The celebrated costume designer who is currently Head of Costume at English National Ballet, studied BA Art & Design from 1981 to 1984, graduating with distinction.
Wizzy (born Clare, but a childhood nickname stuck!) was born in Sussex but grew up in Malvern. After a Foundation in Art & Design in Hereford, she spent a year working in a library before beginning her degree and occasionally making costumes for the local theatre’s productions in her spare time. She had always had an interest in costume but feared it was too narrow and discounted various specialist courses before deciding upon the BA Art& Design at Bradford College, after coming for interview and finding it like ‘a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.’
She recalled, “The Art School was full of such characters and seemed such a laugh that I came to Bradford, almost by accident. I pulled out all the stops for my degree show, which was very broad and included a tent and kimonos. Ian Colverson was a big influence on me and remained a rock solid support to me. All my work was very dramatic and people kept saying that I should work in theatre design. Following graduation, I did a placement with the textile designer Sian Tucker at her London studio and then took my portfolio round London, and again everyone said I should work in theatre. I was always interested in theatre but I thought I would need to know every play inside out, when actually you learn each show as you work on it. So I did my PGCE in Leicester, though I quickly knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. During the course, I worked part-time in a pub where the technicians from the 2 local Theatres drank and they told me there was job going in the wardrobe department at the Phoenix Theatre, so that is how my professional career began.”
Throughout her career, Wizzy has found work via personal contacts and recommendations, and believes that to succeed you need to have talent and personality, plus lots of hard work. She worked at the Phoenix Theatre for 18
months as one of a two people working miracles with low budgets, until another contact told her about a vacancy at BBC Birmingham, who were making lots of period drama at that time. She first worked for the BBC in wardrobe, then freelance in dressing and also worked for Central TV in Birmingham, gaining a wealth of experience over a period of two years. When work dried up, Wizzy took the initiative and worked her way through a list of a friend’s theatre contacts. One of the people she phoned offered her a job to start immediately as Assistant to the Head of Costume at London Festival Ballet. She was so determined to take the job at that she didn’t hesitate, although she didn’t
have time to find a flat. She remembered, “I had nowhere to live for the first couple of months. I had a bag under my desk and I lived at the YWCA! I must have really wanted to do it.”
Wizzy’s work ethic and aptitude meant that that when LFB were making redundancies the Head of Costume tried to find her a job. Wizzy said “She recommended me to the Opera House. I went for three months but stayed seven years as Costume Supervisor, doing mainly Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet, and a few operas. At the time I was supervising all the new ballets and revivals.”
In 1996 she left to pursue prestigious freelance work internationally. She said, “I wasDesign assistant to Antony McDonald for the Metropolitan Opera in New York working on the opera of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I also did two balletsat San Francisco Ballet; Job and Dance house and assisted Antony again on Beatrice & Benedict for Santa Fe Opera. Then in the summer of 1996, English National Ballet (formerly London Festival) asked me to do the very first ballet in the round at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a production of Swan Lake with seventy swans. This was a freelance project and then I was taken on permanently as Head of Costume. The job is tough, stressful and has repeated deadlines. Costumes need to be so much more robust for dance. They have to stand the test of time, be well made and fit perfectly, and move with the dancer. Every season there are new dancers with new sizes. That production of Swan Lake has now done more than one hundred performances around the world.”
Wizzy has also designed costumes for many new productions including four pieces designed for Synergy
(2006); Angelina’s Star performance (2007
) and Angelina Ballerina’s Big Audition (2009).
Wizzy collaborated with Deborah MacMillan for The Sleeping Beauty
revival and redesign/remake (2005); Peter Farmer for Swan Lake
(1997) and Roberta Guidi di Bagno for Romeo & Juliet
(1998). She was Associate Costume Designer
for Strictly Gershwin
(2008) and collaborated with Wayne Eagling for the world premiere of Resolution
(2008), Men Y Men
(2009), Silent Monologues (2009)
andThe Weight of Love
(2010) for Shanghai World Expo.
Recent triumphs included her work as assistant to Peter Farmer for a spectacular production ofThe Nutcracker in 2010, which featured more than 400 costumes and new costume designs in 2012 a number of productions: ‘Jeux’ for Wayne Eagling’s final choreographed piece for English National Ballet and collaboration with ENB & Flawless for Against time plus2 pieces for City of London Festival at St Paul’s Cathedral; 4 Seasons, and Of a Rose.
We are indebted to Arnaud Stephenson
for allowing us use of copyright photography showing Wizzy's work.