Media Parents

5 Minutes with… Karen Hobbs, Costume Designer

September 5, 2012 @ 7:46 am Posted in News Comments

Six years at Art College, and it all boils down to comedy underpants!

A typical washing load for Karen Hobbs - The Queen and Maggie Thatcher's smalls.

Microscopic swimming trunks; enormous running shorts; designer thongs; a dance support for an Alien; ‘courtesy’ pants for  an  S.A.  covered in mud; plus Pippa Middleton’s bottom recycled – and that was just my latest job!

Having studied Fashion, Theatre and Costume Design at Central I started my career in the costume making workshop of English National Opera. High art indeed. This was interspersed with small design jobs in theatre and other costume making capers.

My first TV job came in Australia, but more of that later.  Fast forward a few more years of working in TV from Avalon to Zeppotron, plus theatre and styling photo shoots, thoughts turned to raising a family – as we all know not an easy prospect in our industry.  The highs and lows of working freelance was indeed good preparation for what was to become an extraordinary journey.

A piece from Karen Hobbs' current Saatchi project on Adoption. Karen is a Costume Designer in the TALENT section of

Adopting an older child is not for the feint hearted, and being forever equipped for uncertainty does have its advantages. Having initially taken time off to settle in, I am happy to report that most of the production companies that I have encountered since have been very supportive.  In particular VERA Productions who virtually held my hand through the whole experience!  Inspired by my experiences as an adopter, my costume project to raise awareness of Attachment issues may be viewed at Saatchi online – the link is at the end of this piece.

Our teenager realises that my job is not one that many Mums do. In spite of embarrassing her when out shopping by stocking up with Extra Large Men’s sparkly thongs when I spotted them on sale, she is the first to brag to her mates about which celebrities I’ve been working with.

As my two worlds collided, I explored  job sharing, and recently worked as Assistant Wardrobe Supervisor on a huge show at Bristol Old Vic. It was a nice opportunity to return to period costume and theatre.

But my spiritual home is Costume Design for TV comedy, and I am thrilled at being so well supported by those around me, including Media Parents.

Recently on  Alan Carr’s Summertime Specstacular  2, I was privileged to dress Olympian Fatima Whitbread and rub shoulders with medal winners from Team GB.  Basking in their glory was yet another highlight of my varied career.

Never, ever a dull moment.

My first experience in television came in Australia, as mentioned.  I planned to take on casual work and see the country and started off with a couple of theatre jobs when I first arrived in Perth. Travelling solo meant that I could move around, explore, and work where I landed. The South Australian Opera seemed tiny after ENO,  and I sweltered it out costume making for the Victoria State Opera that Christmas.

Back in Adelaide, a  tv mini-series was in production. Set in 1930s, I started work on the beautiful costumes and I had my first wardrobe standby job on location.

New to the scale of TV compared to theatre, it amused me to be instructed to sew ‘as rough as guts’, an outfit that needed making on set. This has served me well ever since and one of my early UK TV series design jobs was secured during the pilot, by whipping up a copy of a 1970s dress on set, using an old sheet from the production manager’s car boot.

Volunteering at the National Film and Television School introduced me to colleagues and friends I still have now, and allowed me to concentrate on Costume Design for the screen. Working with tiny budgets was a theme that would run and run!

Serious TV drama was punctuated by light entertainment shows and a spate of Drama Docs. One of which took me to Cairo, to film in the scorching desert.  Having painstakingly researched and reconstructed an Early Egyptian pleated dress (perming lotion and muslin, twisted in the bath, since you ask), I could only stand by speechless as my wonderful assistant, a local tailor, Mr Abdul, took a large swig of water, spat the lot over the fabric, and ironed it completely flat!

Around 45 local (pre Arab Spring) youths were recruited to play the parts of slaves, and wear traditional loin cloths. Without exception, they arrived sporting long football-style branded shorts, so Mr Abdul was dispatched to source some discreet underpants to preserve their modesty. On wrap, I was helpfully handed steaming carrier bags full of sand encrusted y-fronts!

If you have more than 3 years' media experience see for great networking, talent, jobs and information.

by Amy Walker

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