Meet the Pop-up Globe's Costume Designer

Chantelle Gerrard is ready to take on her favourite role to date


Costume Designer Chantelle Gerrard. Picture / Guy Coombes.

Costume maker and designer Chantelle Gerrard has — among many other things — sewed prostitutes’ dresses for Game of Thrones, constructed space suits for the movie The Martian and produced countless animal costumes for Tim Bray Children’s Theatre productions.

But Chantelle, whose passions are historical costume making and design, believes the role she has now is the pinnacle of her career thus far. The 35-year-old is head of wardrobe in charge of the costume department for the Pop-up Globe project.

As well as overseeing the construction of costumes for Pop-up Globe’s two signature productions, Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet, Chantelle is making costumes for the latter. She says they won’t be true to Shakespeare’s day — unlike those in Twelfth Night — but located in a timeless world with nods to lovers of all ages. She has also worked with the Young Auckland Shakespeare Company on its costumes for Much Adoe About Nothing.

“The actual idea that they are building a replica, out of scaffolding, of Shakespeare’s second Globe Theatre right here in my hometown of Auckland and I can actually be part of it, I can’t think of anything more satisfying and amazing.

“I am with a beautiful team designing costumes for one of the best-known plays of all time and making historical costumes, which are my main interest. Every time I walk past that beautiful structure [the Pop-Up Globe on Greys Ave], I am just in awe.”

It may owe a lot to something Chantelle did on a whim back in 2013 when she held a low-key exhibition at the Lakehouse Arts Centre in Takapuna, where she has a workroom. Having painstakingly hand-stitched a 1530s replica of an Italian gown, inspired by the Portrait of a Lady painting by Pier Francesco di Jacopo Foschi, she decided to showcase her work. The exhibition featured the costumes themselves, some pattern pieces and working drawings.

Given she was teaching fulltime, it was a stressful undertaking and Chantelle admits she sometimes wondered at the wisdom of it. The exhibition opened; an elderly gentleman visited late one afternoon and got talking to Chantelle, who happened to be there. He mentioned his daughter-in-law did some costume design work in London and he’d talk to her about Chantelle’s work.

She heard nothing until a few months later when he called and said his daughter-in-law was interested in seeing what Chantelle could do. The daughter-in-law was none other than Michele Clapton, the Emmy-winning costume designer who’s been in charge of dressing the Game of Thrones characters since its first series. The eventual result was an invitation to join the Game of Thrones costume department; Chantelle had just nine weeks to raise the money to run to the other side of the world. “And I did and it was lovely.”

She spent a chunk of 2014 sequestered in the Belfast workrooms where thousands of costumes, mainly for extras and minor characters, are painstakingly cut, stitched — often by hand — and finished. She worked as a seamstress and was able to add to her already extensive knowledge of how costumes, particularly historical ones, can be created.

“It is always good to have the opportunity to learn different ways of working and new techniques or to perfect those you already know, but overall it reminded me of the underwear factory on Coronation Street — Underworld — with the girls at their machines involved in different aspects of the production process.”

But she doesn’t like to trumpet her Game of Thrones stint. In fact, she says she gets embarrassed when asked about it because for her it was simply another experience to add to the rich tapestry of life and far more important is the chance to work with “beautiful people” and have “wonderful experiences”.

Chantelle’s interest in historical costumes and fashion started when she was a teenager, but she’d long re-designed her Barbie dolls clothes and been enthralled by the stories her English-born mother told of the Angles, Picts and Jutes who played their part in the settlement of Britain.

“I remember going to Auckland Museum and wandering around Centennial St [the much-loved Auckland 1866 streetscape that the museum dismantled last year amid protest] and wondering about the stories of the people behind the facades,” she says. “The magic and mystery of history has always enchanted me.”

A qualified secondary school design technology teacher, Chantelle also holds a spatial design degree from AUT but is self-taught in sewing and pattern-making. These interests flourished at AUT where she joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group with 50,000 members worldwide, dedicated to researching and re-enacting pre-1600 medieval Western Europe.

Don’t knock it, she says. Membership allowed her to learn and hone her craft and she’s self-funded trips around the globe to learn more about historical costuming. Taking part in Live Action Role Playing (LARP) and touring as a singer and actor with various companies around New Zealand means Chantelle has got a good idea of what will — and won’t — work on stage.

Durability, flexibility and, of course, budget, all have a role but Chantelle tries her utmost never to compromise on quality and aesthetics. Natural materials — linen, velvet and silk — are her favourites and she says necessity is always the mother of invention. She stresses the process for making historical costumes differs for film and theatre but she’s comfortable with both.

“It’s been years of sacrifice, hard work and perseverance, especially being self-taught and working at many jobs in different areas; it’s been about not saying no to opportunities that come along which is how I end up in odd situations with random but lovely people.

“My best friend passed away from cancer when she was 29; I’ve got Crohn’s Disease and I’ve had surgery on my back so I know life is precious, so take the opportunities as they come.”

• Other Shakespeare plays at Pop-up Globe include Much Adoe about Nothing, The Tempest, Titus, Henry V, Antony and Cleopatra and Hamlet. For more information and to buy tickets, see popupglobe.co.nz

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