We’ve just learned that noted costume designer Ray Aghayan has passed away at the age of 83. He began his work in television designing costumes for Matinee Theater, while on staff with the NBC wardrobe department. He worked on many live shows of the time (often requiring much artistry to accommodate quick costume changes during live broadcasts). He also won the first-ever awarded Emmy for costume design (along with his longtime professional partner Mackie) for Alice Through the Looking Glass. Among his other work, he designed costumes for The Judy Garland Show, many Academy Awards telecasts, and the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics. Below are some excerpts from his 1997 Archive of American Television interview.
What do you think makes an excellent costume design?
I think an excellent costume design is that which serves its purpose to the best possible degree. Gives the actor the character. Helps the actor grow into that human being. And to be able to, it helps the audience to be able to look at that and know what the hell it is they’re looking at. That is the best costume. When it really serves as that complete thing that you, gives you all the information you need to have.
What makes an excellent costume designer?
Having talent obviously helps. Beyond that I think, unfortunately you have to also be a good politician. You have to be able to keep the people below you and the people above you happy. But basically, anybody will put up with talent. If you can really do it that’s what it’s all about.
What to you constitutes bad work?
When it’s ugly.
What advice would you give a young person about going into the profession?
I would think that you have to be sure that you’re very good. I would think that you should be able to draw and draw well. And have an enormous amount of tenacity, because they’re coming out of the woodwork, there’s so many. And it’s, there are more costume designers than there are jobs. So the only way, you have to be very good.
Ray Aghayan and Judy Garland
How has television influenced the fashion industry?
There were 52 million homes watching The Carol Burnett Show, so you take it from there. Obviously Cher caused everybody to go naked. There was a while that you could never buy a halter top, for example. Seriously. And then suddenly she happened – it was an accident – four or five weeks in a row she had a halter on. The halter top became the thing to wear. It’s just like that.
Are costume designers aware of that when they’re creating?
No. I don’t think so. I don’t think they sit down and say now I’m going to draw something so that when it’s on camera everybody will see it and therefore they will copy it. I don’t think anybody does that.
What knowledge do costume designers need to bring to the table?
Basically they should bring a great knowledge of history, of costume, which most of them don’t. And be able to read and understand the character. And help the actor to realize the character visually, that she has, or the director has, in their mind.
Watch the full interview at http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/ray-aghayan