Romanian costume designer Claudia Sarbu is living proof that the apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree. Creating the styles and wardrobes for entire worlds’ worth of characters is both a gift and a reward for Sarbu, who has been immersed in and enamored with the glamor of costume design her entire life.
“My mother was a women’s tailor in the studio workshop when I was a little kid, so I more or less grew up around that world,” Sarbu said. “You could see the studio lot from our apartment window, we were so close.”
Her mother realized early on that her daughter was gifted, and she was in the perfect position to foster that gift. Sarbu learned from her mother, worked together with her, and when the time came for her to step into the professional world her mother was there to point her in the right direction.
“She’s the one who put me up for ‘Gunpowder, Treason and Plot,’ a period piece for BBC,” Sarbu recalled. “I fell in love with that world, with creating costumes for a type of character, with the world behind the camera and with the process of translating a sketch into an actual garment to go on screen. To me, the people who made that possible were wizards and I wanted to be one of them.”
A historical bio-drama set in the 16th century and following the scandal- and intrigue-rich reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” was a golden opportunity for Sarbu. The BBC miniseries was a hit among critics and cleaned house at the renowned Biarritz International Film Festival, where it was awarded four prestigious Golden FIPAs in the TV Series and Serial category; among those honored for their work on the series were actress Clémence Poésy (“Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” parts one and two) and actor Kevin McKidd (“Brave,” “Trainspotting,” “Grey’s Anatomy”). In addition to being Sarbu’s first chance to distinguish herself as a powerful creative force in the field of costume design – which she did with aplomb – it was also where she became certain of what she wanted to spend her life doing.
“I realized I was in an environment that was perfect for me. I remember Nic Ede, the designer, telling me ‘You got this!’ at the end of the project. I was so passionate about it and it was obvious,” Sarbu said. “I absorbed everything like a sponge. I wanted to learn everything I could.”
So began her illustrious career, and though her talent was undeniably immense from the start, it has since grown exponentially as she’s continued to chart new and unexplored territories as a designer. In 2012 Sarbu’s skill was again on full display with the German film “Bissige Hunde” about a detective, a bank robbery, and a hard choice between duty and family.
“‘Bissige Hunde,’ or ‘Vicious Dogs,’ is set in a small German town and follows the complicated relationship between police officer Arved and his teenage son Jacob. Both are dealing with the loss of Arved’s wife – Jacob’s mother – in different ways,” Sarbu described. “Arved is forced into an extreme situation when his son robs a bank and [Arved’s] the one leading the operation to rescue the hostages. He’s torn between doing his job… and the guilt and responsibility he feels for his lost son… It’s a wonderfully told story about love, acceptance and forgiveness.”
Following “Bissige Hunde” Sarbu worked to create the styles and costumes for an array of projects. Among her ventures are the 2013 Saturn Award-nominated “The Zero Theorem,” directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”). After “The Zero Theorem” the incorrigible young Sarbu once again exhibited her superior design talent and vision with her contributions to the 2014 blockbuster smash hit “Divergent.”
“Divergent is a fantasy movie set in a dystopian future where the world is divided into factions, each with a restrictive set of personality traits,” Sarbu said. “The costumes needed to translate each faction and show what each embodied — power, intelligence, candor, kindheartedness and selflessness — either through color, shape, or texture. We needed to create a uniformed world that was clearly divided.”
To that end, Sarbu excelled. Just as with “Gunpowder,” “Bissige Hunde” and all her other countless projects, “Divergent” bears all the hallmarks of Sarbu’s visionary aesthetic instinct.
“I’m passionate about storytelling, and I think costume design is a very important part of that,” she said. “I always, always have the story’s best interest in mind.”