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Costumer has designs on a little time off

Award-winning costume designer Phillip Clarkson wants to take it easy in Qualicum Beach
Award-winning Canadian costume designer Phillip Clarkson takes some time off in Qualicum Beach and catches up with The News.

He has worked as a costume designer in Vancouver for around 30 years, he’s recently been awarded his seventh Jessie Richardson Theatre Award (Jessie) for outstanding costume design and he’s been nominated for a Genie Award in the past in the same category. 

But this summer Phillip Clarkson is taking some time off in Qualicum Beach.

Clarkson has worked on TV shows like Stagate SG1, The Outer Limits and Beachcombers, he did Will Smith’s (along with many extras’ costumes) on the movie I, Robot and he’s designed countless costumes for successful theatre productions across Canada. 

Following all this he decided to move to Toronto “to make his fame and fortune”, but he got homesick, he said.

“I came back to design a show for the Arts Club Theatre and I had such a fabulous time, I decided to stay.”

His costumes in that production, called The Philanderer, snagged him his seventh Jessie — a prestigious award that celebrates the outstanding achievements of the Vancouver Professional Theatre Community.

Clarkson said he became interested in costume design in high school, going on to the University of British Columbia to hand pick courses for a degree in Fine Arts that included theatre history, costume design, pattern making and drafting.

He’s designed it all over the years from shiny, eccentric science fiction numbers to a punk rock theatre production of School for Scandal, complete with fluorescent wigs. 

He also designed the costumes for the inaugural production of the sequel to Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, called Anne and Gilbert, which continues to run today.

Coming up with the hairstyles for these productions can be a ball, he said, and he likes creating elegant gowns as well as the “poverty stricken, broken down sort of garments.”

“You have them made and then you take them into the dye room and torture them to death,” he laughed.

 Although he has designed costumes for all types of productions over the years, designing for theatre remains his first love. 

He said he loves the camaraderie, and the fact that you get to make things from scratch, rather than shopping for items.

“You end up bonding with the cast and costume-room staff and there’s an interchange of information, ideas, and creativity for a common goal, which is getting the production to open.”

Clarkson is currently house sitting in Qualicum Beach, an area he loves to visit he said, while working on costumes for La Cage aux Folles for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company.

While eight to 10 shows a season used to be his norm, Clarkson has slowed down a bit and chooses to do about three to four now. He said he still enjoys doing the work, especially creating the costume drawings. And the best part is the rewarding feeling that comes when all the work is complete, he said.

“When it’s all done and you can go to opening night and say, ‘Yeah, I did a good job.”

La Cage Aux Folles is a broadway musical hit based on the play by Jean Poiret. It plays Nov. 24 to Dec. 24 at the Vancouver Playhouse. For more information visit