Category Archives: Costume Designer

Mozhi Li on storytelling through fashion and new film ‘Where Dreams Rest’

In her teenage years, China’s Mozhi (Leila) Li was obsessed with Broadway shows and historical films. She was transfixed by what she saw on screen, with characters in elaborate costumes reflecting their personalities. Li instantly was fascinated by how fashion could be presented through the screen and on stage, and she knew she was meant to pursue a career in costume design.

“I use my gift and knowledge to help my clients pull their characters from the script to reality. Through communications and understanding of the story, I also use my aesthetic gift along with design principles to work as a team member with other visual departments, together to create a perfect frame in film. It’s more of a team job than individual success but that’s what makes me so determined with my job,” she said.

Throughout her career, Li has proven time and time again why she is such an in-demand costume designer and wardrobe stylist. Millions have seen her work in music videos for Jason Zhang and Yitai Wang and the films ZeroUnder Heart, and Where Dreams Rest. The last of which is one of the highlights of Li’s esteemed career.

Where Dreams Restfollows a young Chinese woman who crosses the US-Mexico border to chase after her American dream. It was an Official Selection at the Lady Filmmakers Festival, where many connected with the timely and dramatic story.

“The film talks about a strong feminine figure, who has this devoted love to her partner, which is touching. There are other immigrants with different races and characters in this film. Even though some of them are non-speaking roles, I love the details of the story given for each character, it gave some vulnerable feelings when I went through these supporting roles,” said Li.

Li was touched by the script and knew instantly she wanted to be a part of the film. The story is based on a working-class background. This created a unique challenge with choosing and aging costumes for the main character, while still ensuring her presentation would work well on cameras with all the colors balanced with the scene.

“Costumes can reflect large amount of details and stories behind each character. Especially for this project, the background is very realistic. It’s important to deliver the real-life texture to each costume by distressing and aging them professionally,” Li described.

The best part of the experience for the costume designer was the team she worked with. She thought the director was thoughtful and gifted, and the actors were passionate. She enjoyed her interactions with the art department, discussing ideas of color and fabrications.

“The story was touching, and all the characters have colorful personalities. I really enjoyed exchanging ideas and thoughts when I first met the director and production designer, they are talented and passionate young filmmakers. Everybody is devoted and played a great part in a team, that’s always the project you look forward to working with. All these factors made me feel it would be a project worth my time,” Li concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Costume Design is a Family Affair for Romania’s Claudia Sarbu

Claudia Sarbu
Costume Designer Claudia Sarbu shot by Marius Vilanus

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.”

Claudia Sarbu
Carlo Pogglioli (left) and Claudia Sarbu (right) dress a background actor for “The Zero Theorem”

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.”