Senior Sophia Chima is a Microbiology major and Studio Arts minor who designs costumes for recitals and performances at UR. Staff Writer Xinxin (Ariel) Wang interviewed Chima about some of her costume design projects.
What is your major and why did you choose it?
My major is Microbiology, and I am a Studio Arts minor. I always loved biology, and while I technically wanted to be a Microbiology and Studio Arts double major, I didn’t have much time left to finish the coursework for both. When I decided to choose Microbiology as a major, my reasoning was that I always loved biology and I always thought of it as something that never runs out — I can always learn more.
What is your project and why did you decide to do it?
My project is centered around creating an enterprise that caters to musicians. Basically, I make costumes and formal apparel for musicians. So whatever that is — whether that’s styling them, creating an outfit from scratch, or tailoring something that they already have to better fit them — I kind of do all of that.
Tell us about a typical day in your life while you were designing for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
For the last Todd Theatre production, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” I actually got to meet the designer, Jeremy Chong, prior to his unfortunate passing this summer. I got to work with him on all of the costuming, and I also did the wigs and the makeup. For a typical day, you come in, you put all your stuff away, you get situated, you talk. My boss, Christian Couture, would brief me on what needed to be done for the day. Then, I would get ready to prepare the costumes and wigs about an hour or two before the cast arrived. For the show, we were helping dress both live musicians who were situated on stage as well as actors. They kind of know the general things for getting dressed up, and I’d be there to help fit things exactly because there were a lot of corsets, zippers, heels, and things people are not familiar with. It was a lot of costuming. I would also get into costume, because I was technically also performing in the show once everyone else was done. And then we would do the show. Afterwards, everyone would get out of their costumes, hang up stuff, and take their wigs off. I did a general clean of everything, threw things into the laundry, and then also helped out with cleaning up the wigs. So, it was a lot of stuff that would be left over after each show.
What has been your experience with designing clothes, and what’s been your favorite part about this experience?
I’ve been designing clothes since I was 15, and I am self-taught. Outside of some basic help from friends and family members, I have been doing all of my costuming by myself. My favorite thing about designing and creating clothes is meeting with the person that you are designing for. I found out very quickly that while I enjoy making clothes for myself, it’s not really a passion. Being able to sit down with people and ask them, “What’s your favorite thing? What’s your favorite color? For this outfit, if you had to wear it multiple times, where would you wear it?” Or in the case of musicians, asking them, “Who’s your favorite composer? What music are you playing? Can I have the song list?” Being able to talk with people and tailor something to fit a person’s personality is my true passion. I get to make outfits my clients can feel comfortable in and also feel like they can wear multiple times, instead of being like, “Oh, I bought this, but it was just for this event.” That’s probably one of my favorite aspects. The other part that I really love is getting to watch people play in their outfits. For my last project, I worked with a senior, Joëlla Becker. She was a close friend, so the whole time that we were working, I kind of just got to know her better, and it was a great experience. When she started playing around, that was when I realized how much everything immediately came together. I’m a strong believer in putting myself in someone’s headspace as a way to help me create, and so I played the music she was performing for her senior recital the whole time I was creating her outfit. It was amazing to watch her, play that music, and watch the clothing play along with her. It was a beautiful match. She, with the clothing, was able to be herself on stage to the fullest extent. I thought that was beautiful.
What is something you would want other students to know about your project or doing a personal project like this?
The reason I even started thinking about this idea was because I had a meeting with a friend — she goes to Juilliard now, but she was an Eastman student — where I realized that our interests and struggles kind of overlapped. That was essentially how this idea was birthed. So I would definitely encourage people to not force an idea. Instead, think about things you love to do and look for people that need that type of talent or skill. However, I also recommend that students look into the e5 and Take Five programs. These are things that I don’t think a lot of students are aware of, especially the e5 program. Both serve as a free year. You get to study something on the side or work on an entrepreneurial program that you probably haven’t had time to as an undergraduate student. For me, personally, microbiology is taking all my time. Take Five and e5 are an extra year to learn something that you really have been wanting to learn for the longest time. And if you ask for help, if you reach out to alumni, ask people for advice, people will help you and people will connect with you. There is a network of people that want to see you succeed and also want to see the impact that you are going to have on the community. Definitely ask, definitely reach out. Think about your future a little bit, but also, it’s never too late. I applied last year, which is technically the last semester that I could apply, and it is definitely worth it.