Mariechen Vosloo is a costume designer and actor. She received her BA Drama degree from Stellenbosch University in 2011. Mariechen has assisted designer Birrie Le Roux on various productions, some of which are West Side Story, Marat/Sade and The Inconvenience of Wings. Mariechen has also worked in the South African and international advertising and film industry. She was the costume supervisor on Christiaan Olwagen’s film Johnny is nie dood nie, and subsequently designed the costumes for Die Seemeeu and Kanarie, also directed by Olwagen. She was also costume designer for TV series Dwaalster and Die Spreeus. We sat down with her to chat about Die Seemeeu which arrives in select theatres on April 5th 2019.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
I don’t think it was ever a decision that I made. I think it kind of happened and there was never a thing of, “Should I rather go into Maths or Biokinetics or whatever?” It was always, “I want to do something creative whether it be acting or working with my hands.” It came second nature. It was always in me.
You studied Drama at Stellenbosch University. What was the experience like and how did you bridge off into costume design?
Loved it. I studied for three years and then I went into the industry and got an agent and did that whole thing and obviously it’s a struggle in the beginning. I was doing a lot of theatre. At some point, I didn’t have a job. Rocco Pool’s mother is a costume designer, Birre le Roux, [and] she said, “Murg, you have a bit of time. Do you want to help me out and do some buying of some costumes for a show I’m working on?” I helped her and that’s where it turned from just being an interest into something like, “Oh, I actually quite enjoy this and can do more and more.” At the moment I have two careers and it fluctuates between the one and the other but the costume thing kind of happened by itself and it happened out of, “I need to do something. I can’t wait for work.” Lucky for me it was an interest and it became a love and I absolutely love it.
What was it that originally attracted you to Die Seemeeu?
I do love Chekhov. I think what initially grabbed me was that Christiaan Olwagen was directing it because I worked with him on Kanarie and I studied with him and I must say, he is an amazing person to work with. He is so inspiring and a genius, in a way. I was immediately like, “This is going to be hectic but this is going to be amazing and rewarding and it’s Chekhov and it’s set in South Africa. That’s fantastic.” Then he said, “Let’s do period. Let’s go ’90s.” Which is fantastic because I grew up in the 90s. Him directing it, obviously the cast is amazing and the story but I think Christiaan. I’m drawn to his aesthetic as well. It’s very Wes Anderson and very stylised which I like as well.
When it comes to designing costumes for something like this, what is your process? Where do you start?
Usually, you start about four weeks before the production starts filming. I would usually read the script two or three times, kind of get my head around an aesthetic that comes to me in terms of costumes, I’ll chat to the director and obviously, some directors have a more specific, “This is what I want,” or “This is what I don’t want.” I usually start reading the script, seeing if there is a definite style that it jumps to that I need to obey to or whatever but it’s a very collaborative thing usually. The first week or two would be a lot of meeting with the director and brainstorming where are we going? How am I picturing it visually? I work with Rocco Pool a lot. He is my boyfriend and he is also an art director which is an absolutely fantastic thing because we bounce off of each other a lot. His aesthetic is similar to mine. It’s very convenient. The art director and the costume designer needs to be quite a close connection. From there, you slowly start sourcing things and once you know who the actors are as well your idea of character might change. Fittings start a few weeks before shooting and then it just goes. I’ve worked on a series now for the first time, Dwaalster which is airing on KykNet now. Initially, before I started it, I only did movies and theatre and I had never done a series before. I was like, “How does it work?” Usually with a movie, when we start filming, things are done but with a series, you have to continue fittings because there are 120 characters. I was so freaked out about when we start filming having everything ready to kind of keep the ball rolling and to keep it fluid which was a challenge but fantastic. That’s kind of the process and obviously, I have people who work with me very closely.
Is there any costume in the film that stands out as a favourite for you?
That’s a difficult one. Seemeeu was quite a long time ago. In terms of Seemeeu, we didn’t get a lot of stuff made. A lot of stuff was more styling than designing. It was putting together looks that we found. It was a lot of thrift store stuff as well that we found in Hermanus. I think overall the aesthetic and character that I enjoyed dressing would have been Paulina [Martelize Kolver] because it’s something so familiar. But all of them in their own right. It was kind of nostalgic to revisit that era as well. All of them, Id say, and it’s a terrible answer.
What happened with that situation was… because obviously the dress is amazing and she has to go into the water and she would have just worn underwear underneath but the water was so cold. It was death, literally. So we were like, “Let’s maybe get her a wetsuit under?” We had to get a fleshy wetsuit in Hermanus the day before they are filming this thing. Luckily, it looked fine but that was quite a thing. It’s obviously quite a long scene so they can only do so many takes and in between, you have to keep her warm. A lot of elements there at that location.
Was there anything particularly challenging about costuming the film?
It was quite challenging. Most of the takes are the tracking shots. So the long 8-10 minute long shots and a lot of them are of characters walking through the house. The whole house is a set which is dressed and the set, in itself, was very colourful and we had a very strong palate and I stayed in it and Rocco stayed in it obviously, but for someone to walk through all the rooms in the house and they are wearing very specific outfit, I have to make sure, “Ok, they walk past that. That’s a clash.” You have to keep all of that stuff in mind but everything needs to gel. I think specifically with a movie like this where it is stylised and heightened, it’s important. If one thing is out, it throws off the balance. That was very challenging. It was a lot of costumes and not that many actors. I think we have 12 actors but they are all lead actors and there are a lot of days. It was a lot of costumes but that’s also only the second movie that I’ve done in my life so it was a big challenge for me. When I look back now, I’m like, “12 characters? Easy!”
Was the first one Johnny is nie dood nie?
I worked on Johnny is nie dood nie but I wasn’t the costume designer. I was the wardrobe buyer and after that I did Kanarie. That was a whole different vibe and that was the first movie that I costume designed which was scale wise, a lot bigger than Seemeeu because it was more people and it was a lot of different locations and a lot of extras. It was a big movie.
When it comes to a project like Kanarie, do you have to do more research than you would normally do to make sure that everything is accurate?
Yes. I mean you don’t have as much free rein. Kanarie was set in the ’80’s which was also an amazing era so that was fantastic to do but then the other half of the time, they are in their blues uniforms or their browns or whatever and you have to get it right. It needs to be historically correct. Obviously, you do your research. We were also very lucky to have Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and he was a Kanarie and he was on set a lot. If something was off, he was like, “Murg, no. It wasn’t like that.” He was a big help in tweaking small things. It helps to make it authentic.
Do you find there to be any major similarities or differences between costuming for theatre vs film?
I think it depends on each project. Obviously, theatre is fantastic because there are rehearsals and you can pop in and quickly bring something or quickly fit something and do measurements or go back and sew further. It’s more interactive and more personal, especially with the actors. With film, once you start filming, everything needs to be ready and you get one fitting, pretty much, before the movie starts filming and then you have to scramble if there is still stuff that you need to do. It’s very different. It feels like theatre kind of comes together because you see the production grow from nothing to something which is a lot different from film. TV is a whole different story. That’s wild. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s like making seven movies. It’s hectic and also if you aren’t filming chronologically, it’s all over the show. Luckily, with Seemeeu, we pretty much filmed the whole thing from beginning to end, kind of. So you could keep the storyline. It’s very difficult when you don’t shoot like that because you can lose track.
What do you find to be the biggest misconception that people have about your job?
That it doesn’t involve admin. It’s very creative but such a big part of it is managing people and making sure that you stay under budget. You need to have good organisational skills as well as people skills as well as being creative. I think that’s also what attracted me to it, that it’s very creative but there is a lot of structure and it’s working with people 24/7 but [it’s] amazing. I love it.
Out of all the projects that you’ve been involved in so far which has been the one that has challenged you the most?
I think the project that I worked on now, Die Spreeus, which is an Afrikaans thriller series, kind of crime-thriller-psychological vibes but a bit of supernatural as well. I have never done special effects stuff. It’s the second time I’m working with Jaco Bouwer. He is such a nice director to work with because he kind of puts the ball in your court. I read the script and loved it and then we starting thinking, “Where can we place it? What can we do with it?” It was a very collaborative project and very challenging because I have to stick with my beliefs and make decisions and pitch it. I had to trust my own gut and my own aesthetic and it challenged that. I think it looks nice. I saw the first episode. I think I grew as a designer with this project quite a lot because I had to trust my own judgement more than usual and it was a genre that I am not familiar with, which I love because I love X-Files and all that stuff but I’ve never done something like this before. I don’t think it’s ever been done in Afrikaans really.
Is there anything still on your professional bucket list?
There are more, not specifically because I feel I am still young and things happen as they should. What I do know is that I would like to very soon get in a position where I can design more than just style necessarily. But it’s very challenging with budgets and stuff. You can’t get everything made. It’s just too expensive and that’s why I think I’d like to do an opera at some point, definitely. I’m definitely not ready for it now, I don’t think. I don’t know if I don’t try. I would love to do a period piece, like full on Victorian 1800s kind of period and get it made. At this point, that is something that Id love to do. 90’s, ’80’s, its something we know and we are familiar with it but legit period is a lot of research and I think it’s fantastic but you can also take liberties here and there. I think that would be fantastic.
What advice would you have for young women looking to enter into this profession?
I think pretty much just observing has been… because I did a lot of that and kind of observed and helped. I was a wardrobe buyer for a long time which is not the best job ever but it teaches you a lot and it teaches you to work hard but one thing you must know when you are in this industry, it’s going to be extremely taxing so be ready to work very hard. It’s not just a creative thing. It’s working with people and it involves a lot of different skills, not that I’m saying I have all of them.
Who are some South African women in the arts that inspire you?
Zanele Muholi, who is a South African photographer. She does self-portraits mainly. A strong voice for the LGBT community as well and amazing black and white photography. She’s very inspiring and she is huge overseas as well. A lot of people who work very closely with me but I’m not going to name all my friends. Jemma Kahn is someone who inspires me. I’ve gotten to know her very well over the past year. Endless creativity I think is very inspiring. I just saw her show at Woordfees. It’s fabulous. There are so many. Can I say Birrie le Roux? She’s been my mentor absolutely in terms of costume design. Diana Cilliers is also an inspiration. They are two absolute power women and very inspirational.
You can follow Mariechen on Instagram.
Special thanks to Jaco Nothnagel.
All photos were taken on March 29th 2019 at The Blue Cafe.
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