Costume designers are either painters or architects who, after being engaged by producers, study the play attentively to fully grasp the tenor of the mood, setting, characters; they also do research to get the costumes historically right. Once they have a clear idea of how the actors should be dressed, they make sketches and usually color them in water colors, affix the Scenic Designers’ Union seal on the sketches, sign them and, after obtaining the producer’s approval, hand them over to the costumer. The costumer is then expected to miraculously transform the vague two-dimensional sketch into reality: they have to find the appropriate material in the right color, cut it, sew it adapt it to the actor/actress’s physical conformation. The costume must also be sufficiently robust to withstand the wear and tear of performance while fulfilling all of the designer’s expectations. Costumers are considered ‘craftsmen’ while designers are ‘artists’, in theory, each at light-year distance from the other.
Helene Pons was one of the rare persons to combine both the ‘artist’ with the ‘craftsman’ due to her training in arts and crafts. She had both the overview and imagination of the artist as well as the hands-on ability to transform vague two dimensional drawings into three-dimensional costumes that often went beyond the imagination of the designer. She considered costumes as sculptures and developed a technique of creating invisible foundations to disguise actors’ physical imperfections (small/oversize bust, narrow sloping shoulders, no hips) upon which she ‘sculpted’ the costumes, by draping material over the foundation.