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It’s all in the detail

Thursday, 16 April 2020

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“I love being able to collaborate and create something that wasn’t there before,” says costume designer Lien See Leong, whose film credits include Red Dog, The Railway Man, Tracks, Kill Me Three Times, Paper Planes and Crazy Rich Asians.

“To be able to immerse myself in script, character and costume – every day is different, every team is different.”

Since graduating from WAAPA’s Costume course in 2005, Lien See has worked consistently in film and television, rising up the ranks from assistant to standby to costume designer.

WAAPA’s on-the-job training

Lien See describes how the WAAPA Costume course taught her everything from tailoring to art finishing, millinery, and pattern-making for period costumes. These skills were then put into practice working on WAAPA’s many productions.

“The ‘on the job’ experience is invaluable – to be able to study and learn in the morning and work on shows from pre-production to post-production is amazing,” she says.

“I loved being a part of a creative community at WAAPA. To be surrounded by colour, music, art, movement every day is a wonderful thing.”

From student productions to Crazy Rich Asians

After graduating, Lien See’s first job at a Perth girls’ school gave her the opportunity to develop her skills in budgeting, and sourcing and making costumes. Her spare time was spent working for little or no money on a range of student films and short films. This experience landed her a job as costume assistant on the children’s television series, Lockie Leonard.

Since then, she has worked as a costume designer or costume standby – the on-set representative of the costume department while a film or TV project is shooting – on numerous productions, including HBO’s The Leftovers and both seasons of the ABC’s The Heights. Most recently, she was costume designer on the upcoming Australian film, I Met a Girl, starring Brenton Thwaites and Lily Sullivan.

As costume standby on the big-budget 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians, which was shot in Malaysia and Singapore, Lien See was responsible for the couture wardrobe – including garments by Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen and Ralph & Russo – and the priceless jewellery.

“The jewellery was all insured in my name, so a security guard had to follow me on set,” she laughs. “And I was the only one allowed to touch it!”

Creating characters through costume

Lien See brings characters to life on screen through the authenticity of their costumes.

“Viewers might not see the detail in a costume – but it makes an impact. It could be something as simple as a character always tucking his shirt in and wearing a singlet underneath.”

Now with the COVID-19 crisis, all of Lien See’s upcoming projects have been put on indefinite hold. She says that during this difficult time, she has found support in the local WA crew: “There has never been more of a sense of community among us with the sharing of wisdom, experience and words.”

Lien See describes her career as being based on hard work and a passion to excel – traits she says she shares with her fellow alumni.

“One of the qualities I see that comes out in WAAPA graduates is an amazing work ethic and excellent skills standard.”

Lien See’s advice to new costume graduates is both inspirational and – as you’d expect from someone whose career is all about what we wear – entirely practical.

“Never stop learning. Meet new people, make connections and accept opportunities if they are offered. Always be kind to yourself and other people. Wear appropriate shoes.”

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