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 Zero, Under 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.
Considering that so many people want to break into the Hollywood entertainment industry, it makes sense for many of those aspiring talents to devote their energy into one specific area in order to become the best and land the jobs they desire. Whether their interest lay in the art, camera, lighting or one of the various departments on a film set, many work diligently just to make a name for themselves in one specific area.
While there is definitely something to be said for focusing one’s energy in one direction– many creative artists are not linear-minded. That is why, when we hear of someone like Viktoriia Vlasenko, who’s managed to effectively utilize her diverse talents to make a mark in the industry in various areas, it comes as quite a breath of fresh air.
Most recently Vlasenko was the costume designer and makeup artist on the feature film “86 Merlose Ave.” directed by Lili Matta. The film, which is currently in post production and stars Emmy Award winner Jim O’Heir (“The Bold and the Beautiful”), Emmy Award nominee Terri Ivens (“All My Children”) and Screen Actors Guild nominee Langston Fishburne (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”), has already earned numerous awards for its screenplay, including Best Feature Screenplay from the Best of the Best Competition, and was chosen as a Finalist at the Hollywood Screenplay Contest and The Write Room, a Semi-Finalist at the Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and a Quarter Finalist at the Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition and Screencraft.
From working as a director to a costume designer to a makeup artist and more, Vlasenko seems to have done it all; and she’s done it well, so well that she’s been awarded on countless occasions for her contributions to the industry. Earlier this year she was recognized by the International Independent Film Awards with the Winter Gold Award in Special-Effects Makeup for her work on the film “Set Me Free,” and in 2018 she earned their Fall Gold Award in Costume Design for her work on the film “All Lives Matter,” as well as a certificate for achievement in Makeup from the Ocean Film Festival.
Vlasenko’s skill as a costume designer and makeup artist shine out above all else. A true artist, she her capacity to create new looks and trends in costumes, and use makeup to turn actors into far out characters, she has become an increasingly sought after force in the industry. Her skill in creating mesmerizing and futuristic looks is on incredible display in the film “Unworld.”
Earlier this year she was recognized by the Wintershorts Film Festival for her work as the producer, costume designer and makeup artist on “Unworld.” Her work as the costume designer on “Unworld,” a dystopian drama, also earned her the Best Costume Designer Awards from the European Cinematography Awards and the Indie Shorts Fest, as well as a certificate from the Summershort Film Festival.
“I work hard, I can do the work of five people,” Vlasenko says laughingly. “I’m also a quick learner and I can work with various materials that other costume designers are afraid to work with. I’m also a good painter.”
Vlasenkos’ multifarious talent encompasses all things related to visual design. Over the past few years she’s made a stellar mark in the international entertainment industry with her work as the costume designer on 20 productions, the makeup artist on nine productions, not including those where she served as the special effects makeup artist, has produced six projects and directed four others.
Vlasenko says, “It is necessary to like what you do, it is important to be a talented and gifted person, and to always be learning something new… to successfully join each project and to you prove yourself in full force… and to leave a personal mark in history.”
There’s no doubt that Vlasenko has already left her personal mark in history, and she continues to do so. Growing up in Ukraine Vlasenko quickly found her passion for fashion and costume design, an are of interest she would continue to cultivate through her university years at Milan IED Istituto Europeo di Design where she earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion and costume design. With ceaseless creativity and a love for bringing various characters to life through her work, moving into the world of costume design was right up Vlasenko’s alley. And the awards she’s earned to date for her work prove that it’s one area where she excels exponentially.
“As a costume designer, I think of myself like a painter. I can follow my imagination… I can produce very creative and crazy things. I don’t only work with fabric, but with metals, plastic, 3D-prints, various incredible materials and paints as well,” explains Vlasenko. “Although it is difficult, it very interesting. It is interesting to transform actors or singers into different characters and personas, to produce fantastic costumes for superheroes or historical characters from fiction books.”
In 2018 Vlasenko earned the Bronze Award from the Latitude Film Festival for her work as the costume designer on the film “Betrayed,” a project that she also earned the Best Costume Design and Best Makeup Awards from the Flicks Film Festival. Another of Vlasenko’s award-winning projects is the film “No War,”which she wrote and directed, as well as costume designed, which earned her the Best Costumes Award from the Oniros Film Awards and was chosen as an Official Selection of the Neon Film Festival.
Early on in her career Vlasenko founded the popular fashion brand Terrasse, through which she has continued to display her talent for creating new trends and innovative style.
Vlasenko says, “I often see other brands making copies of my creations, especially while traveling in other countries.”
While other designers may feel embittered at the sight of their designs being copied by others, Vlasenko takes it all in stride as she continues to create new and innovative looks. As a fashion designer Vlasenko would often handle the makeup for the photoshoots with her designs, so for her, becoming the makeup artist on film sets has been a rather seamless transition.
Not only was she was the makeup artist on three fashion films for her own brand, Terrasse, with the fashion film “Terrasse White” earning her the Makeup Award from the Golden Square Film Festival, but she also did the makeup on the films “No War,” “Unworld,” “Set Me Free,” “Betrayed,” “Table of Four” and more. Vlasenko was also the makeup artist, special effects makeup artist and costume designer on the upcoming film “Loss of Grace,” which is currently in post production and stars Jasmine Waltz from the films “Black Water” and “Poker Run,” and action star Paul Logan from “Code Red,” “Mega Piranha” and “Flight 666.”
If all this wasn’t enough, Vlasenko’s work as a fashion designer was also featured in two multi-page spreads in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the New Face fashion magazine.
Vlasenko says, “I love my work and have been privileged to work on interesting projects with creative people. I create unusual costumes that are never boring. My reputation as a designer rests on the ability to be innovative and creative. I’m always open to new creative projects with different themes, films, fashion shows, and more.”
Praised for incredible work ethic, Viktoriia Vlasenko has never been one to stop at the first sign of success. She currently has several projects underway as a costume designer, including the films “Cowboy Bebop” and “Batman Beyond,” for which she is designing a totally new look for the Joker and Batman with intricate costumes few others, but her could design. Vlasenko has always been drawn to the work of the phenomenal Cirque Du Soleil performance group, and she is currently designing a series of costumes that she will pitch to them for future productions.
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.”
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