We caught up with Jennifer Grubb, BA Production Arts and Design graduate, to find out about a typical day on Outlander, working with Vanessa Hudgens and how she became the official supplier of dog collars to RCS.
How did you first get interested in costume making?
I think a lot of people are in a similar boat in that they don’t realise that costume making is a career when you were in school. Costume is in everything you watch but it’s not something you often think about. I was quite fortunate in secondary school as my school offered a Higher in Fashion Technology with sewing. From there, I did an HND in pattern making in college. It was more fashion based and we learnt about design.
Why did you choose RCS?
When I was in college we did a costume module for Pollok House. We got a tour of the Conservatoire as part of that, and I saw inside the production department at the Wallace Studios and I was just amazed. I did not know that was all there! I applied on a whim and got in, it happened almost by accident!
What was your time like at RCS?
I tried to get involved in as many things as possible and have all my fingers in all the different pies! I did a lot of Bridge Week projects. Bridge Week is where students across all year groups and all programmes can collaborate to create new and interdisciplinary work – it’s great as you work with so many different people.
The first big thing I worked on was the pantomime Dick McWhittington. I was only in first year and mostly sewing buttons but it was thrilling to be involved in a full run of a live show from start to finish.
I worked on the opera Die Fledermaus in second year and it was brilliant working with costume and set designer Mark Bouman. I had done a lot of women’s wear in college but I was interested in men’s tailoring. He was really skilled in that field and taught me so much. I think that’s what’s so good about the RCS, you can mould your degree to what you’d like it to be. If there is something you are interested in there will be an opportunity to learn about it.
My favourite production though was Pool of Bethesda. That was my third year meaning I was able to supervise the show and went on tour with it to London. It’s great to be in charge, but it does mean when you turn up in a theatre in London, it’s your responsibility to adapt to it!
What have you been up to since you graduated?
I’ve done a lot of bits and bobs, mostly adverts and films. I did a promo advert for the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. as a costume assistant. It was terrible weather over three days in the Scottish countryside. I spent the whole time trying to keep the star Drew McIntyre warm! I was also the pattern cutter for the Vodafone ‘Be Unlimited’ 5G promo launch and made their iconic red coats.
I worked on the Netflix film The Princess Switch: Switched Again. I was hired to be in the crowd department, dealing with incoming hires and fittings. Within two hours the designer discovered I had experience in sewing and tailoring and suddenly I was fitting the star of the film Vanessa Hudgens! I did the fittings and alterations for the main cast for the rest of the film. Hudgens was playing three different characters and sometimes all 3 were in the same scene, so there was a lot of changes and costumes – not to mention body doubles. I was only meant to unbox things!
I was also doing daily work on Outlander season five, but I have a full contract for season six, and that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
Can you tell us about a typical day onset for Outlander?
There’s a huge team of us doing costumes. Recently I moved from the crowd department to the principal cast department. When you work in crowd, you usually start your day by dressing a few 100 people in a big room. With current COVID guidelines, everyone has their own space for getting ready. After that, you spend most of your time making sure everyone stays warm, dry and clean (I deal with a lot of mud)! Then it’s a case of checking over the extras for the likes of any missing hats, buttons and making them look their best.
With the principal cast, there’s a lot more preparation involved. Everything is cleaned within an inch of its life, which is difficult when you’re working in a field! There is a lot of logistics involved. Sometimes you have to dress them on set so they look their best and stay on top of their continuity throughout the story. All the costumes for the principal cast, and often the crowd as well, are made in-house in the massive work room. The amount of detail involved in the costumes, even for the crowd, is incredible.
Days are long. You can start at 6am and you work through until filming stops at 7pm. Then you have to get everything cleaned and ready for the next day. We’ve also been travelling around a lot of Scotland, so the commute can be tiring.
You recently worked on BAFTA-nominated film Limbo, how was that as an experience?
It was my first job as a trainee. The designer had worked on films before but the rest of the team had previously been stylists and were more photoshoot based. We weren’t used to dealing with continuity over multiple days, that was definitely the most challenging bit! With photoshoots you don’t have to think about that so much. With such a small crew and all being so new, I think I got a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t normally have been given at my level.
You are currently the supplier of tartan dog collars and bow ties for RCS….
Yes! Between college and starting at RCS I worked at a company that made tartan bowties – for humans. One day a friend asked if I could make one for her dog and it just grew from there and I started Tartan DeTails! Principal Sharkey got in touch about commissioning two for his own dogs and since then I’ve been picked up by the RCS shop!
It got to the point that I was so busy I couldn’t make all the orders for my own customers and various shops and do my film work at the same time, so I’ve actually taken on another RCS graduate to work one day a week! I’m looking forward to when the markets can open back up so I can sell in person again.
What’s your advice to our current RCS students?
Networking is the most important thing, you get so many jobs through who you know. Always make yourself available to learn things. If you go into things with an open mind you get so much more out of them.
Learn as much as you can while you’re at RCS because you have everything at your finger-tips. While you’re there, explore your options and see what you like which will hopefully point you in the right direction after graduation, in terms of where you want to apply to and work. Hard work, really does pay off!