From Head to Toe

Designing costumes for film and TV is a big job and a huge joy for Hope Hanafin ’75.

When Hope Hanafin ’75 works on a movie, she knows she will be on screen every second—or rather, her award-winning costume designs will be. And though she wasn’t a theatre arts major, or even an art major, at SCU, her Santa Clara education paved the way for her career.

Hanafin earned her undergraduate degree in religious studies, which fit with her interest in social activism and peace. “It was the most direct access to politics and the issues I cared about,” she says. She was also a residential assistant in the residence halls and an active volunteer, but theater was never far from her mind. She studied and performed in plays throughout her time as a student. She did little work behind the scenes, however; in fact, she says, “I only walked into the costume shop for fittings.”

After realizing she wanted to work in theatre, Hanafin chose to study costume design even though she had no training. And, attending New York University’s MFA program on scholarship, she learned the practical craft along with the more challenging work of designing from a script.
“My first year in graduate school was very difficult,” she says. “I wasn’t a ‘fine artist’ or a technician. In my second and third year, I took off. I had a different perspective on history, on all kinds of things.” She credits her classical, broad liberal arts education from SCU as one of the keys to her success.

Research is tremendously important, whether designing for contemporary or period costumes. “It’s not about shopping, it’s not about fashion. It’s about characters and storytelling,” Hanafin explains. Being able to read, understand, and make decisions about scripts and characters—skills she says she definitely gained at Santa Clara—gave her a big creative advantage.

Following her graduation, she worked as a costume designer for operas and theatre in New York. She then worked as an assistant designer before becoming the head designer for films and television. Film work has turned her into an almost full-time Californian, although she maintains her union status and a residence in New York.

Hanafin has twice been nominated for Emmy Awards, for HBO’s biopic about FDR, “Warm Springs” (below) in 2005 and ABC’s “Geppetto” in 2001. She has been nominated five times for Costume Designers Guild Awards, twice this year in the same category, and won once, for “Geppetto.” In 2005, New York Women in Film honored her achievements in costume design with a retrospective film and exhibition of her work.

On a set, Hanafin selects every piece of clothing and accessory worn by actors and extras, and she coordinates with hair and set designers to create a fully realized environment—which might be the imagining of a fictional village, a recreation of a historic moment from the 1970s, or a portrait of a timeless American town.

She says she is truly grateful for her work, which on any given day can be rewarding, competitive, challenging, and uncertain. “I’m responsible for every piece, but the puzzle is different every time.”

—Sarah Stanek is a writer/editor for the Office of Marketing and Communications.

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