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ASU costume coordinator takes wrapping skills to next level

Melissa Montoya
November 28, 2011

ASU costume coordinator competed for 'most gifted wrapper'

Whether she’s wrapping people or presents, Melissa Montoya has mastered the fine art of cloaking with costumes and paper.

Her love affair with wrapping began in high school when she worked summers and holidays wrapping presents for a small boutique. She recently took her skills to a higher level by competing for a $10,000 prize in the Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper Contest, Dec. 2, in New York City. She was chosen as one of eight finalists from hundreds of entries competing for the 2011 “gifted wrapper” title. Although she didn't win, the competition was "lots of fun."

Montoya is a costume coordinator in the School of Theatre and Film, part of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts – an intriguing position that requires her to take costume designers' sketches and turn them into costumes. Churning out costumes for ASU theater productions is a challenging line of work that requires Montoya and her colleagues to sew every kind of costume, from a seven-foot wide dress to attire worn in outer space.

“I started out wrapping boxes," Montoya said. "Now I wrap human beings. It’s really a lot of fun.”

Montoya’s participation in the contest came about by marital intervention, namely her husband writing an essay about her experience that landed her in the finals as a professional wrapper. Van Montoya, formerly of the ASU Police Department and now with Sun Devil Campus Stores, wrote about his wife’s past wrapping experience in high school and later working for Dillard’s where she set up Christmas shops in stores around the Southwest.

“I thought it was funny that he entered me. I didn’t mind,” Montoya said.

Devising a strategy for the contest was a process of applying skills learned through her experience cutting patterns to wrapping items given to her, especially crazier things such as a child’s slide. Studying the object, considering planes, and slashing and manipulating the paper to give an item a pleasing shape are techniques that can be applied to costumes and packages.

“We have to figure out strange things all the time,” Montoya said.

Some of those stranger projects include making a trout costume and a Steampunk-inspired helmet complete with lights created by her co-workers.

“It’s sort of like creativity improv,” she added.

Montoya also has had plenty of experience making things that are pleasing to the eye. Clothing has been her primary focus – designing for the elderly and handicapped, working for the company that makes Wrangler jeans, doing specialty work for designers Marithe and Francois Girbaud, and coming to ASU where she has worked for the past 23 years.

“Walking into this shop was like a coming-home feeling,” Montoya said. “We get to do everything here. I just love it.”

And, she still finds time to wrap presents for family and friends when she’s not draping actors and actresses in costumes.

“I believe that you impart love and compassion with your hands when you wrap a gift for someone you care about. You send love to them and it’s a nice touch,” Montoya said.

If you’re wrapping gifts this holiday season, keep these tips from Montoya in mind:

Use an appropriate amount of paper, not too much or too little. Choose paper that is pleasing to the eye and that fits the package. For instance, you can make a chevron at the end of a package with striped paper. Fold the paper under so that the edges are smooth and make even creases. Put tape on the bottom or sides so the top is smooth. Use wide ribbon to create spectacular bows.