On an early Spring day, ChiehxChieh visited costume designer Laura Fukumoto at her home studio. She shared about her bonding through clothes, tactile memories tied to relationships in her life, and her environmental implication of the thrifting philosophy.
ChiehxChieh (CXC): We all play many different roles in life. What would you consider the most important role you take part in your life?
Laura (L): I think we all have a multitude of roles in our lives – I often find that I take on leader or caretaker roles, but there are also our “job” roles, the roles I play within my family (often the comic relief). I think we take on different roles in different settings, even online. I find that I am often more outspoken in social media, but I have had the honour of taking on the role of a teacher as well. Teaching, in various atmospheres (not just at schools, but with any younger person we might have the job of mentoring) is something that I know I will do throughout my life, no matter what my “jobs” might be.
CXC: As a costume designer your art serves a greater artistic design. Subtly, costume designers also are story-tellers, silently weaving narrative through the language of clothing. Any story of this kind you can share?
L: I would love for a play to be about a piece of clothing! I think objects that are worn are great containers for stories. In fashion, clothes are the main characters. In a story, and in plays, they are supporting characters in a way. If a costume designer can convey something about a character that does not exist otherwise within the script – the social or economic status of a character, how much they may or may not care about their appearance – then that is a success. What I like more are the very small details that are often don’t read on stage or on camera, often just details for the actor to know about their costume, the clothing of their character.
For example, I gave two female characters secretly in love the same bracelet in different scenes – so that it could be interpreted that one gave the other the bracelet as a gift. In another play I designed, the character was a state agent who served a new totalitarian American government, so I fittingly gave him a “Trump International” brand tie.
CXC: In the entertainment industry wasting resources has always been an issue – though it’s progressively improving in more recent years. It can be easy to balance finances and budgets; however, environmentally, in terms of sustainability of resources, it can be anything but balanced. How do you find a balance between what your job requires and your environmental ideology?
L: There isn’t a balance, especially in film. When every dollar counts, spending time and money, and energy on sustainability or proper recycling practices often gets forgotten, or corners are cut. The cost of sustainability must be built into budgets from the start of a project and that is often forgotten, or is found to be too difficult. The landfill is often the cheapest, fastest solution.
For my own clothing, I usually buy second-hand with few exceptions. I don’t have an answer to this question in regards to my work. It’s something I struggle with and try to address in my own projects.
CXC: You mentioned that your grandmother was a seamstress and that you didn’t have the chance to connect with her over your mutual professions. Can you tell us how your paths are similar or how they are different? Do you feel that your choice to work with clothing has given you a closer bond or tie to your grandmother?
L: I couldn’t tell you how similar our paths might be, because my mother’s mother was not close with me growing up, and developed dementia in my early teens. My grandfather, whom I never met, was a pianist and I used to play piano for her in the final years of her life. I don’t know if it was a conscious choice to work with clothes or merely a coincidence that she also did the same. My mother taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was 14, and she was also taught by her mother.
I have been afforded many more privileges than my grandmother ever was – education being a big one. Sewing for her was a way of survival as a single mother of four children with no education. For me, I recognize that I am able to do what I do because my circumstances allow me the stability to create rather than just survive.
CXC: What are the things in life that inspire you?
L: When people are very honest. Honesty is something that is very difficult to live, especially regarding ourselves.
CXC: What responsibilities do artists have in society?
L: I believe artists have the ability to make connections and identify patterns. We’re not only storytellers, but we can give clarity, and connect dots to create a larger picture. This is necessary to move forward, not only as individuals but as communities.
CXC: What makes you angry?
L: Lots of things. LOTS. I find it hard to get angry on my own behalf, at the moment. Not that I find it hard to defend myself, but to feel anger at the moment is very difficult. I get angry after the fact. I get angry on behalf of other people – when they are disrespected when their freedoms are infringed upon. I think anger is a powerful source of energy to create.
CXC: Name something you love, and why.
L: Flowers. What a cliché response, but I love flowers because they’re like little free gifts from nature.
CXC: What wouldn’t you do without?
L: Other people – solitary confinement or living by myself on an island has never appealed to me.
CXC: Which tactile feelings in fabric and clothing appeal to you? Are there any special memories attached to these types of fabrics?
L: The difference between synthetic and organic fibers has always been apparent to me – if you feel the strength and weight of a fabric, you can feel the difference. I used to carry around one of my mother’s nightgowns as a child until I was like six years old, and I called it “silky”. I used to rub two layers of the fabric (which was probably a satin polyester haha) and the feeling would calm me down. Fabrics do make you feel good!