Synonymous with style, design and exquisite detail, Ruth E. Carter is the costume designer to call when a filmmaker needs to tell an authentic story though a characters’ attire and accessories. Getting her start in the theatre and in opera houses, Carter remembers getting her shot for the first time as a feature film costume designer from Spike Lee on the classic School Daze in 1988. Her portfolio today reads like that of a Hollywood A-Lister, with credits in over forty films, including classics as I’m Gonna Get U Sucka, The Five Heartbeats, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, What’s Love Got to Do with It and most recently, Sparkle, which is scheduled to release in August 2012.
MN: What are the responsibilities of a costume designer?
RC: Essentially, the costume designer designs the look of the film. Most of the time people get that confused with a fashion designer and although we do work with fashion and we love fashion, it has more to do with coordinating the look of each character. Sometimes there is fashion that’s required and other times there’s not. You really have to know people and what makes people who they are through their clothes.
MN: We know that every film starts with the written word. How did you feel about the script for Sparkle?
RC: I’m always motivated about the story: if it moves me in some way, if it makes me laugh or makes me cry, just like you are in the movie theater. I like it for the same reasons in the script form. Once I read the script as I did with Sparkle, I was motivated by the 60s and Motown and that’s where my process started with researching the 60s and the Motown era. When I met with the [the director and writer] Salim and Mara Akil I bought images with me that I felt spoke to me.
MN: Where do you do your research? Do you start at Google like everyone else?
RC: Yeah. The same as everyone else, I go online and I spend hours on line looking at a lot of pictures. It’s different from when I first started back in the ole days. I’d start at the library or at the newsstand and spend money on magazines. Now, there are lots of magazine sites, fashion research sites that show you what people looked like in the 60s. It saves lots of time and money and it’s easier when it’s electronic so you can create your boards and ideabooks a lot faster. I still also enjoy the process of pulling tearsheets from magazines and putting together things physically to show my ideas.