embrace life….the beautiful antiquities and history of it, and the ultra modern, but mostly the now. the human-ness of art will never have an expiration date.
Just for fun…
Q: What are your favorite comfort foods/drinks?
i’m from the south, so: mac and cheese, pimento cheese sandwiches, dill pickles, hot cherry pie with vanilla ice cream, rootbeer floats. also, strong margaritas, really good mexican. i’ve made a recent meal out of (shamefully) doritos, peanut m+m’s and red wine…nobody’s perfect.
Q: What do you do for self-care/unwind after long days?
a super hot bath with a whole box of epsom salt, a whole box of baking soda, lavender oil, and phillip glass playing. probably a glass of red wine on the side of the bathtub for good measure! my dog daughter george next to the bathtub.