|Stacia in her Studio. Photo Credit: Vern Evans|
|Sketch of Prince by Stacia Lang|
When Stacia Lang was a young girl, she loved all things having to do with wild animals - magazines, television shows, you name it. In fact, she dreamed of becoming an ornithologist - an expert on birds. She also loved costumes and wished to study fashion and costume design. That wish came true in a path which included study at FIT, a job at the NYC Ballet transforming ballerinas into swans, and eventually the honor of becoming Prince's costume designer at Paisley Park. From there, she moved on to building costumes for film and theater, and designing outfits for performers ranging from Billy Idol to Dolly Parton.
Stacia's early love of exotic birds eventually came full circle when she began to take on jobs which allowed her to incorporate feathers in her designs - projects such as couture commissions and bird sculptures. She even bought her own bird - Chester, a chestnut-eared arcari.
What's notable about Stacia's journey is how she has taken her two main loves - design and birds - and woven them together to create a life in which she is doing work that inspires both herself and others.
Q and A with Stacia
Q: Can you describe the work that you do in your studio? And what are some of the steps or stages of a typical project from inception to completion?
A: My private studio and what I do there is much different from the movie studios I work at, and what I do there. Sometimes I feel I have two creative lives. When I am hired to build specialty costumes on a film at Sony, Paramount or Warner Brothers, I actually work on the studio lot and become immersed in the world and the story line of the film. In contrast, when I work in my own studio, doing my own projects, I look to my personal vision as an artist, designer, and maker. Each scenario has its challenges and rewards. I sincerely love working in both capacities, but when a person has the ability to express herself and her vision on her own terms, there really is no better feeling in the world.
The projects I do in my studio range from doll making to avian sculpture, and feather work has dominated the main studio now for 2 years. Using both real feathers and textile feathers, I create cloaks, capes, jackets, and headdresses. I've created an avian theme in honor of my admiration for birds and their colorful plumage!
Q: What is a project you are working on right now? Is there an overarching theme or focus to your work right now?
A: Right now, I'm working on building spacesuits for a new film. My role on this film and others has been that of Key Specialty Costumer. That usually means that I am the first to be hired by the costume designer and supervisor, and I help to develop the department, finding the crew and equipment that it will take to build the specialty costumes. In the case of spacesuits, I usually pattern and develop the base suit in our workroom, and work in conjunction with special effects companies who machine the hardware and mechanical parts of the suits, including the helmets. Those parts come into our department needing integration into our suits. To make sculpted and molded parts work on the human body is one aspect of the specialty costume builder's job. Spacesuits that I have been heavily involved with are the 2009 Star Trek, Interstellar, and the upcoming Passengers starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. All of these suits had their own unique challenges, and all, I feel, hit the mark and achieved their aesthetic and technical goals. [Ed. note: Passengers has since come out in theatres.]
Q: What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you start your day, and is what does the flow, rhythm or routine look like?
A: A day in my own studio starts with me feeding my birds. What a pleasure it is to interact with my sweet studio companions. They are really the heart of the studio. I have a pair of red-legged honey creepers, a pair of blue dacnis, and my personal snuggle bunny,Chester, who is a chestnut-eared aracari. He is in the Toucan family, and he's my companion pet. Not really that different from a puppy dog in that he loves to play, interact, cuddle, and eat treats. He loves going on expeditions throughout the studio, foraging in cabinets, drawers, and in the fridge! I also draw him a bath every day.
After getting the birds situated for the day, I begin in the studio. Depending on the project, I either have had several people helping me in the studio, or I'm just working by myself. Either way, I love it. Actually, I love variety. I don't like the same thing day and night. I think that's why I've been able to cross over from costuming to my own art continually. The variety fuels my interest and creativity. I have been trying to find what hours work best for me in the studio. I feel that naturally I like to start in the afternoon and work around the clock deep into the wee hours of the morning. It just works out that way. But I have been trying to train myself to start early in the morning. When I have others with me, of course I have to have more regular, regimented hours to keep things regulated. but when I'm by myself, all bets are off.
Q: What do you do to blow off steam, to have fun?
A: To relax and unwind from a tough project, my go-to activity is scouring antiquarian bookshops. I LOVE old books. I have collected a great library of books with subjects ranging from puppetry to dolls, fashion to Burlesque, and art to craft techniques and masks. My books on feathers and birds are in a cabinet all their own. In this area, I keep all of my tear sheets catalogued and in binders with titles like "Bird Species," "Plumassiers and Suppliers," or "Feathered Garments." My sketches are in flat glass-topped insect boxes, at the ready.
Q: Who do you enjoy spending time with? Are your friendships mostly with other creatives, or are they with folks across different industries?
A: Most of my friends are creative in their own way. I thrive on the interaction between myself and other artists; that's where magical things happen! It's lovely to be alone in my studio. But certainly, with interaction comes the dynamism of unexpected alchemy. I really even consider my books to be my collaborators. A lot happens for me when I open one of my beloved books.
Q: Looking back, where do you see the roots of what you do now in your childhood years? If there were people back there who encouraged or nurtured your creativity, how did they go about doing that?
A: I consider my childhood to be idyllic. My parents were and are still musicians and I remember crawling around among amplifiers, instruments and microphone stands. I listened to their rehearsals while drawing and dreaming. Very early on, I started to draw my own fashion designs, practicing my signature and collecting fashion magazines and books on Hollywood costume design. My parents encouraged this in me and helped me along. I don't quite know why I didn't become a musician. Believe me, I took piano and flute lessons, and Dad tried to teach me the guitar. These things just didn't stick; I was more attracted to the visual arts, and I later left for NYC and the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Something very important about my childhood was my love of animals and nature, but especially birds. I remember plucking a duck egg out of a hollow in a tree as a child and bringing it home. My Dad was so mad. But he made an incubator and we eventually raised even more ducks (albeit these eggs came from a hatchery).
Other people who encouraged me besides my parents were my school teachers. There were two in particular - my 9th grade French teacher, and my high school art teacher. Encouragement is so vital for a young person. To this day, I'm so grateful to have had marvelous mentors to guide me early on.
Q: When did you decide to make a living from your craft, and what factored into that decision?
A: It never occurred to me that I couldn't make a living from my art. Certainly, you could categorize what I do as "applied art". Many of the facets of my creativity land squarely in the commercial realm. So this lifts the burden of having to make money from "fine art". But honestly, I don't like categories. I try to see life as some indigenous peoples do, who integrate art into the simplest of everyday objects and activities.
Q: What is your advice to other people who want to make a living from their craft?
A: My advice to young people would be to fine tune your skills through classes, workshops and lectures. Go out to museums and absorb everything you can. Talk to the masters who you look up to. Identify your mentors and emulate their actions. And finally, recognize in yourself the unique vision you offer the world.
Q: What is your advice to anyone who wants to give expression to their creative ideas, regardless of whether or not it is a source of income for them?
A: Another bit of advice to those who want to give expression to their creative ideas is this: Don't wait until "the perfect time" because really, there is no "perfect time". You're just psyching yourself out. When you see an opportunity, act on that opportunity. With the skills and know-how you have acquired through your classes and experience, you'll be ready for what opportunities come your way.
Q: What was something interesting or unexpected about your work as a costume designer for Prince? What is something you learned about yourself while you were working for him?
A: With the passing of Prince, I have done so much thinking about my creative time spent with him at Paisley Park. I designed his stage costumes and everyday clothing in the early 90's. This was the first time I truly recognized myself as an artist, collaborating, in essence, with a partner. I learned that collaborating with a genius is exhilarating, challenging, and life-changing.
I learned that art is hard work and that sometimes you don't see the impact and imprint of your work for decades. So many people have come to me and told me their stories of being inspired through the work I did for him. How wonderful it's been to learn this. I'm so grateful, mostly grateful to Prince for giving me the opportunity to work along side him and observe his work ethic, his genius, and his magic. Also, I can look back and see that a certain magic was created in our collaboration. I feel a deep gratitude for this.
Q: What was it like to design costumes for Dolly Parton?
A: Dolly Parton is the sweetest, most gracious icon I have ever worked with. Just the nicest person, period. Such a pro. For her to be able to maintain that level of kindness and goodness of heart in the glaring light of fame truly astounds me. And what a business woman she is. Really, I learned a lot just through osmosis, through listening to, and watching her do business. She was my childhood idol, so to be able to design for her was a dream come true. This is another thing I would tell a young person starting out. Aim high in your pursuits. Dream big and go for your ultimate goals. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again". This is how it worked with Dolly. When I was very young, fresh out of college, I had sent sketches to her, and she sent me the nicest "rejection" letter, saying that she was working with a designer, but that she was sure one day our paths would cross. And they did, years later. I pursued a design collaboration again, and this time she was interested in working together. It was such a rewarding adventure! A true example of tenacity, of not being afraid of failure.
Q: What would you like to see happen for yourself in the next few years?
A: In the coming years, I would like to create new avenues for my work. I'd like to take more chances and be bolder than ever. This is the only way to break through complacency. You can get pretty comfortable with your work and situation, and shaking things up is the only way to catapult yourself into a new orbit, a new realm. I'm excited about new challenges to come!