Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Cynthia Bergstrom - A Sense of Style that Slays me.

Cynthia Bergstrom has worked on iconic movies and shows such as Scream, Medium, CSI: Miami and Buffy as a costume designer. She has also worked in a styling capacity for celebrities and magazines. Her long and illustrious career in dress has now given way to a new path in psychology dealing with kids with autism, adults with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, substance abuse problems and more. She clearly was not content with dressing the world - she now wants to help make it a better place. Buffy is my favourite tv show of all time - I'm obsessed - and Cynthia was lovely enough to take time out from her schedule to talk to me about her career and Buffy, in particular. So exciting! I've been fangirling through the entirety of our correspondance.

1. How did you get into costume design?

I was in my early 20s working at the California Mart as a sales rep for a contemporary women's line. It was a great job, but I had mastered it. I thought, there's got to be more to life than this... I started to think about how I had wanted to be a costume designer. As a kid I would watch Charlie's Angels and all those groovy 70s shows and think, who puts the clothes on the actors? I want to be that person!...so when I knew I was complete with being a sales rep, I told a friend of mine what I really wanted to do with my life. He just happened to be producing a small film starring Virginia Madsen called Zombie High. He asked me to come on board as his costume designer. I knew from the moment I read the first page of the script that I had found my calling. I felt right at home. From there the different department heads showed me how to breakdown a script, devise a budget, put together the continuity book, etc. It was a blast. I also became the stunt double for Virginia. I was so young and so excited. It was a great intro into the business.


2. What projects/shows are you most proud of?

I loved my work on Scream. It was iconic in many ways. But really, I am most proud of my work on Buffy. I'll never forget when I first got the show. I had never designed for television before. My background was film. In film there is a long prep time, lots of meetings and lots of discussions about who is going to wear what for each scene. Film is incredibly collaborative. When I got to Buffy, I soon realized that the pace was quite different. It was at warp speed by comparison. I knew that I had to move quickly and efficiently. It was sink or swim or rather swim fast or drown. I knew I had to put together a really sharp team and I did. I had to make some rather tough decisions in order to keep things flowing and moving. In film, I might have 4-8 weeks or more to prep a 2 hour movie. In TV, I had 8 days to prep an hour long show. It was like designing with roller blades on...so because of that I am really proud of the work produced. Many of the costumes were designed from an idea in my mind and then custom built. I loved creating new worlds on a weekly basis. I was really stretched as a designer. I remember the Halloween episode in season 2, I think it was episode 6 or something. Buffy becomes a southern belle from the 1860s. The dress I designed for her was gorgeous. I knew at that point, after that episode, that I could do anything that was presented to me. I had so many costumes to design and actors to dress in that episode. The organization of it all was intense but thankfully to my amazing team, we pulled if off knowing that we could do anything.

Princess Buffy
3. Did you enjoy Buffy as a show? Did you watch it? Which season was your favourite?

I did catch Buffy the first season it was on. At first I was turned off by the look of the show so I didn't watch it. It seemed dark. But one night there was nothing else on so I watched. As I was watching I had the distinct feeling that I was supposed to be working on that show. A few days later my agent called me with the interview and the rest is history. I don't really have a favorite season. I loved them all because they were all so different.

4. Which was your favourite to work on?

I loved every episode. Each was fun, creative, challenging and different. Each episode was it's own unique character.

5. Who was the most interesting character to dress?

I loved the ease of dressing Willow. There was always something for her character, to this day I still find perfect Willow pieces in the stores. I loved dressing Angel. I went to all these cool rock n roll stores in LA where I had a personal connection with the owners, it was great fun. Buffy was so hip and stylish, her character was always evolving and had many different needs. It was so exciting when I would find something interesting and unique.

Nineties Willow
6. You worked on the show from season two so you dressed Buffy as she moved from teenager to adult, how did you make her wardrobe fit with her age accordingly?

Each year I changed her wardrobe according to what her character arc was. Each season there was a different theme that Buffy experienced so her wardrobe was predicated upon the mood and tone of the season. And of course, it was like buying new school clothes each year where fashion somewhat dictated how the kids would dress. I wanted Buffy to wear the latest in fashion and be on point with the trends including setting the trend which she did quite often. She definitely had her school clothes and her fight clothes. As she matured, of course some of the choices matured with her as far as styling, cut, color, etc. At the end of season 6, she was certainly a different person than she was at the beginning of season 2. She went from a sophomore in high school to a college senior whose boyfriend was in a secret military unit...and then of course there was Spike who also became a love interest. She went from a teen to a woman. It was important to see through the eyes of a teen growing into the woman that she became and reflect that in her styling choices.

Valley-Girl Buffy.

7. How did you make her changes in style reflect changes in her character and different story arcs?

Her wardrobe became more serious as time went on for her story arc. She started out in the first two seasons wearing mini-skirts and super bright colors. Her clothing reflected an innocence and youthful charm. As she accepted her calling and began her training and fighting into the night her costumes became more about function and a reflection of what was going on internally. When Dawn showed up and her mother died, there was a huge shift from being a teenage girl to a woman who was just trying to hold it all together. Not only her life but and her own personal world but literally the entire world! She wore darker, more serious pieces and cozier clothing that gave the feeling of self-protection. Almost as if she had become closed off to the those around her and she did. Especially after she came back from having been dead.

c. Season Six
8. Which celebrities do you most enjoy styling?

I loved working with Katie Holmes, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Williams, Naomi Watts, Jamie Foxx, David Boreanaz...some of my absolute favorites are old timers like Jack Lemmon, Debbie Reynolds, George Carlin...I have never laughed as hard as I did with George Carlin. What an amazing man he was.

9. Will costume design always be your first love or does styling for editorials etc. compete for your affection?

It's very interesting that you ask this because after 25 years as a Costume Designer and Stylist I have retired my wardrobe rack ;-) But to answer your question, I always loved costume design way more than styling for photo shoots, videos, commercials and editorial. As a stylist, I made a lot more money but to me it wasn't as creative or all-encompassing. I loved running my department and being part of a collaborative team. I loved taking the written word from the script and transforming it into a visualization of the writers work and bringing to life the vision of the director. I loved helping the actors to feel that they were the characters they were playing by way of costume. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was when an actor would tell me that his or her costume I designed helped them to feel who their character was and thus become them. I loved the creative process of dreaming up costume ideas in my mind and researching the character or time period, etc. To me it was far more stimulating and fulfilling than styling. And so now, I have become a psychologist. I kind of always was one as a costume designer, now I just have a Master's degree that states it. This too is an achievement of a dream of mine.

10. And finally, what movies and shows have costume design that really inspire you? In the past and at present?

North By Northwest. I loved the way Cary Grant and Eva-Marie Saint complimented each other with their look and color palette. I loved Karen Patch's work in The Royal Tennebaums. The costumes certainly helped to tell the story of who these people were. It was hilarious. I always, always love the work of Colleen Atwood. Everything she does is simply amazing from Silence of The Lambs, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of The Apes, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Snow White and The Huntsman, Public Enemies and the list goes on.

Snow White and the Huntsman.

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