Costume Designer Trish Summerville Takes the Stage at Otis College

News, Students | January 19, 2024 | BY Lisa Butterworth

Model in a dress against a colorful background

Costume Designer Trish Summerville (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gone Girl) returned to Otis College’s Fashion Design department in December to share what a career path for the students could look like. A former mentor for a curricular project (2021-2022), Summerville shared her industry insight and finally got to see some of her mentees’ finished garments in person. 

For her mentor project, Summerville had tasked students with using recycled elements to design a collection that celebrated the beauty and adaptability of the animal world. After guiding the students through sketch selection, fabrication, and fittings, a work conflict sent her to Berlin before the students’ finished pieces were unveiled at the annual fashion show held during O-Launch 2022 weekend

Model wearing a dress during a fashion showWhen Fashion Design Chair Jill Zeleznik first reached out to her, Summerville jumped at the chance to become a mentor. “I wanted to see where students are now compared to when I was in school, how advanced they are,” she said. She came to Otis for a tour and was blown away by the students’ illustrations, the quality of their work, and the beauty of the campus. 

“I think it’s really important to share any information you have and hopefully inspire people,” Summerville said. “When I was in school, I didn’t know that what I do [now] even existed [as a career].” That hasn’t hindered her impressive career trajectory. After getting her start in music videos for stars like Christina Aguilera and Pink, Summerville landed her first feature film in 2011 as the costume designer who transformed Rooney Mara into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has since been nominated for an Academy Award for costume design for the historical biopic Mank and more recently revisited Panem for last year’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to the original series. 

“We’re so lucky to have Trish because she’s a designer’s designer, which means that she can drape, she can draw, and she can fabricate,” Zeleznik said when introducing Summerville to the audience gathered in the fashion theater on campus. 

Model wearing a colorful dress on a catwalk

During her guest lecture, Summerville dished gamely on the day-to-day duties of costume design, with anecdotes about dressing 1,300 Hunger Games background actors and removing fake blood from Rosamund Pike’s underwear in Gone Girl for 30 takes in a row. She also answered questions about everything from how she created Katniss Everdeen’s iconic flaming dress to her astrological sign (“I knew it was fire!” the inquiring student exclaimed when Summerville shared that she’s an Aries).

Model wearing a colorful dressAfter her talk, Summerville walked to the side of the stage, where several mannequins were dressed in some of her mentees’ garments. “Wow. The creativity alone,” she commented, snapping photos with her phone and noting how some felting resembled the wings of a monarch butterfly. “Amazing. Really, really incredible.”

Summerville’s biggest piece of advice for any aspiring costume designer was to be well-rounded—something she says Otis’s Fashion Design students are primed for thanks to the breadth of the hands-on curriculum. “The level and the quality of the illustrations and all the different programs that they’re learning to use is extremely helpful,” she said, “as is all the fabrication techniques—seeing that they’re being taught the layout of patterns and how to print and how to do felting and beading.”

A costume designer’s true mettle, however, is tested when they have to change things on the fly, a skill Summerville saw students honing firsthand during her time as a mentor. “Watching the students work and speaking with them during their presentations—I really loved hearing why they chose certain animals and how they were going to incorporate that into a design,” she said. “And seeing where they struggled and then watching that problem-solving—it fed my soul.”

All images of runway looks from Fashion Design students’ Trish Summerville mentor project photographed by Owen Kolasinski/Otis College of Art and Design.

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