A smiling headshot of Alexandra Welker

Q&A With Costume Designer Alexandra Welker

Mar 31, 2024

We are thrilled to introduce you to costume designer and artist of over 20 years, Alexandra Welker. She tells us about her career and creative process working on various projects from student indie films, to Hollywood productions.

Will you walk us through your career?

I’ve always been a storyteller, and thought I would have a career based on writing. Then I fell into costume design by working on my friends’ NYU student films— I built my original film network that way. I had a background in art, a great love of film, and am a serious people watcher. I love decoding who people are by how they present themselves. Whether we know it or not, we reveal a great deal of ourselves by the clothing choices that we make. Costume design is storytelling in a visual language.

What have been some of your career highlights?

I started my design career in the New York indy film world of the 1990s, with five projects with Hal Hartley. Micro-films, where the costume department was me—or me and someone else, if I was lucky! It was an exciting time, and very bonding to work in the no-budget zone but have your films go to Cannes! Years later, I did three “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films in a row, learned a great deal about CGI (computer generated imagery) as I designed for animated characters, and found I had a whole new generation of fans aged 4-10!

Could you walk us through how you approach a costume design project/walk us through your process? 

The process starts when I interview for a project. I read the script, and create costume character boards. These are like mood boards, that capture how I see each character and their world, as much as how I might outfit them. If the director/producers like my vision, then I get the job. The character boards become starting discussion points with the actors, my crew, the production designer, etc. Next stage is breaking down the script to figure out what each character will wear for each scene, where the costumes will be worn in the story, how many multiples of each costume are needed, and so forth. I work closely with the stunt coordinator to find out what the stunts will be and how many stunt personnel will be involved, just as I work closely with the makeup and hair team, to communicate each character’s look, and with the art department to make sure that the costumes play well in each set and location—no one wants a character dressed in blue sitting on a matching blue couch (unless it’s intentional). I also work closely with my cast. I want them to know that I am both supporting them in finding the character, and also taking care of them as human beings. If my actors are distracted from their work by too-tight shoes or fashions that make them feel uncomfortable, then I’m not doing my job properly.  Once the script is broken down and all of the costume needs are considered, I make a budget and a schedule. Costume design for film and television involves a lot of project management. Television is particularly schedule heavy, because we’re always preparing the next episode while shooting the current episode, and wrapping the last one simultaneously!  If I am designing and building original costumes for a project, the next step is sketching and sourcing materials, then getting the designs approved, and then working with my tailoring shop to get patterns drafted, costumes made, and finally fittings and alterations. If it’s a shopping and styling show (or  a hybrid of the two), I give my shopping team an overview of the pieces/looks I want, and we fan out both in person and on line, to track down what is needed. Then comes the fittings, which in many ways may just be my favorite part of the job! I love the process of finding a character through trying on clothes, and guiding the cast in that process. It’s really great when someone turns to me and says, “Now I understand who this guy is!” Or, “Now that I’m wearing these shoes, I know how this character needs to move!” I love the collaboration and the chance to really dig into a character. Often (especially in television, where the schedule is very tight) I am the first creative that the actors speak with after they’ve been cast, so I’m the person that they really can explore their roles with. 

What does a day in your life look like? 

My work days vary, depending on where we are in the schedule. If it’s a prep day, I may be out shopping for 12 hours (definitely a day for one of my pairs from my extensive Adidas sneaker collection), then landing at the office to hang, organize and go through everything I’ve pulled as well as everything else my team has brought in. Often I don’t have the luxury of a full day of shopping, because I also have meetings with my bosses, other department heads, and the studio. I also have to meet with my workshop, to make sure that any costume builds or alterations are proceeding as needed, and to approve things or make necessary changes. I  usually have to go to set to approve costumes as they go on camera, or make changes as things evolve (weather, actors having last minute requests, new scenes added). I try to start my day on location with my shooting crew every morning, to be able to go over their day with them and give direction as needed. Some days are 12-14 hours of back-to-back fittings, which generally take 1-2 hours a piece. Most days, however, it’s a mix of all of the above!

What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?

After my start in NYC with indie film, I moved to Los Angeles to break into the “big time.” Through a friend I called a veteran costume designer for advice—I wanted to know whether I should try working as an assistant designer on big studio films in order to learn how they were made. She flatly told me no, after asking whether I already had costume designer credits. She said, “Never go back. You will learn what you need to know as your projects get larger.” I am still so grateful to her for being so wise!

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your career? 

I’ve always valued good communications, but have really learned how important it is to keep everyone in the loop and constantly update the flow of information, because it changes. 

Did you always want to be a costume designer? 

I graduated with a degree in English Lit, and thought I was going to be a writer. My mom is the one who got me hooked on the movies. She grew up in Sweden, but was a devotee of Hollywood. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the cinema with her.

What do you love about costume design? 

I am endlessly fascinated by people, and what makes them tick. And I love a good story, whether in book, film, or other form—pull me in and let me get lost! Costume design marries those two loves together. Plus, it’s a role that is allows me to work closely with both the cast and the crew of every project, with so many interesting facets to consider. I also love the problem-solving aspect: filmmaking is challenging, with all sorts of problems that need to be solved, and fast moving with lots of changes. I relish thinking on my feet.

What is your advice for aspiring creatives in the field?

 I guess the best advice I can give to aspiring creatives is to talk to everyone you meet, and really listen to them. Being kind and professional is also really key. So much of this business is relationship-based, so you want to make a good impression and then live it.

Will you tell us about your time working as the costume designer on The O.C.? Our Co-Founder, Delia, LOVED that show and watched it religiously!! 

Working on The O.C. was an amazing experience for so many different reasons. Coming from film, I wasn’t used to a project being seen/known while we were filming it, and it BLEW UP  as we were halfway through the season. Absolutely crazy. Being completely character-driven in my approach to costuming, it was wild to realize that I was setting fashion trends! It’s been really fun in the years since to discover how many people it resonated with (Delia, I know your people!), and of course, the last few years have brought back so many of the early aughts styles that it’s made me really nostalgic. The show was such a hit that we shot 27 episodes instead of the usual 22, which was a real burn out. At the end of the season I had to say, “I love you all, but I’m going back to films—I need a break!”

What’s next for you?

Now that Hollywood is recovering from the actors’ and writers’ strikes, production is ramping up again but slowly. I am interviewing for new film and TV projects while enjoying family time. My work always involves travel, so tough as the strike year was for all of us in production, I really loved the time at home.

Where can people find you?

I’d say “In my garden,” but then I’d have to reveal my location! I really value my privacy, so my ‘Gram account is private, but I’m locatable through my website, AlexandraWelker.com and my agent, Brady Torgeson at Independent Artists Group. 

The Style That Binds Us

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