Insight: From Graduating in the Midst of a Pandemic to Constructing Brit Award Costumes with Harris Reed

Costume maker Imogen Brown discusses the challenges faced by the theatre industry during the pandemic to constructing Brit Award costumes and London Fashion Week collections with Harris Reed.
Insight: From Graduating in the Midst of a Pandemic to Constructing Brit Award Costumes with Harris Reed - DMY BY DMY
Featuring Imogen Brown (imogenbrown.costume) in the Quin (Chocolate Brown)

Can you walk us through your career journey, from leaving school to studying your degree to landing an internship with Harris Reed?

After finishing school, I moved to London to study a degree in Costume Construction at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, where I was able to gain hands-on experience working on professional level productions and learn practical sewing skills such as tailoring and corsetry.

In my second term of third year, I did a personal project for our graduate exhibition where I recreated Elton John’s costume for his Dodgers stadium concert in 1975. Through doing this, I researched glam rock icons and what it means to create gender-fluid clothing, which is where I found Harris Reed, specifically looking at their work with musician Harry Styles. Their work instantly hooked me, especially the feeling of fluidity that came with it - the clothes were for all genders, it spoke to the glamour I was looking at for my project, and they were quite possibly the most fabulous garments I had ever seen!

I graduated during the pandemic in 2020 and had to move home because the theatre industry had completely shut down, so jobs were hard to come by. In November 2020, I saw that Harris posted an internship opportunity on their story for their upcoming collection, so it seemed like fate to apply! One extremely passionate cover letter and a nerve-wracking interview later, I was offered the intern position for the debut Demi Couture collection set to come out in February 2021! I spent six fab months interning for Harris and got to work on some incredible projects such as the Brit Awards and the Met Gala, and I learned so much, all of which I am incredibly grateful for. And the rest is history really - it was only up from there! 

What sparked your interest in costume construction? When and how did you learn to sew?

As a kid, I always had an interest in dresses and all things pretty. I would spend hours thinking about what I would wear on the red carpet if I were a famous actress or what my wedding dress would be like, and so it was always there that I might want to learn how to sew one day. After being part of the costume team for my school productions, I became set on learning how to create all the designs I was coming up with in my head, and I was also starting to realise I had a bit of a talent for sewing and making costumes.

However, I didn’t know how to ‘properly’ sew until I went to university to study construction techniques. I knew how to do basic stitches on a sewing machine and was a whizz with a glue gun, but I first learned how to thread a machine and develop specific techniques at RCSSD. This is where the bulk of my skills came from - we did some amazing stuff, from stretch wear and 17th-century bodices to pattern drafting to surface decoration and embellishment - I tried it all! The thing I love most about sewing though is that you never really stop learning, I’m constantly discovering new tips and tricks from working with different people.

Would you ever want to design and make your own collection? If so, what would the nature of the collection be?

I would love to do a collection! But oh my goodness, I would be so bad at making decisions about what to have in it! I am the worst at making up my mind - I would want so many things! But as a general rule in my practice, I always want people to feel as comfortable as possible going on stage in something I have made, sourced or altered, so I would 100% want to reflect that in any collection I create. I think there would have to be elements of the glitz and glamour of costume in there too (maybe silk or brocades, which I am obsessed with at the moment!), but the pieces would be easily adaptable and look great on all bodies. I would want men, women and non-binary people all wearing the same clothes in the ways that they felt best. I wouldn't want it to feel like a menswear or womenswear collection, just a collection of clothes open to everyone. It would also be the perfect opportunity to collaborate with some fantastic artists and designers, meet new people, and work together to bring some amazing designs and ideas to life. However, it would probably be a one time only thing for me. Still, I would love to do it and hope I get the chance to one day!

What’s been your favourite project to date?

At Harris’, we created the look that Olly Alexander wore for the 2021 Brit Awards when he performed with Elton John - that was very special for me. We crammed designing, making, fitting and finishing the look in about five days, and so it was extremely exciting to then be able to see it on TV, and it all be ok! It also felt like such a full circle for me. Having done the Elton look in my final year at uni to then see something I had helped make on stage with him was wild and just such an amazing feeling.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced on your journey so far?

I think it would be silly for me to ignore the fact that the pandemic has caused some of the biggest challenges for me. When I graduated in 2020, jobs in theatre were almost non-existent, especially for costume. Many productions were moved online, so the need for actors to be in full costume wasn’t really there. Seeing the industry that you had just spent three years preparing to enter into completely shut down was heartbreaking. But, more than anything, I was worried that when it eventually opened up again, I would have lost my drive and momentum for creating and I would feel lost. That's why I think my internship with Harris came at the perfect time because it felt comfortable because it was sewing - which I knew how to do - but in an industry that I didn’t know much about, so that made it exciting and my passion for making just grew and grew! 

On a more surface level note - I once spent five days figuring out how to make a tulle skirt stand upright without any visible support and that nearly broke me.

What advice would you want to share with aspiring costume makers?

I would say don't be afraid to put yourself out there and take a chance - you never know what you might get from one simple message on Instagram or one e-mail, and you won't ever know if you don't do it in the first place! There are so many layers and job roles in the theatre, film and fashion industries and so you will definitely find something for you. If you’re struggling to know how to get a job or experience on a project, contact theatre companies to ask if they have trainee or junior roles on offer or message designers on Instagram to ask if they're looking for interns or assistants. And even if they don't respond or they don’t have a role at that time, at least they know your name and will hopefully think of you for any roles that do come up in the future! Get your work on online platforms and use that as your way in because it will act as your online portfolio and will make it so easy for people to quickly view your work - it's the perfect CV! And don't get disheartened, because your dream job is just around the corner - trust me, one day I was cleaning the floor in a fabric shop and two weeks later I was interning on a London Fashion Week collection…

Imogen's Round of Speed Dating with DMY

1. What is your go-to drink? 

I’d never be able to turn down an Aperol spritz

2. What was the last thing you Googled?

When does the Natural History Museum ice rink open?

3. What was the last book you read?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 

4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 


5. What is your favourite TV show?

I recently watched I May Destroy You for the first time and thought it was incredible, but New Girl will forever be my all-time favourite which I could watch again and again.

6. What would be your ideal date?

BYOB pottery painting 

7. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Cake...Literally any kind of cake.

8. What’s the best and worst purchase you’ve ever made?

Best - My overlocker!  
Worst - A horrible smelling air freshener for my car 

9. What was your first concert?

Take That at Wembley with my family when I was 8 or 9

10. Make a party playlist with only 3 songs:
- ABBA ‘Waterloo’

- The Killer ‘All These Things That I Have Done’ 
- Chaka Khan ‘I’m Every Woman’

Tags: Fashion