L.A. Costume Designer, Jewelry Designer & Director Michelle Laine on Her Creative Processes
Michelle Laine is an innovative costume designer and jewelry designer, also often brought on projects as creative director and visual designer to artists and directors. With a unique eye for capturing deep connections between mood and personality through visual portrayals, Laine works in L. A and has a portfolio that spans from the film Archenemy to One Republic's Born To Race music video. Read on to get a glimpse into the crucial behind-the-scenes stories that go into making art through visual mediums.
Interview with Michelle Laine by Faye Bradley.
Paradigm Haus: Could you tell us how you got into costume design? What’s your story?
Michelle Laine: In 2006 I started an art-based fashion line that sold bespoke dresses & jewelry to boutiques in LA, Miami and New York. Through that, I developed relationships with stylists and was asked to create original costumes for a few recording artists. I had planned to study film when I moved to Los Angeles, but my path kind of strayed. So designing costumes for film projects became the perfect marriage of the two mediums for me.
PH: What is your creative process?
ML: It’s different on every project. Sometimes I immediately know what I want to do, other times it’s more gradual and collaborative. I also have a lot of stored concepts waiting for the perfect project to come along. Once I have a concept, I put together a visual treatment to illustrate the idea. Then it sort of evolves and takes on a life of its own as the build begins. Sometimes the fabrics or notions I planned to use aren’t available so I have to adjust or get more creative, which is often an anticipated driving force. The goal is always to execute the concept with precision, but if there’s an opportunity to let a concept breathe and progress on its own I try to take it, things can become really magical.
PH: What are your most memorable experiences as a costume designer?
ML: Probably all of them. Every project I’ve worked on has its own wild anecdotes and memories – and many of them had their own unique challenges and hurdles as well. The destruction of costumes is all glaring memories. Like the time an artist spilled purple smoothie down the entire front of his costume while walking to set. Or the time a dancer must have moonlighted as a lioness because she tore her dress to shreds. There’s a lot of characters in that environment too. I would say the people are really the best part, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many interesting individuals. Not just the artists & actors, but everyone from the background to the 1st AD.
PH: Where do you find inspiration?
ML: Inspiration comes from everything in my life, the people, my surroundings. But the most inspiration probably comes from art, photography, and films. I also often find inspiration in architecture or interior design. Being in a space will trigger an idea, or a feeling, or an era. Fashion is always building on itself, so inspiration can come from the evolution of an idea too. I love injecting subtle details. You could argue that personal appearance is the highest form of self-expression, and I think I’m expressing how I view myself through all of the costumes I’ve designed, even if the subject couldn’t be further from myself.
PH: You also work as a creative director. Can you tell us what kind of experiences you've had in this industry?
ML: It’s fun work but it’s very intensive. Fine tuning a concept takes time and a lot of mindfulness. With a creative concept, you’re not only saying what you want to do, but also what you don’t want to do. There are endless possibilities, so you have to be decisive and clear-cut about what you're trying to execute, and explain why this ONE idea is the best- and why you’ve constricted it and refined it to what it is. People have different associations with everything, so presenting and selling a unique perspective takes careful calculation and a lot of research.
Aly & AJ's Pretty Places music video directed by Michelle Laine and Stephen Ringer.
PH: You recently directed Aly & AJ’s music video "Pretty Places". How did you come up with the storyline for this melody?
ML: Aly & AJ sent me two songs to pitch on. When I listened to Pretty Places I was immediately drawn to it, I just sort of closed my eyes and visuals instantly started flowing through my mind. Then I watched all of Aly & AJ's music videos to get a sense of where they were coming from, and where they were heading. The themes within the lyrics called out to a journey, and the social timing with the global pandemic felt poignant. A road trip music video isn’t the reinvention of the wheel, it's tried and true, but using a classic concept is a great opportunity to create a new commentary and inject a fresh perspective into something familiar. Idyllic but not obvious.
PH: Top 5 favorite creatives right now and why?
ML: Of course this is impossible to answer, there are too many to only list five. But here goes.
Maurizio Cattelan – Artist. I can only say I am obsessed. I wish we could be friends. I think he’s my existential twin in all of my design sensibilities.
Ibrahim Kamara – Stylist and fashion director (Recently became Editor-in-Chief DAZED) And I think one of the most important voices in fashion direction in the last two decades. He has contributed a pivotal perspective to modern fashion & editorial trends.
Daniel Roseberry – Artistic director of Schiaparelli. Elsa Schiaparelli is one of my favorite fashion designers and one of the most iconic of the last century. And I’m so excited that he has been able to capture her essence while bringing new life to the label.
Nadia Lee Cohen – Photographer. She’s like the feminist love child of David LaChapelle and Miles Aldridge, I can’t wait to see where she goes.
Willo Perron – Creative Director. He’s one of the machines behind pop culture right now. I can’t even begin to express how much he’s contributed to live performance direction and campaign design during the past decade.