A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes. This month: Haley Lieberman ‘10
What are you currently doing in your life and career that you are proud of?
Motherhood, Olympics, Costumes at 8 months with twins, teaching, the balance, Relovd.
My career is in a place that I could never have expected as a costume design student, or in those few years just out of Tisch, and I couldn't be happier. As a costume designer, I found my niche and "my people" in the world of commercials and television. My stage work is limited to a core group of collaborators who I have been working with for nearly a decade. In addition, I teach a course at Sacred Heart University titled "Material Culture in History" which is my attempt at the impossible - recreating God's gift to designers - AKA Lowell Detweiler's "History of Costume and Decor" class - which guides the way I view the world to this day.
But most surprisingly, I have two other giant pursuits in life that I never expected: The first is my fashion-tech startup, Relovd, which aims to reduce textile waste and save parents money by using their kids' outgrown clothes as currency for their kids' next wardrobe through a cashless, points-based economy. It will be an app that anyone can download by fall 2019. The idea for Relovd emerged a few months after my twins were born while working on The Olympics, which brings me to my second unexpected pursuit: Motherhood.
When I was at Tisch and in those years that followed, the last thing on my mind was having a family. Not only was I not interested, but it didn't seem possible. Career came first. That was what I saw all around me. There were few models for female designers pursuing a career and motherhood. Now I speak openly about working full-time, being a mother, and the additional support I am fortunate to have that makes this work. The collaborators I choose to work with see this balance of work and family as an achievement and not an impediment. I designed/styled a giant national TV campaign while I was nearly full-term pregnant with twins, on set poolside in the heat of summer. If I had not found the right team, this would never have been possible.
You graduated in 2010 and your career has been very productive. What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
Openness, transparency and kindness are tenants I believe can make a good designer great. I ask a lot of questions to my team and encourage questions to be asked of me. I love working with assistants and providing them mentorship in all areas of costume design, particularly in the area I feel my mentors fell short: Teaching that costume design is not a job but an all-encompassing lifestyle. And that means speaking openly about fees and budgets, hours and expectations. I tell my assistants all of this - which is quite taboo - because they should know what to expect from this career if they pursue it. This candor creates a dynamic of trust, which every good team is built on. And I couldn't do all that I do without a strong team.
In addition, work with people who are kind who make you happy. Our job is hard. The days are long. Follow the collaborators who bring you joy. Not just those who bring you jobs.
How are you currently involved with the department? Are there any ways that you would like to be more involved?
I am involved by attending design show and supporting graduating talent through hiring them as assistants and being available to answer questions about the field. I would love to do more with current students through teaching and portfolio reviews.
When did you get interested in theater and how?
I was so young. Growing up, my father always played show tunes in the house. He was a professional actor when he was younger and stayed very involved in the NYC theater scene. I remember him dragging me around to highly inappropriate downtown shows when I was too young, wondering what I was doing there... which all makes so much sense to me now. In high school, it became clear that I was just as much interested in why people wore what they wore, not just what they were wearing. My history papers were often on costumes of the period, complete with sketches and swatches. Fashion with a capital "F" was secondary to a fascination with the meaning of clothing and how clothes could represent subcultures and be symbols of social and political evolution.
As you design and meet the challenges of being a freelance artist, are there any voices that you particularly hear from the aggregation of voices?
From school: "If you can't fix it, feature it" was a design principle learned at Tisch that applies to life far beyond design.
Are there any challenges and/or rewards that you feel costume designers have that are different ones that other designers may have?
Costume designers have an added challenge that no other designers other face: The sheer physicality of the job. In no other designer position, other than perhaps as a prop designer/stylist is there such a physical burden placed on the designer. We carry everything: The fabrics to the shop, the shopping bags of 12 shoes on the subway, the stacks of garment bags through the set. It can be enormously taxing work. My advice: Don't be too shy about asking for help or for a little extra in the budget to get help.
Costume design is also exceptionally rewarding. As designers, we get to utilize so many of our talents simultaneously: Our creativity, our drawing/building skills, and the part of our brains that thrive through script analysis. And we are constantly challenged to communicate and build relationships with our team. It's a beautiful confluence.
What are some of your other interests in life?
I read a lot about entrepreneurialism and how businesses scale. It's just another extension of being a freelance costume designer as I grow my new business.
What was your favorite snack that your assistant brought to you during tech?
Recent assistants know that I love, in a near comical way, a good plastic deli cup of ice water with a straw. It's anti- eco-friendly and it sounds so basic, but as a non-coffee drinker it's my go-to. I'm a cheap date.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Do what you love with people you love and you'll be happy. The design world is a challenging pursuit. With the right combination of project and collaborators, it's magical.