A Look at The Costume Designers Guild with President Salvador Perez

By Joe Kucharski - May 7, 2015

Unions are an essential organization for mobilizing and protecting working artists in any field. The Costume Designers Guild (IATSE Local 892) and Motion Picture Costumers (IATSE Local 705) are the two unions that govern costume design and implementation on all union film and television projects. But navigating what jobs fall under which union, and how to go about joining can be somewhat confusing for people looking to break into the business.

Salvador Perez is President of the Costume Designers Guild, as well as the acclaimed costume designer of The Mindy Project, Veronica Mars, Pitch Perfect and (the soon to be released) Pitch Perfect 2, among many others! Salvador is known best for the expert way that he mixes a wide variety of prints and color. In discussing the field, Perez said "Costume Designers take the ordinary and make it extraordinary!" I recently had a chance to talk with Mr. Perez about how the unions work, and asked him to give some advice for people looking to join. 

 Mindy Kaling Nationwide Commercial - Costume Designer Salvador Perez

Tyranny of Style: Can you tell us a little bit about the Costume Designers Guild/Local 892 overall? 

Salvador Perez: “The Costume Designers Guild promotes and protects the economic status of its members while improving working conditions and raising standards for our craft. The Guild’s first and foremost function is to protect its members. We do this by enforcing contracts and intervening on the member’s behalf with the employer and filing grievances, when appropriate and necessary. We also negotiate basic minimum wage from which the member then negotiates upwards with the producer. As we represent all members, we have strength in numbers, and we set the standards for our vocation.

We cover film, television, commercials, music videos, and now webisodes and other digital media. We do not cover theater or personal styling. Although many members do styling work for private cliental, it is not covered by our jurisdiction.”

Illustrations for Nia Long in Soulfood, Illustrator Eduardo Lucero (left)

and for Sofia Vergara in Chasing Papi, Illustrator Anna Wyckoff (right) - Costume Designer Salvador Perez 

T/S: How does Local 892 differ from Local 705?

SP: “To put it simply, 892 members design the costumes, and 705 member costumers handle them from concept to set. Costumers break down scripts, do billing, shopping, help with fittings, take care of the costumes on set, etc. There are two categories in the IATSE local 705 Finished Costumers and Custom Made. Finished Costumers, are Costume Supervisor, Set Costumers, etc. They handle the finished costume whether shopped, rented or made to order. The custom made costumers are cutter/fitters, tailors, seamstresses, ager dyers, beaders, milliners, etc. There is no cross over in categories. A tailor cannot do set work, and a costumer can not make clothes. Fittings are shared duties with 892/705. An 892 member cannot do set work, and a 705 member cannot design costumes.

I started as a stitcher and worked my way up from stitcher to work room supervisor to assistant costume designer then started to costume design. I even worked as a set costumer once on a non-union film. (It was not the job for me!) I really believe you need to work your way up in the industry to really understand how a department runs. A great costume designer should have worked their way up. It will give them the experience and knowledge to be a better costume designer.”

Illustrations for Shannyn Sossaman in Moonlight (left) and Katie Morgan in Zack and Miri Make a Porno (right)

Illustrator Anna Wyckoff  - Costume Designer Salvador Perez  

 

T/S: There seems to be a lot of complication or confusion on how to get into the either union. Can you describe some of the ways one can get into Local 705 or 892?

SP: “To get into 705 is complicated. If you work 30 days at a union costume house, you are eligible to join 705 as a costumer, but of course those opportunities are very rare. It can take years of diligence to land a costume house job. And as it has been very slow in LA recently, those jobs are few and far between. If you do get a job at a costume house, try to stay at least 6 months, so that you can actually make some connections. Being in the union and not knowing anyone who can hire you is a waste of your time. Working at a costume house is a great way to get to know as many costumers and costume designers as possible, so that when you start out looking for set jobs you have some connections. Of course you will not have set experience, so you will be doing a lot of prep and background work on your first few jobs. 

Another way to join 705 is to be on a non-union job that gets unionized while in production. That is how I got in the costumers union as a costume-manufacturing foreman 20 years ago on the film Stargate, when there was a lot of non-union work. I then joined 892 as an Assistant Costume Designer on the film Barb Wire. I am a dual card holder, even though I have not worked as a 705 member in over 10 years, I am still a dues paying member. I am the President of the CDG, but as a member of local 705, I can still go to their meetings. Unfortunately, most films sign a union contract today before they start production. So, it’s rare that a non-union job in LA turns union. 

Illustrations for Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project (left) and 2013 CDG Awards Gown (right)

Illustrator Aasha Ramdeen- Costume Designer Salvador Perez

To join local 892, you only need to have 1 verified credit in our covered work, and 3 letters of recommendation from industry professionals who could potentially hire you, and you pay the entrance fee. A verified credit means it has to be theatrically released, i.e. online, in theater or DVD. (It cannot be a student film.)

For illustrators, you just need to have 3 letters of recommendation from industry professionals. They do not have verified work. The letters of recommendation are to show that there are people you know who could hire you, so that you are not coming into the business with no connections. After 2 years of membership, illustrators can reclassify as assistant costume designers, and assistant costume designers can reclassify as costume designer after 2 more years, or if you have a job offer in a higher classification you can upgrade prior to the 2-year mark. We do not believe in holding members back from work opportunities. 

Although it may be easier to join 892, the thing you have to remember is you have to get a job. So, joining as an assistant costume designer or an illustrator with no connections makes it very hard to get a job. Of course, if you work your way up from a costumer, you will have connections and it will be a lot easier to find work.”

The Mindy Project - Costume Designer Salvador Perez

 

T/S: What is your advice for people who are just graduating from college or starting out and looking to create a career path that leads them to the union? 

SP: “I know many costume PAs (production assistants) who have their degrees and are working for $600.00 a week getting coffee and running errands. Your degree is a very small part of your education. You now have to take what you were taught and use it in the real world, which is totally different. This goes the same for all departments- writers, directors, etc. You have to learn the business and pay your life dues. While you are trying to break in, build as many credits as you can. Design webisodes, low budget non-union films, etc. so that you can show you know what you are doing and have some talent. As a PA, you don't get to do much as the union has so many restrictions on PAs, because they don't want them doing a union member’s work. It really is watching and learning. You can not touch clothes!!”

Illustration for Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 2 - Illustrator Gina DeDomenico - Costume Designer Salvador Perez

  

T/S: What advice do you have for someone who is further along in their career, maybe has a graduate degree or has been designing for theatre, and is looking to steer their career towards getting into Costume Designers Guild?

SP: “You aren't going to like this answer, but it’s the same as a recent graduate. You have to learn the business from the bottom up. Theater is a different medium from film and TV, so you have to learn how we work in this industry. It may be easier to join 892 as an assistant, but you still have to make connections to show your capabilities.”

 

T/S: What is your role as President of the union?

SP: “As the president of the CDG, I am the leader of the organization. I represent all of our members. I run the executive board and I enforce policy. I am the face of the union to the media. My goal as president is to keep us ahead of the industry. As a working costume designer in both film and television, I know intimately what is required of us on a daily basis. I have started an education committee, so our members have access to classes on the latest technology in the field we are working in. It keeps our members informed of what the future of our business is and try to keep us ahead of it.” 

Pitch Perfect 2 - Costume Designer Salvador Perez

 

T/S: The field of costume design seems to constantly be evolving- costume designers landing wonderful branding deals, social media presence, advanced technology in fantasy/superhero film costumes, and new areas of non-traditional costume design opening up in video games and animation. What do you think is most exciting about the field right now?

SP: “With the advancement of social media, the viewers and fans are starting to know costume designers by name and can interact with us, which has opened us to many opportunities for branding and designing for the retail market. In the past, fashion brands would cut a deal with a studio to design a fashion line inspired by our work, but they rarely did well as someone else was trying to interpret our design style and it just gets diluted. When Banana Republic did the Mad Men line, the first collection was designed in house at Banana Republic and it didn't do very well. For the second and third collections, they brought in Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant and the collections were hugely successful, proving that if you want to have a successful collection, you need to bring on the designer who did the original work.” 

Illustration for DSM in Pitch Perfect 2 -Illustrator Phillip Boutte - Costume Designer Salvador Perez

 

T/S: Where do you think the field is headed?

SP: “I think technology is moving very fast and films like Avatar that are done digitally are going to be the future of film and television. Costume designers are going to have to learn to adapt and work with the new technologies. There may come a day when we don't have to physically manufacture costumes, but they will still need someone to design them.”

Pitch Perfect 2 - Costume Designer Salvador Perez

A huge thanks to Salvador Perez for the wonderful work he does as President of the Costume Designers Guild, and for taking the time to help shed a little light on the working end of the business.

 

Pitch Perfect 2 opens in theaters May 15, 2015!

Make sure to follow Salvador Perez on Twitter @mrsalperez and Instagram @salvadorperezcostumes. Check out more about his design work at www.SalvadorPerezDesign.com!

Costume Designer Salvador Perez (photo credit: Emily Berl)

For more information on the Costume Designers Guild/Local 892, please visit:

http://costumedesignersguild.com

 

For more information on Motion Picture Costumers/Local 705, please visit:

https://www.motionpicturecostumers.org