What It's Like to Be Unreal's Costume Designer

For starters, it seems like a lot of fun

By Raleigh Burgan Nov 14, 2016 8:22 PMTags
ESC: Trendsetters at Work, Cynthia SummersJacqueline Lee!/E!

What do UnrealGirlfriend's Guide to Divorce and The L Word all have in common? Cynthia Summers.

The life of a costume designer is foreign to most of us...so when one calls you to say she wants to take you shopping with her you say yes—immediately. Fast-forward to a week later where we met Cynthia at her go-to sourcing boutique, Switch in Bel Air, and she told us just about everything we wanted to know. She talked her favorite trends, the lengthy list of celebs she's dressed and even gave us some insight on the not-so-typical day-to-day life of a costume designer.

Read on for all that good, good.

What was your first job?
I was 14 chopping onions for a Bavarian Smokey stand at a local summer fair. To this day I love onions, but cannot go near a smokey!

How to Dress Like a Celeb at NYFW—for Less!
Jacqueline Lee!/E!

How did you get into the industry?
I started out as a dancer in musical theater, which gave me my first foray into costume design for stage. After hitting an all-time personal low years later, I needed to reinvent myself, so I decided to go to fashion design school. While there, a film production was looking for someone to build some very specific ballet tutus for a scene. I leapt at the opportunity and became totally enamored with the magical world of film making. After that, I basically stalked a production designer for about a year until he finally gave me my first opportunity to design for a film. That was roughly 20 years ago, and I'm still enamored today! 

What's a typical day like for you?
I'm up at 6 a.m., unless I have to be onset earlier. Then I'll check my social media, hop onto InStyle.com, Vogue.com then Matchesfashion.com (I am obsessed with them), answer east coast emails then...get out of bed! After that every day is, in no particular order, a mixture of meetings, shopping, sourcing, fittings, designing characters' closets, set visits and some days, flying from one city to the next. Full and fabulous!

Tell us about your workspace décor. 
The location of my office is always changing and could be in any city, depending on where we're shooting. But the layout and the contents are almost always the same: I love lots of natural light. I always have a fitting room in my office, with a photo booth. I like the cast to feel "the process" of their characters when they come for fittings. So typically they'll see look books, and my walls covered in inspirational pieces—everything from fabrics swatches, magazines tears, illustrations and numerous objects d' art. And my ever-present rack of "Cynthia's special picks" which always, at some point, involve sequins!

Jacqueline Lee!/E!

What's the best part about your job?
The ability to be a part of a big, creative collective. I love team creating. Its so invigorating!

What's the most daring career risk you've ever taken?
Taking time off! In this industry, if you are absent, you are invisible and "out of the game." Won't do that again!

Who are some of your career heroes?
Cinematically, the husband and wife team of Baz Luhrmann & Catherine Mann. The most amazing director/design team ever! 

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Say yes to everything that speaks to your heart. What is important will stick, the rest will fall away and your path will be clear.

Supermodel Wedding Dresses
Jacqueline Lee!/E!

What big celebs have you worked with? 
Kim Basinger, Janeane GarofaloBernadette PetersJames FrancoAlan Cumming, Emily Deschanel, Zooey Deschanel, Jason Statham, Jane Lynch, Marlee Matlin, Lisa Edelstein. And a new fav...Laverne Cox.

What character on Unreal do you love dressing?
That's tough because there are so many great characters! Obviously Quinn and Rachel and all those gowns, but I have to say our NFL bachelor Darius Beck played by the oh so handsome BJ Britt might be my fav. Our fittings are epic. We fashioned him in a sense, after Cam Newton who has an amazing preppy/chic vibe and holds nothing back when building his looks. I love the fierce pro ball player off-field/court fashion!

What celeb do you love dressing? 
I met Jennifer Beals on The L Word. She is one of the most impressive humans I know. Smart, passionate and a dream to work with both on camera and the red carpet. A constant beauty. I am blessed to call her a friend.

What current fashion trend(s) are you loving right now?
I love color, so this past season's trend of pom-poms and tassels really inspired me. And I'm absolutely loving the super wide-leg trouser for women in the upcoming season. I'm also obsessed with the vegan bags by Gunas and Matt & Nat. It's the way of the future.

What's one trend you wish would go away?
Tube tops.

Jacqueline Lee!/E!

Finish the sentences below:

Today for lunch I had…a vegan salad from Meet on Main!

The first website I log onto every day is…InStyle.

My usual Starbucks order is…don't do Starbucks (or coffee at the moment).

If I wasn't doing this job, I would…be an acrobat in Cirque de Soleil. I love Cirque!

My favorite place to visit is…Umbria, Italy. Specifically the town of Spoleto.

List five things that are on your desk right now…a box full of jewelry from Bonheur, a beautiful vase full of summer flowers, a blown glass votive from Murano, a magical pair of Sofia Webster sandals and my ever-present dog leash.

The book I'm reading right now is…Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Book one. For the third time. Yup, I'm a fan.