Natasha and Matcha, the Shiba Inu
Ever wondered what it's like to work as a film and TV costume designer? Then keep reading! (She has even worked on The Crown!)
This is why I love London. There I was minding my own business, waiting for a friend on a street out East, when I spotted Natasha and Matcha walking towards me. Naturally I gravitated towards Matcha first - you don't see too many Shiba Inus in London, and they are a really striking breed, very handsome - but as my eyes slowly panned up to meet Natasha's, I noticed her shock of green hair (perfectly dégradé and pinned up), then her expertly put together outfit, then her generous smile.
I knew I had to approach this pair for Lifestyle Tails, they looked amazing together! So as Natasha walked past I asked the question, she said yes, and these pictures and interview below are the result.
I happened to ask Natasha what line of work she was in, looking so fabulous, and when she told me she designed costumes for film and TV, I knew I'd made the right decision to speak to her. What I loved about talking to Natasha is that she is so unassuming. I know that sounds a bit ridiculous when I say she had green hair at the time, but she is softly spoken, very positive and just lovely to be around. And as for Matcha, he's just gorgeous. What a face! So thanks London, appreciate it!
On life with Matcha: Making the decision to get a dog is one of the best things my husband Rich and I have ever done. Matcha has had such a positive impact on our life I barely know where to start! The first thing we found was that London suddenly became a lot friendlier! We got to know our neighbours, strangers in the street or in the tube stop to chat, we have regular dogs and owners we bump into on walks, it makes London feel a lot smaller and more homely. Life is never boring with Matcha around, and its so lovely to come home after work and have a lovely happy greeting at the end of a long day.
On work: I work as a freelance costume maker for film and TV. I always knew I wanted to make things, there’s something I find really satisfying in creating something real and tangible. I originally imagined I’d end up in fashion, possibly because it was the one thing my mum, who used to work as a fashion designer herself, told me not to do! I did a year at London College of Fashion before deciding it was’t for me. I ended up doing a degree in costume making at Wimbledon College of Art, then started out in theatre before winding up working on films.
Working on films can be really exciting, I love being behind the scenes, seeing how everything is done, looking round the sets and seeing the incredible work all the departments are doing. It’s really amazing how many people it takes to make a film and how much care and attention goes into every little detail. I really love the variety and different challenges you get on different films. On one film I might be making 18th century gowns, on the next a superhero suit! This means I have to be able to work with all sorts of materials, from traditional fabrics such as silk or linen to neoprene and rubber, and problem solve to help make a designers vision into reality.
The biggest downside of my job is the hours. Our standard days are 1O to 12 hours and then are we are often expected to work overtime and weekends, which is often out of our control, for example last minute changes to the design or schedule. The longest shift I have ever worked is 8am to 4.3Oam the following morning, and sadly I know plenty of other people who have done even longer shifts than this! Hopefully in the future this kind of thing might change, it seems as though the film industry as a whole is realising this kind of thing shouldn’t happen!
One of the most satisfying things is seeing the things you’ve been working on for months on the big screen. It’s especially nice at the cast and crew screenings when you see all the thousands of people who were involved in the film and you feel like this massive team effort has paid off.
On favourite work moments: I think the most recognisable costumes I’ve made so far would be working on the Flash and Aquaman costumes for Justice League, that film made me very popular with my nephew who is a big superhero fan! The film I was most excited about working on was the second Fantastic Beasts film as I’m a big Harry Potter fan, as well as getting the opportunity to work for costume designer Colleen Atwood.
The two jobs I’ve had the most fun working on were both TV. One of my first jobs on TV was working on season one of Outlander up in Glasgow. It was really exciting living in a different city and exploring Scotland, plus there was a riding stable across the road from the studio and I was able to go riding on my lunch break which is something I really miss living in London. Most exciting of all the designer, Terry, got a beautiful puppy who came into work with her every day! My other favourite job was the second series of The Crown. The costumes we got to make for that were so pretty, lots of ball gowns and lovely 5O’s ladies tailoring, I even got to make a mermaid costume! It was also fun because we didn’t have to make so many of one thing! On films you often have to make a lot of repeats for principle costumes, I just finished a job where we had to make 14 identical suits for one of the lead actresses!
He managed to get Judy Dench to stop and pet him as she walked past!
On career plan B: I’m currently trying to work out what plan B could be, I don’t think I want to work these hours for the rest of my life. It’s difficult though because I love my job in most other respects. After a recent trip taking Matcha to the alps I have a pipe dream of writing a dog travel blog, because it would combine my favourite things, Matcha and travel, and hopefully inspire other people to take their dogs on holiday, I just haven’t worked out how to fund it!
On her daily routine: My routine varies massively from job to job, depending on where the job is based and if Matcha is able to come in with me. In general I get up around 5.45am, and if I’m taking Matcha with me so does my husband. Rich walks Matcha while I get ready, I then drive to work, grab some breakfast, ready to start work at 8am. Matcha loves coming into work and seeing everyone, he gets a big fuss made of him by practically everybody!
Costume workrooms are divided into small teams of around six people, with a pattern cutter heading up each team. All the teams are usually in the same building or room which is lovely as you end up often working with loads of people you’ve worked with on other jobs. The mornings are like big catch ups with friends, while 2O people try to make cups of tea around one kettle! We usually have kind of unofficial team briefings once a week or so in the morning so everyone knows when the piece they’re working on is needed and what we need to achieve as a team by the end of the week. Depending on the job you are often working on different elements of the same costume as a team, so it’s important that everyone knows when each element of a costume will be needed and that everything is done at the right time. As to exactly what I’ll be making, every job is different, I could be doing beading, embroidery, tailoring, corsetry, creating factory samples, altering vintage pieces, bringing something up with crystals, its really varied.
While I’m working, Matcha spends most of the day curled up next to me, he’s really chilled at work. If he wants more attention he often takes a ball or a toy to someone, drops it at their feet and looks at them until they give in and play with him! He also sometimes goes and lies in the middle of the room on his back hoping for a tummy rub, it never fails! He even managed to get Judy Dench to stop and pet him as she walked through the department!
At lunch time I take Matcha for a walk round the studio, sometimes we go and look round the sets that aren’t being filmed on that day, or we might see stunt men practicing stunts, or go and see what new things are being built. Film studios are like construction sites, theres always something being built! Luckily theres usually plenty of green space to walk Matcha.
I finish work at 6pm, unless we’re working overtime, and usually have about an hour and a half drive home. If it’s nice weather Rich and I usually take Matcha out again for quick walk in London fields, then cook dinner and get to bed by around 1O. I try to squeeze in a yoga class each week, as sewing is really hard on your back.
On career advice: My biggest tip for anyone wanting to get into costume making for film or theatre is it’s all about contacts! Do as much work experience as you can while you’re at uni, it’s so important. Costume making jobs in film aren’t advertised, costume supervisors hire costume cutters, who in turn choose who they would like to be on their team. If a cutter can’t find enough people they know, they will ask around for a recommendation. This makes it a really hard industry to get into and is why it’s so important, once you’re through the door, to impress people and get on with people. Theres an organisation called creativeskillset.org who help organise trainee roles. Being a trainee is how most people start out in film. Once you’re through the door, people expect you to be hard working and keen but no one expects you to know exactly what to do, and no one will mind if you have to ask lots of questions. Trainee’s usually get to work in lots of different areas of costume, helping on set, helping the buyers source materials, organising the costumes, dressing the supporting artists, or being in the work rooms sewing, printing, dying or breaking down costumes.
On her favourite Matcha 'tail': Matcha can be very contrary! He does his own thing, he can be aloof, he ignores the strangers, but once he gets to know you he’s really affectionate, every time you see him he greets you as if he thought he’d never see you again! I really like that he’s selective, you have to earn his love, kind of like a cat!
One of my favourite and most embarrassing Matcha moments was when I took him into work on the crown. He’s a very quiet dog who almost never barks, he had been into work on that job quite a few times and everyone was so impressed with how well behaved he was. One day he was sitting quietly by my desk when the lead actress came in for a fitting. She spotted Matcha and cam over to pet him but he, for some unknown reason, decided he didn’t like this. He jumped up and did his best, loudest guard dog bark at her! Although he barks I’d say less than once a month, once he starts he doesn’t stop, I had to pick him up and run off with him before he shut up! Luckily the access took it well!
I asked Rich what his funniest Matcha story is and he reminded me of the time when Matcha was being looked after by our friend Sam for a weekend and decided that the place he wanted to go to the loo was the middle of the zebra crossing outside Sam’s house! Apparently every day Sam looked after him Matcha decided this was a great place to go, each time causing a small traffic jam of drivers who were unsure wether to be angry or just laugh!
On Matcha's proudest moments: Matcha is the star of two paintings, The Argument and The End of the Line, by an artist called Michele Del Campo! Michele approached me on Brick Lane and asked me to model for him. After checking his work out and deciding this was legit I emailed him to say I’d be interested as I thought it would be a fun thing to do. He emailed back asking if Rich would be interested too, he’d seen him on Facebook and thought his hair would be good to paint (Rich has blonde curly hair). I then sent him a picture of Matcha and said we have a really cute dog if you’d like to paint hime too! Needless to say, Matcha is definitely the star, front and centre of both of the paintings we modelled for!
On her favourite things to do in London: Since we got Matcha all my favourite things to do involve him! I love how many restaurants and pubs are dog friendly in London. My favourite day out with Rich and Matcha would involve getting up nice and early and going out for breakfast, then walking to one of the nearby markets, either Broadway Market or Columbia Road. We’re really lucky to live so near both of those. We usually then walk down the canal to Victoria park, where Matcha loves to swim in all the ponds, then maybe carry on up the canal towards Hackney Wick, stopping for lunch or drinks somewhere by the water. You can walk for miles in that direction, there's the Olympic park which joins onto Hackney Marshes, it feels almost like your in the countryside. But with lots of great places to eat! We head home via the Chatsworth Road and our favourite petshop, Pack and Clowder, or on a lovely sunny summer day just stay around here East on the canal for the rest of the evening and meet up with friends.
On one thing people should know about her: I found this question difficult to answer so I asked Rich and he says it’s that I’m an eternal optimist, which I think is pretty true! Sometimes it comes in handy, I always make the best of any situation and generally take away positive things from most experiences. I also blame my lateness and tendency to try to cram a million and one things into one day on optimism!