It’s More Than Just a Costume; It’s a Story

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Paula Ryan

It is not every day that you get to sit in the studio with someone who dressed both Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer on a movie set; but that’s exactly what my co-host Dan and I got to do on our latest episode of The Load In podcast.

Australian born, Paula Ryan has been designing costumes for more years than she would like to admit, but she wouldn’t change it for the world. Her career started on film set but today she flies around the world designing costumes for the Olympics and other mega events!

Until today, one of her career highlights was dressing 35,000 talent for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The hours were long, there were many nights sleeping in the car, but the results were magnificent, and made it all worthwhile; not to mention great content if she ever wanted to publish her memoirs.

We shared many stories, anecdotes and a ridiculous amount of laughter, but there was one comment Paula made that summed up why she is the powerhouse costume designer that she is. When asked what made her costumes different, she looked at me with such compassion and said, “You need to dig deep to find answers to produce what is respectful.”

That means appreciating that different countries have different cultures, but really doing your research and getting to know their history and their stories. And once you have that, it’s about getting out there and meeting the weavers and fabric makers and understanding the story of the materials and local design traditions as well. Harnessed with all this wonderful insight, ask yourself, can we do more with that?

Costumes are works of art regardless of their simplicity or extravagance. Whether it’s dressing 1600 talent at the Jakarta Palembang 2018 Asian Games to create a lotus flower, or preparing 27,000 print files to bring costumes to life at the Baku 2015 European Games; Paula has never been one to shy away from a challenge. If anything, you will hear her say, “Hmmm, I think I have an idea..”

Paul is truly inspiring. She innovates through authenticity and the respect people have for work speaks volumes. One of my favourite stories she shared was about the trust and acceptance she received from the River Murray and Mallee Region Aboriginal elders during the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Paula had immersed herself and had been welcomed by the tribe elders to the point that they entrusted her with their sacred ‘Possum Coats’.

These ‘Possum Coats’ were made of possum fur and had each elder’s sacred story painted on the inside of their coat. No white man was ever allowed to see the inside of the coats. Paula wanted to share this tradition and incorporate it into the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony. She not only went into their world but she was accepted by the tribe; So much so that all 80 tribe elders comfortably handed their coats over without hesitation and with trust in their hearts.

It’s times like these, Paula said, that keep her passion for costume design alive.

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A chat with Paula on The Load In
The Load In is an inspirational podcast where talented voices share how they are creatively innovating in their fields. Creativity is a state of mind and our platform is the incubator of ideas where we drive the conversation to explore all that is new.

“I’m currently working on Expo2020, where I designed the costumes for The Opening Ceremony and now working on a few special projects over the next six months. It has been an opportunity of a lifetime to work alongside some of the most creative and innovative people in the world. This probably only happens once in a career, so I am absorbing as much information about countries and cultures as possible.”

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