Industry Pro: GLEE Costume Designer Lou Eyrich
Walking the red carpet at an awards ceremony is a far cry from music touring venues and the indie film sets of Minneapolis where Costume Designer Lou Eyrich got her start. But she has been garnering award nominations for her work for while now, this year picking up her first Costume Designer’s Guild Award for her work on “Glee.” Read on to find out about her career journey, which includes Prince, Merchant-Ivory movies, and (fictional) plastic surgery patients.
Current Position: Costume Designer on “Glee”
Hometown: New Ulm, MN
College: I went to St. Cloud State for three years, then graduated from Minnesota State.
What made you want to get into costume design in the first place? I fell into costume design by accident. I was working part time at a vintage clothing store to pay my way through college. At that time, depending upon which day you asked me, I was either a music major with a theater minor or a fine arts major with a small business management minor. I was completely unsure of what I was going to be when I grew up. And it was a while before I knew for sure.
What was your first job in the entertainment industry and how did you get it? I think my first job was with the band, The Manhattan Transfer. I got it because while I was visiting my then-boyfriend, the lighting designer, on tour with the band, the wardrobe stylist needed help and I jumped in and helped her. She left the tour soon after that to go do Kiss and they hired me to take over for her. I toured with them for years.
Career path: I was living in Minneapolis and, as I said, touring for several years, but I wanted to get into the film business. A movie came to town from LA and I interviewed for any position whatsoever. It wouldn’t have mattered what I did; I just wanted to work on a film.
I got a position in wardrobe on the movie, which was called OLD EXPLORERS, working under a local costume designer, Tessie Bundick. And that’s when I knew I could do this. At that time, I didn’t want to be a costume designer. I just loved being in film. I loved being on set. I loved the crew. It felt like a family. And I loved learning this craft.
I was the assistant to designer Helen Hiatt on the Prince movie, GRAFFITI BRIDGE, and after that I was on CROSSING THE BRIDGE as a wardrobe assistant. At the end of the movie, the designer, Carol Ramsey, said that if I ever came to L.A. she would hire me. So about a year later, I moved and worked with her.
When I got to LA, I joined the 892 Costume Designer’s Guild as an assistant designer. I worked on some movies, but for a while I also toured, first with Prince and then with Bette Midler. So I spent a lot of time on location and on the road! I went back to Minneapolis for FEELING MINNESOTA and I went to Venezuela for the Tim Allen movie, JUNGLE TO JUNGLE, and to Europe for the Merchant-Ivory movie, SURVIVING PICASSO.
Big break: My big break was on the TV show, “Popular,” Ryan Murphy’s first TV show. The designer, Carol Ramsey, left to go do a movie and recommended that I take over the position. I accepted only reluctantly because I had been just fine being an assistant. I didn’t have all the pressure and didn’t have to talk to the producers and the director. Carol had done all that. I got to shop and help her with her duties. So I got pushed out of the nest, so to speak.
Eureka Moment: There’s two. The first was while I was on the road. I had really loved touring, but one day I couldn’t remember what city I was in or what day it was. The whole week, I’d woken up in a different place each day. I was taking showers in arenas and sleeping in a bus with a bunch of people. I just suddenly realized I didn’t want to tour anymore. It wasn’t fun anymore. And that’s what pushed me into working in film full-time.
The second one is when I won the Costume Designer’s Guild Award (editor’s note: for Outstanding Contemporary Television Series) in February. That’s when I went, “Oh, I’m a costume designer.” I’ve achieved past anything I would’ve dreamt.
Describe a typical work day in your current position: On “Glee,” we usually start at 6 a.m. We have to make sure all the costumes for all the actors are in their trailers ready to go for when they come in at their call time. We work on dressing all the background actors and look at the day’s schedule: who we have fittings for, who works tomorrow. Do we have everything we need for fittings and what works tomorrow? Are all the alterations done? Do we have all the accessories we need: shoes, earrings, purses? Does the purse need to open to fit in a prop? Just all the things you have to think of. Do they have to dance in the shoes? If so, we have to make sure the shoes are appropriate for dancing.
As soon as we get everybody dressed for that first scene, we take a look at the rest of the episode, everything that needs to be shopped and fit and altered and on the trailer for the deadline date. And then there’s being on set for when things get established and shopping for things that still need to be prepped.
I usually leave my house by 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. and get home between 8 and 9:00 pm.
What was your worst job or worst day in the entertainment industry? My worst job was a music video. I was all prepped and ready to go. It was a Vanilla Ice video a looonng time ago. I had done all the fittings. That was a Friday. We were shooting on Sunday. That Friday night, the director and crew went to a strip club and recast with all these girls who were dancers. So I had to completely punt and reshop it on a Saturday to shoot on Sunday.
What was your best job or best day in the entertainment industry? One of the best days was seeing RUNNING WITH SCISSORS for the first time, because it was the first period film I ever designed and it was a really hard project. I had read the book and then the script, and then gone through the whole process to seeing the final product. I’d done it before, but not as a designer.
Another ongoing ‘best day’ is whenever an actor comes to me and tells me that through the costumes, through the clothes, I helped them find the character. There was recently a scene where one of the regulars was acting opposite a girl who was supposed to be like a vampire character out of TWILIGHT. I put her in this hat and this great cape we were pretty happy with. But when he came and found me afterwards to tell me that her costume instantly took him to what he was going to do and say, that made my day.
What’s the best thing about your current job? It’s really limitless creatively. Every script there’s something new and challenging and they give me such freedom. And we all work together – production design, prop department, production, lighting, camera, costumes – to make what I think is a really good looking show. I find that’s what I love about the business. Every one of us is good at what we do and we all come together and make a great product.
What’s the worst thing about your current job? The worst thing is the hours. Working a fourteen hour day every day, when the weekend comes, I’m just exhausted.
Brush with greatness: I can think of a couple of them. When I toured with The Manhattan Transfer, they played a lot of these little jazz festivals all over the world. In a little town in Switzerland, for instance, or in Santiago, Chile – just these places I never would’ve gotten to go to. They would be playing with, like, Ella Fitzgerald. I remember meeting all these great musicians and getting to watch them perform. I wasn’t a big jazz fan but these were legends.
The second one is when I did “Nip/Tuck.” Ryan loved to bring in people like Lauren Hutton and Lauren Bacall and Catherine Denuve, Kathleen Turner, Jacqueline Bissett, Richard Chamberlaine. These great older actors that I’ve always admired. And Oliver Platt and Rosie O’Donnell. Every week it was somebody. It was always thrilling (and challenging) and always fascinating. And they were just such professionals.
And as far as advice goes for breaking into the area I’m in… This is such a tricky one because it’s such a hard business to break into. Right now, in my guild alone, there are 700-plus costumers. There are so many people trying to do it. First, you need to educate yourself, watch all kinds of movies. Really study what you like about the costumes, especially period films. Really get to know your period costumes. Your 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. Research your favorite designers, their biographies. Where did they come from? Where did they study? And then explore the different areas within what I do. There are costumers, journeymen, key costumers, illustrators… Do you want to be a set costumer? Do you want to run the trailer? Do you want to be a supervisor? Do you want to be an assistant? There are also stylists, which is completely different from costumers. You need to know the field and know what the options are and then choose your own path.
What’s your next move? I love “Glee” and I am working full speed on it for the new season, but I would love to get back into doing film. In film, you have a long prep period to really get to know the script and the characters, whereas in TV, you get like four days and shoot for eight days and then you’re onto the next script. So there’s just not enough prep time to do what you want to do. For that I’d love to get back into film.
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