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The Questionnaire: Grace Snell

The Questionnaire: Grace Snell

David Knight - 15th July 2014

Grace Snell is a costume designer and fashion stylist who has established her reputation in British music videos with her work on videos for Breach, DJ Fresh, Jake Bugg, Wild Beasts, Paul McCartney and others. Originally from Norfolk, and now a naturalised south Londoner with a studio in East Dulwich, Grace has submitted to our big Questionnaire, to tell us a bit more about herself...

Education: Foundation diploma at Camberwell College of Art, I then went on to study my degree at Wimbledon College of Art in Theatre Design; Costume Interpretation

Previous occupations: I was an ice cream seller when I was 15. I can still name all 65 flavours!

Favourite music video of the past 12 months? 'Heat' by Jungle. Making dancing on roller blades look epic. Styling the two men in matching tracksuits just works so well.

Favourite video of all time? Fatboy Slim's Weapon Of Choice. Christopher Walken's dance moves = pure genius.

Favourite publications/websites: I can't ever switch my brain off, so I'm normally researching on Tumblr, Pinterest, or costume blogs. There is normally a pile of fashion magazines by my bed, unread. I try to stay in the loop with other people in the industry so browse lots of websites for up and coming talent.

Favourite food/restaurant: Bickles in Brixton Village

Favourite drink/drug: Hendricks gin, tonic and cucumber

Last movie you saw (and was it any good)? Chocolat - it's been long overdue a watch. I really enjoyed it.

Favourite directors: I love working with Jonas & Francois and The Sacred Egg. I'm on my fourth job with both duos – it's great to build up a professional relationship over time. I'm fortunate that I haven't worked with a director(s) yet that I clash with.

Last gig you went to (and was it any good)? Augustine's at Koko in Camden. They were amazing, Billy McCarthy is a captivating frontman. He came in to the audience and sang acapella with the band.

Favourite bands/artists: Currently have Bombay Bicycle Club's So Long, See You Tomorrow on repeat. 

Currently reading/favourite book: I wish I made time to read more. I love the Finnish author Tove Yanson; 'The Summer Book' is my favourite, it's full of atmospheric short stories of a grandmother and her granddaughter set in Finland. I must have read it 20 times.

"when I got the brief for a 'back-to-front woman', a transvestite, a nymphomaniac and a gorilla, I knew I was in the right industry"

What was the first music video you worked on - and what were you doing on that job? It was for the Belgium band Balthazar directed by Michael Pearce, and I was costume designer. It was my first job and when I got the brief for a 'back-to-front woman', a transvestite, a nymphomaniac and a gorilla, I knew I was in the right industry. There is so much creativity and energy in music videos, no two jobs are the same.

Favourite job of the past 12 months: I was fortunate to be costume designer on Paul McCartney's Appreciate. It was a chance to really create something memorable. I worked closely with director Andre Chocron at FRIEND, on creating the costume concepts for each of the set ups. Working with all the decades from 1940s to modern day meant that we had to create a distinctive look for each era. I made choices like dressing the '70s cast with an element of yellow, and when I arrived on the day and the art department had a yellow backdrop. It's nice to be on the same wavelength as the creative departments. I was really racking my brains to make the 50s scene completely different from the 40s scene, they were looking too similar. So when I arrived at the costume house after a nights sleep I took off all the clothes we had on the rails and said let's make the 50s scene all monochrome.

What’s the next Big Thing you’re working on? I can't tell you, but it's not like anything you've seen before!

What would most improve your life? I would normally say, more time to prep a job. But I've come to realise that it's the fast pace and pressure that often produce the best ideas. An occasional holiday would be nice though!

Best moment, or fondest memory, of your career thus far? Being trusted by the creatives, by the producer and by the directors to do my job. Realising I am respected for what I do gives my job great gratification.

Worst moment? I try to take a positive experience from every job I work on. The blood, sweat and tears fade away and I'm left with a video I'm proud of.

Biggest frustration? Having costumes cut in the edit that you were up all night making.

Person you most admire? Anyone that can balance this career with having time to themselves

Your favourite (or most overused) phrase? I literally go to bed hearing 'final checks'

What advice would you give to someone starting out in costume in music video production? Do your research into the context of the treatment, create a history and backstory for your characters. Be sensible where you do your training, don't waste money just for a certificate, learn practical skills like using a sewing machine, hand sewing, costume construction, prop making and millinery.

Even if you want to be a fashion stylist, learn how the clothes are constructed. Get to know your peers, you will be going up for the same jobs, so make allies not enemies. Be willing to compromise on designing, the pace is fast in this industry and your ideas are disposable, don't let anything become too precious. Learn to think on your feet and always follow through on your promises. Communication is key. If you have a problem, talk to your producer, the bigger problems often come from not solving the smaller ones.

Your hot tips to be future stars in music video business, directors or otherwise?
Familia. I knew the boys when they were runners and I was assisting. It's fantastic to step up with another generation. They are a very talented bunch! 

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David Knight - 15th July 2014


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