tvplus walks through the wardrobe to find out how our soapies make costume creations come to life onscreen…
Last issue, we delved into how shows’ wardrobe departments make us think about characters – the creative side of the job. But underneath all that glamour is a lot of hard work. Our wardrobe gurus guided us through the poor Cinderella side of things, from beating that budget to scrubbing, fixing and even faking fancy fashion for TV screens.
trendy time machine
Every soapie has a couple of characters with money to burn on fabulous, up-tothe-minute fashion. But since scenes are shot three to six months in advance, this can present a challenge to Wardrobe, who must shop not only in advance but out of season. Sheli Nyathi from Rhythm City calls on her connections, saying that “we get designers involved and they are credited at the end of the show’s episode”. And Scandal!’s Corlene Furstenberg reveals that she can’t always go local: “Being so far ahead is a challenge. We make some of the outfits but also rely on agents importing from all over the world. This way, we’re on par with coming winter or summer trends when they hit SA.”
Mathilda Engelbrecht over at 7de Laan mostly answers these challenges in-house. “Because it’s a ‘summer’ show, we have more of a challenge in finding good pieces during the winter months. We have a design section in our Wardrobe department that helps with the unattainable special garments. Thanks to the internet, we’re able to get the latest trends and then design accordingly. We have limited access to fabrics, but at least we can improvise with a few ideas.” Suné Jansen explains that Binnelanders makes a lot of their own gear. “We also have a database of people who import clothes. We mostly use imported clothes or their concepts, since overseas fashions are a season ahead of us.”
style at a snip
Want the flash but got no cash? Welcome to the Wardrobe department dilemma. Happily, they know all the tricks of the trade. “On a soap, we work on capturing emotions. Mostly we work on close-up or medium close-up, so I spend my money from the waist up as we don’t often see below the waist,” reveals Corlene. “This
way, I can use the same basic bottoms more and just focus on detail around the actor’s face.” Corlene adds that “normally the wedding of the year is the biggest spend and gives Wardrobe the opportunity to play. We’ve paid up to R2 400 per metre for the most amazing hand-beaded fabric. Let’s just say that we used it wisely.” And building a character’s wardrobe from scratch is an enormous expense. “If it’s a man’s suit, we can look at a start-up cost of R35 000 to get him dressed in that look for the first 12 episodes of the show.”
Mathilda says that “new looks can be quite pricey. For example: when we gave Xander and Paula (Theo Jantjies and Diaan Lawrenson) new looks, we had to fork out a few thousand Rand”. She also adds that “there never really is money to splurge. When giving new looks or when a huge party or wedding comes up in the script, we have to save from our monthly budget to be able to afford it. Some items do cost more than others and are usually evened out by what we manage to save when we shop the sales or manufacture ourselves”. She also saves cash by buying second-hand and vintage. “I also use a few factory stores and scout for sale items. And clothing agents can get you pieces at cost price,” she says. Swartwater’s Brenda Khambule sighs and says that “it feels like I’m always clever with budgets. They keep getting less and less recently, so we just make them work”. Her solution? Arrange barter or rental deals. Rental is also the way to go for Binnelanders – Suné hired Pippa and Rian’s (Nadia Valvekens and Erik Holm) clothes for their early-2014 wedding and reuses shoes and handbags.
Wardrobe doesn’t just make clothes; they have to maintain them too. Washing up is one of their less glamorous jobs. Corlene explains that “we have wash days once a week and it’s no small task – 35 main cast at three items per storyday, multiplied by six storydays is 630 items to be washed and ironed a week!” Sheli reveals, “We try to preserve the life of each garment and we treat the most delicate of garments accordingly, hand wash and dryclean them at reasonable intervals.” As for Mathilda, she says that they wash the clothes every time that they use them, while Brenda says that they wash “depending on continuity needs after a full day’s wear. But there is the trick of vodka to take away slight body odour… That and a press or a steam and clothes can be refreshed. With iNumber Number (the 2013 local film), where we couldn’t wash any clothing on continuity, we had up to eight pieces of the same garment worn over five weeks. There was a lot of vodka and Sta-Soft on that shoot!”
through thick & thin
Different soapies also have different approaches to handling the sensitive issue of performers suddenly picking up weight or losing it. “Talk!” says Brenda. “There needs to be a certain degree of trust. So I will discuss the changes I see in a loving, relaxed, natural manner. Mostly they too are awaaware of the change, so highlighting the eleelephant in the room helps. Right now I have a situation where an actress jujust had a baby and seems to be losing weight hourly, nevermind daily. And ththis is why it’s vital to have some ununderstanding of clothing constructiontion under your belt.” Corlene underlineslines that this is a serious issue. “They’d be in brbreach of contract and it becomes an issue fofor management to deal with.” Suné says that, “Well, what do you do if you pick up weight? You get other clothes!”
rags & tatters
So do the actors get to keep their clothes? Alas, the answer is mostly no. Mathilda says, “We use the clothes until they start looking washed-out or get too small. We then move them to our store that we use for guest artists and extras. When we run out of space, we give the clothes to a charity. The wardrobe belongs to the SABC and will be handed to them if the show was to end.” Corlene says that “we don’t have enough space to store all the costumes. We usually have a wardrobe sale to generate funds that goes back into our budget”. “I hand everything back to client at the end of the series or season,” Brenda reveals, while Suné explains that “every single character that leaves, we box the wardrobe in case they die in the series. The clothes then go to storage. We donate other clothes to the underprivileged when they aren’t going to be reused here”.
Corlene shows how they’ve embellished a top to add interest and enrich an outfit
for a character on Scandal!.
Relatively cheap fabrics can shout luxury onscreen
with a few tweaks.
Mathilda’s used to unpicking seams to adapt a second-hand outfit for a character on 7de Laan.
Scandal! had Lucas’s prison outfit
Shoes are seen so seldom on-screen that Wardrobe can re-use and save money here.