Esther Dean on her responsibilities once in production

Once you were in production, once you were filming or in the studio, what were your responsibilities then?

Well, I liked to be around when the filming was going but obviously I couldn’t. But what I always liked to do was if there was an actor and they were wearing a new dress that hadn’t been seen on camera before, I liked to be there that was seen. When I first started working I didn’t have an assistant, when I was doing something like Country Matters, one just had to go and do it. But often I had to go down to London to be fitting ahead of times. So I was often one jump ahead. But I did like to be around as much as possible on the set. Probably more than a lot of designers. I used to enjoy that. I enjoyed getting all the extras dressed up. Often designers would leave that, but I liked to have the overall things right.

And were you responsible for the continuity, making sure costumes on one day looked the same on the next day?

Basically, yes. Often technically one should have left it to one’s assistant. But yes. That was something ones assistant should have been in control of. Before we had Polaroids, because when I first started to work Polaroids didn’t exist, you actually had to do little drawings and things like that. It was more making sure you had all the right stuff there. One would often liaise with the PA who would also make sure, for example, to note that someone put his hand in his pocket as he was going out, that sort of thing. So again one needed to liaise.

Were you ever responsible for doing the laundry if you were filming for a long time? Had costumes ever gotten dirty in the evening or needed repairing or whatever?

Oh, yes! Hopefully one’s assistant and the dressers would, especially the male dressers. The men’s stuff, their shirts would be washed every night, and all that sort of thing. Some things it was very difficult to wash because a lot of it was silks and things like that. You couldn’t. And the worst thing was blood. If people got shot or stabbed or that sort of thing because blood does not wash out and if you’ve got it on a silk garment or something like that, and then they want to shoot it again, you’re stuck. I knew if there was something like that it would bump up my budget like mad. You’d have to have the garment made, and have, say, four of them, alike. I used to have to say to the director, “You’ve got four goes at this! Because you’ve only got four garments, and once the blood it on it, that’s the end of that.”

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