In conversation with Daniella Pearman, Costume Designer on Sex Education
Daniella Pearman is a costume designer with an impressive portfolio of work behind her, including Man Like Mobeen, Get Even, The Other One, and most recently Alma’s Not Normal, Am I Being Unreasonable? and the soon-to-be-released fourth series of Sex Education.
The masterclass was hosted by our brilliant Head of Industry and Careers at Screen and Film School Manchester, Judith Suckling, and was attended by students in the screening room as well as lots of people who tuned in online. Judith asked Daniella a series of questions before the students had their chance to do the same towards the end.
Daniella kicked things off by describing how she started out in the industry.
“I went to University in York and did a degree in Film, Literature and Theatre studies. I did that because of my strong interest in media, but I didn’t really know what I wanted out of it, so I tried to cover lots of different areas. When I graduated, I got in touch with Yorkshire television because I lived in Huddersfield at the time, and the only thing they had for graduates was in the post room – delivering post. Whilst I did that, I mixed with people in production and met a coordinator who gave me my first job as a production runner. One thing led to another, and I was eventually taken under the wing of the permanent Costumer Designer on Coronation Street. Then I worked my way up the ladder from there to working as a Standby on Shameless.”
Jude then asked Daniella how long she had been a fully-fledged costume designer and why she became interested in clothes in the first place.
“My first proper job was on a CBBC drama in around 2014 or 2015. My grandma was a seamstress and a tailor, so I’d always had somebody there to make my dresses and on top of that, I love shopping and clothes.”
Where do you take your inspiration from?
“I’ve been lucky enough with the shows that I’ve been a part of that they have a kooky style – the less rules the better! Contemporary comedy is one of my favourite things to do – it’s a lot of fun but it’s also challenging. The aim is to enhance the comedy but for the costumes not to be the comedy.
In terms of idea generating, I will put together mood boards prior to even securing a job, in order to get the job. A lot of work goes into the preparation: interpreting the script, coming up with ideas, presenting them to lots of people, getting ideas signed off and then shopping and dressing the actors begins and tends to happen very quickly. It’s a really collaborative process – the actors have to be happy with what they’re wearing too.”
In comparison to Alma’s Not Normal, Sex Education has a huge cast. How was that?
“On a bigger scale show like Sex Education, I had an assistant costume designer. We had two supervisors, two standbys and a trainee. It has a massive crowd capacity, because of all the students and we dressed most of the supporting actors. It’s effectively two departments in one.”
Daniella went on to discuss a highly successful BBC show from 2022, Am I Being Unreasonable, starring Daisy May Cooper.
“This was a big job; we bought a lot of coats to find the perfect coat as they are integral to the storyline and one particular coat was a big part of Daisy’s character. I gave her character a 70’s vibe because I wanted her to stand out in the Cotswold setting that the script outlined: knee boots, floaty tops and flairs. I also wanted to allow Daisy’s to look like the opposite of her eponymous character in This Country. That was the plan from page to screen but things change as you go along in production.”
Jude then asked Daniella if she had any advice for our students as they considered how to budget for their own short films.
“It all depends. When I first started designing, I worked on a lot of short films. Then I used charity shops and actually my own wardrobe too! You can also ask the actors to collaborate on mood boards and then to try and use their own clothes.”
Jude then opened the masterclass up to the floor and the students had a chance to ask Daniella some questions.
What is the one bit of advice you wish you had been given when you first started out in the industry?
“I think the biggest thing about the industry that most people don’t realise is that it is long hours, it does take up your life. On Sex Education I don’t think there was a single weekend when I wasn’t on call – across all hours. When you’re in that world, you are fully in that world. The beauty of that is, because you’re freelance, you can always change that up and move on to something new. Also, it isn’t quite as glamourous as you might think. It’s extremely competitive and there are a lot of people who want the same role that you do. You have to really want it and love what you do.”
Do you need to have any qualifications in fashion to go into this world?
“That’s an interesting question – I didn’t have any. I started through production. I knew how to sew and do alterations but I’m not the best. I would say, no, you don’t have to. It depends on the individual who is assembling the team. I’m happy with people who are enthusiastic about costume. “
Are there any fashion designers that inspire you?
“I’ve got favourite fashion designers, but I don’t know if they influence my work. When people ask me where I get my ideas from, I don’t always know. I tend to take ideas from people rather than designers. I will take inspiration from people watching. I will also stop people in the street and ask them where they got their clothes from. Social media also helps – scrolling can encourage some amazing style ideas.”
What advice would you give somebody who is nervous about entering the industry?
“Don’t think that that is something to worry about – nerves are fine. I still get nerves on every new job. It requires people skills and to be comfortable in groups. Don’t be daunted – everyone is real and they’re all from different backgrounds trying to fit in and succeed in the industry.”
With that and a round of applause the masterclass was over. Daniella’s inspirational words of advice were invaluable to our students, and they all left wondering when the next installment of Sex Education will be on our screens. The long-awaited comedy-drama is set to be released later this year and we will all tune in to see Daniella’s hard work and skills in action.
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