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ASU FIDM Museum show grants fashion students special access to ‘Poor Things’ costume designer

Holly Waddington spent time answering students' questions, gave them a special tour of the exhibition

Woman explaining costume design at exhibition

Holly Waddington, costume designer for the film "Poor Things," gives students a tour of an exhibition at the ASU FIDM Museum in Los Angeles showcasing costumes from the film. Photo by Brian Davis

January 10, 2024

Two days before the opening of an exhibition at the Arizona State University FIDM Museum in Los Angeles showcasing costumes from the film “Poor Things,” first-year fashion design student Raina Dowler was on her way to work on some of her own projects when she bumped into faculty member Miguel Barragán in the elevator. Barragán was looking for a student to help the gallery team sew some buttons in preparation for the exhibition.

Dowler said she could spare some time — which is how she ended up spending the day with award-winning designer Holly Waddington, the mastermind behind the costumes for “Poor Things.” 

“It was honestly just time and place,” Dowler said. “Miguel introduced me to the whole team, and I spent the day problem-solving with Holly, first trying to work and sew on leather and suede boots, then reattaching a pleated trim onto one of Emma Stone’s dresses, and then trying to reconfigure the back of the gown that the actress jumps into a river in. The river water melted the fabrics together, so we spent the rest of our afternoon trying to reconstruct the fabrics together and re-pin the lining, and the end result was just as stunning as it was before it took a dive into the river.” 

The experience was transformative for Dowler.

“Working with Holly really showed me that you can make anything happen if you just put your mind to it,” Dowler said. “As cliché as it sounds, I never really understood the power of determination to get things done until I spent the day with the team. By the end of the day, I felt like I learned so much just through problem-solving, and I had a lot of first experiences with different materials, skills and techniques that I would have otherwise felt nervous or stressed trying. Knowing that it just needed to happen to help everyone around me was enough determination for me to at least try things out.” 

Waddington said that Dowler "was extremely helpful in fixing some damaged parts of the costumes and did this impeccably and skillfully. She also steamed costumes and made tweaks to get them looking display-ready. She would be an asset in a costume department." 

The day before the exhibition opened, Dowler joined the other ASU FIDM students for a special tour of the exhibition led by Waddington. The students also had the opportunity to spend time asking the designer questions.

Then, on Thursday, Nov. 30, Dowler attended the exhibition opening at the ASU FIDM Museum, which was hosted by costume designer Arianne Phillips.

In attendance were Waddington and ASU FIDM Director Dennita Sewell, as well as guests including designer Jeremy Scott, producer Jon Landis, members of the queer collective House of Avalon, and FIDM alums and costume designers Trish Somerville (“Hunger Games”) and Mona May (“Clueless”).

People attending movie costume fashion exhibit

Guests mill about at the opening reception of an exhibition at the ASU FIDM Museum in Los Angeles showcasing costumes from the film “Poor Things." Photo by Brian Davis

“The absolute best part of working on any exhibition is finally seeing how visitors respond to the pieces on display,” said Christina Frank, the curatorial/museum specialist and registrar at the ASU FIDM Museum who worked with Waddington to put the show together. “At the opening, the crowds were clearly enamored by Holly's costumes; comments were flying about her expert use of color and texture. Some guests, obviously from the industry, were having conversations about where she might have sourced her fabrics and what specific Victorian dress details she was referencing. This level of engagement is always a sure sign that the exhibition, and the event celebrating it, are both a success.” 

For her part, Waddington said, "I was truly blown away by the exhibition and the really lovely evening reception."

She added, "Thank you to (ASU FIDM) for hosting the 'Poor Things' costumes. I loved working with the wonderful museum team and seeing what you all do in your wonderful school."    

Dowler said that the best part of the opening for her was getting to know so many people who have had different and unique experiences in their field and in the industry.

“It was fascinating to listen to so many people’s stories of how they found their passion and what they did to make things happen. Everyone was so excited to be there, including myself, that the entire environment was just so vibrant and energetic.”

Of the whole experience, which began with a chance conversation in the elevator, Dowler said, “I think it’s very encouraging that exciting things can be presented to us on the most random days, in the most unpredictable places. I’m so thankful that I was able to already experience what it’s like to be a part of a team to create amazing things in an environment where one’s imagination can create an entire world, and it was wonderful to work alongside Holly, whose talent radiates through her work and (who) is one of the nicest and most humble people I have ever met.”

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