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Infusing fashion with calls to action, the Costume Designers Guild Awards (CDGA) has become a platform to raise a community voice about deeper issues — from the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements in 2018 and the impact of the pandemic to, this year, the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine and pleas for pay equity.
For the fourth year in a row, Costume Designers Guild president Salvador Perez made pay parity a key theme at the 24th annual awards show in Santa Monica on Wednesday night, where eight awards were given out in competitive categories. Throughout the event, co-hosted by Andrew Rannells and Casey Wilson, many guests carried and displayed fuchsia “Pay Equity Now” paddles and wore “CDG Pay Equity” pins.
Costume designer Daniel Selon went all out by embellishing the back of his fuchsia suit jacket with black lettering that read “Pay Equity Now,” a sleeve with #CDGPAYEQUITY, and one trouser leg with #NAKEDWITHOUTUS. Two textile shoppers attending with him customized a dress and a sash with the slogans. “It can’t be repeated enough that costume designers create iconic characters that everyone adores, and they should be compensated commensurate with their creative contribution to the film, television or commercial product,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Rory Cunningham, owner of Bill Hargate Costumes, said that he has noticed progress, but not enough. “Pay equity is really important for us in the costuming industry because, traditionally, it’s always been women, gay men and immigrants who do the work of building the costumes,” he said. “Consequently, they have not been represented strongly enough to get equal pay for equal or sometimes greater work. I love craft service — they’re doing a hard job, they’re bringing in the donuts — but we’re putting things on people’s bodies that make it to camera. And for those of us who build the costumes, we don’t even get screen credit usually. Oh, and the babies who get born during production get credit — that’s one that drives me nuts!”
Perez agreed, explaining to THR: “It’s in the DGA [Directors Guild of America] contract on television that they get to decide where credits go, so they have decided that nobody can come before them [on screen], except for editors and production designers. So jobs that are predominantly male are okay to go ahead of yours, but jobs that are predominantly female are not allowed to? It’s not subtle. We’re not going to hide from the fact that you’re treating men differently than women. The producers do it, the DGA does it, but the public knows who we are now. Ten years ago, it was ‘Scarlett Johansson wears Prada’; now it’s ‘Salvador Perez puts Scarlett Johansson in Prada.’ It’s really about respect.”
Pay equity is also a larger matter of non-monetary recognition and worth, says Perez: “Look, I think the public doesn’t understand this part of it. They assume that we’re all millionaires, who live in mansions; they don’t realize that we are one of the lowest-paid department heads on the shows, on a union scale. It’s really about producers and the studios understanding our value and what an asset we are. I think the reality is that, If we were men, like most production designers, we wouldn’t be fighting for this. Eighty-seven percent of my membership is female, and the production is more like 84 percent male. We’re not taking away from what they do, but we’re equal to them, so we should be paid equal to them. I’ve literally had producers, when I’m negotiating my rate, say, ‘Well, that’s more than the production designers!’ And? Is there a rule that I should make less? So we’ve got to change that. Again, it’s not even about pay; it’s about acknowledging what costume designers bring to the industry.”
Upon receiving the Excellence in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Television award for The Book of Boba Fett, costume designer Shawna Trpcic asked colleagues to report their wages to the CDG office as a critical first step to ensure that numbers being floated are fair and up to the highest par.
References to the war in Ukraine created other poignant moments during the awards show.
Wearing a pleated silk gown by Dutch designer Iris van Herpen topped with a tiered, pleated On Aura Tout Vu cape, B. Akerlund quipped that she was “about to pass out from my ponytail” as she took home the award for short form design for the Swarovski commercial, “Welcome to Wonderlab.” (She later explained to THR that a wire holding her tight braid in place had been jabbing into her head). After preparing her short during the throes of the pandemic on her computer in Sweden, Akerlund flew 96 suitcases into Kyiv, where the film was shot with the help of a Ukrainian crew. Akerlund shared the recognition with them, sending prayers “to everyone in Ukraine because it’s a very special place,” while calling the war “horrific.” Perez shared the same sentiments saying, “Our hearts and support go out to them.”
On hand to present the Spotlight Award to Andrew Garfield, Judith Light chimed in on the pay topic: “I just want to second everything that everyone has said about costume designers. You are our right arm, our left arm; you are our whole body, and we cannot do this without you. So yes, pay equity for sure!”
Garfield, styled by Warren Alfie Baker in a Saint Laurent suit, joked that he forgot his Prada suit at the dry cleaners, and then teared up on stage. “I’m so angry, I’m so upset, because I wasn’t supposed to cry this evening and Judith just made me do that,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I’m just so surprisingly overwhelmed and touched to be in this room with my community and so many collaborators that I love and I value and am just so grateful to know.” Thanking Light profusely, he referred to her as “an angel on Earth” and “some kind of spirit incarnate.”
In another touching moment, at the end of the program, Oscars best supporting actress nominee Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard) gave some touchingly transparent remarks about her work with Sharen Davis, before presenting her with the Career Achievement Award. “When an actor walks into a fitting room, you walk in the door and essentially walk in with your naked body and say to a costume designer, ‘Make a character out of me,'” she said. “I started this path with Sharen years ago, doing Ray, and over the years … I went from a size 2 to not a size 10 and not a size 12 … When I walked into the fitting room for King Richard with my naked body, nothing fit. Sharen Davis sat next to me, put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘It’s gonna be all right. We’re gonna be all right.’ Sharen Davis, at that moment, gave me what I needed to play Oracene Price. I walked in that room with my head down; I walked out with my head lifted and the wings that I needed to play the role of Oracene Price. I thank you forever for that!”
When asked by THR for her response to receiving the Career Achievement Award, Davis paused for a moment, then smiled, responding, “As [musician] Jill Scott said, ‘Living my life like it’s golden!'”
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