Costume design is all about fashion. Whether the attire is representing a specific era or just for the imagination, the theatre would be at a loss without the costume designer. We recently sat down with costume and fashion designer Earl J. Battle, to learn more about what makes him tick. Originally from Jamestown, NY, 2nd oldest of six boys, costume design specialist and fashion designer Earl started sewing and making clothing at the age of 10. Today, Earl owns and operates Battle Designs, where the company produces custom fit designs for day, evening and bridal wear. Expanding Earl Battle’s portfolio, Earl has designed costumes each year for the charitable event “Band in Boston” that raises money for arts for kids. Earl has also designed shows like the off Broadway play, “Miss Ever’s Boys”, and Operas like “Porgy and Bess”, “Kismet” and a few others at Utah Festival Opera Company.
Here is what Earl had to say in a recent interview:
What does fashion mean to you?
I know a lot of people might say “Fashion is my life,” or “I’ve always known I wanted to be a fashion designer”, but for me it started out as being a puzzle. What I mean by that is at a young age, I used to doodle and draw and I saw how shapes went together. Then, my mother taught me how to use an old treadle machine. Once I knew the basics of the machine, I took a shirt apart and a pair a pants apart and figured out how they went back together and started playing around with the shapes. It was like a puzzle to me. The fashion part grew into it later on. That all started when I was making clothes for my mother, who couldn’t find lightweight dresses for the summer that had ample support in the bust area. At the same time, I started making clothing for myself and friends, so fashion was like an extension that was shaped by the time and life I grew up in.
How would you define your personal style?
When I was younger, well at least younger than I am today, it was eclectic. If I liked it, I wore it, then I would make it look fashionable. As I got older, I was more conservative basic, plain, and I changed my clothes with the occasion. Right now, it’s summer, I’m in t-shirts and shorts with my Clark Kent glasses. I’ll be in that for the regular day, then I’ll change for the occasion like a suit, street clothes or preppy look.
How would you define your city’s fashion?
My city’s fashion, ha, ha, ha, I wouldn’t know about that, but the city I live in is slowly but surely making its own niche in the fashion world. You can find fashion all over the place here in Boston, it’s just knowing where to look. Sometimes it’s not the downtown, sometimes it’s in the small little shops on the outside of downtown.
When did you realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
I realized I wanted to be a fashion designer at the age of 14. It was by this time that I was buying fabric from one of the two fabric places in Jamestown, NY. The trouble for me was how do I get my name out as a fashion designer. My hometown didn’t have any fashion schools. There were home economic teachers, but they were limited in how they could help me. But I kept designing.
If you attended design school, where did you go?
Even though I kept designing, I was also into sports, track and field, and gymnastics, and I won a track scholarship to SUNY Fredonia. Although I wanted to go to FIT at the time, I couldn’t afford it. So I planned to go to SUNY Fredonia and transfer to FIT. Fredonia didn’t have fashion, but they had theater and someone suggested that I do costume design. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I could still sew, so I went for it. It was a struggle. I made friends and classes were okay, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. After visiting a friend in Massachusetts, it seemed like the place to be. So I took a job and finished up at Framingham’s fashion design and textile program, and opened a small home based business working for private clients.
What was the first article of clothing you designed?
Ha, ha, ha, now that is going back a few years. The first article of clothing was a multi-colored pullover vest that had a white background and red, blue, and yellow squares, circles and blocks on it. I trimmed it with blue material of the bell bottom pants I made. With an afro and platform shoes back then, I was styling.
Tell us about your design process.
My design process is simple, I have an idea, then I do some research on a moment in time, or a look, I rough sketch for about 1 to 2 weeks. As I’m rough sketching, I buy fabrics, then I finalize the sketches. Constructing is a process. I pattern all the pieces, then I cut out all the pieces, and during that time, I might come up with some other ideas. If there are some questions about a piece, I do a mockup of the piece to figure out any issues, then it all goes into fabric. Depending on the pieces and fabric, I can put together 3 to 4 pieces. I prefer a little bit of both, I like sketching and finalizing the sketch, but I also like the construction part, seeing fabric come together and the finished piece.
What are some of your accomplishments as a designer?
My accomplishments, learning each day, trying everything and putting that information I take into my looks.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
Bob Mackie, his outfits were made for the person who was wearing them. I also like Jean Paul Gaultier for his design for the times. Christian Lacroix’s clothes have an edge and are always an eye opener. There are so many, and I’m sure, as a designer, I take a little bit of each of them with me as I design.
Where do you buy your fabrics and other sewing materials?
Well, a lot of places, New York, Boston, and online. If I could travel abroad, I would, especially if the fabric is worth it.
What makes a fashionable “look”?
It’s the full package, the look you try to achieve, the mood of the wearer, the clothes, accessories and attitude. You wear the clothes to make you look good or better.
How do you prepare for a fashion shoot or show?
Wow, I haven’t really thought about it that much. The first thing is deciding what I want my show to look like. What am I trying to tell the audience? That’s how I work my lineup. Then, I make sure that outfits are set for each model, and pictures of the garments are in a book and with the garment. For accessories, I will have an idea, but I wait until I’m at the venue, then I choose from several options. Atmosphere and light changes a look, so I need several pieces of jewelry, bags or earrings to choose from. On a shoot, I have to decide what I want to show the viewer. If it’s the clothes, then everything else, such as accessories, are understated, but not enough to be lost in the picture.
What do you look for in a model?
Right now, I like tall models 5’11” and up. They can be a size 4 to 20, as long as they are tall. I hope I represent a lot of people or at least I try to. My selection sometimes comes from things they don’t do, rather than things they do. Sometimes it’s a look, walk, not that they want to be a model, it’s if I can see it.
What advice do you have for aspiring fashion and costume designers?
Learn all you can about designing and sewing. Study and know fabric and how it falls, makes shapes, and how it works together. Trust yourself and learn from your mistakes.
What is your goal as a designer?
Battle Designs wants to bring in opportunities for young designers to share their portfolio as well as sell originally made garments online. I also want to sell original Battle Design garments online. The future is advancing Battle Designs branding, and I want to improve Battle Designs’ outreach in the fashion world and advance promotion of young designers.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
Moving with the times, asking myself “is that today?” then playing with that look. I as a designer take ideas from art. I may be considered to be an artist, but for me, if it makes you feel good, and it does, then you keep doing it. The rest will fall into place.
To learn more about Battle Designs, go to www.battleofearl.com.