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Five creativity tips from the costume designer of The Handmaid’s Tale

Ane Crabtree, costume designer for The Handmaid’s Tale, The Sopranos, and Westworld, explains how to find inspiration.

Five creativity tips from the costume designer of The Handmaid’s Tale
[Images: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Contributor/Getty Images (Crabtree); Anna Erastova/iStock (pattern)]

One of the most reputable costume designers in Hollywood, Ane Crabtree plays a defining role in creating the immersive TV worlds we dive into night after night. Her work has helped evoke the 1950s repression of Masters of Sex, the New Jersey suburbia of The Sopranos (she worked on the pilot), and the sci-fi future–and frontier past–of Westworld. Most famously, perhaps, she created the disquieting costumes for The Handmaid’s Tale, which have been conjured in real life at protests and rallies.

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On the 10th anniversary of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People in Business list, we caught up with Crabtree, one of our alumni from 2018, to ask how she continues to find inspiration. Here’s what she said:

Make time for creativity. Because you can’t simply summon an epiphany at a given moment, Crabtree arrives at work three hours early, to prepare. “One has to make time for it,” she says. Plus, she meditates in the morning, which puts her in the mood to start the day.

Cultivate your sources. Conversely, the end of Crabtree’s day is spent actively digging for inspiration: namely, sourcing images that will develop her vision for each of her projects. She pulls from art, music, photos, paintings, and nature to give birth to her costume concepts. “You have to pay homage to the muse,” she says, “or she may stop visiting you.”

Don’t apologize for being creative. Creativity is often stigmatized, Crabtree says, to the extent that she didn’t call herself an “artist” for a long time. “It used to be used as a dirty word,” she says. In particular, she says creative jobs are frequently viewed as inferior to traditional business roles. “One has to hold firm to the belief that we need creativity in order for a business to thrive.”

Find what makes you stand out. It’s important for innovators and artists to locate their distinct voice–even if it once made them feel uncomfortable.  “Find the things that make you tick,” she says. “These are the things that make you unique.”

Trust creativity to do its work. If you offer creativity your patience and respect, it’ll pay you back. “The result is always worth it,” Crabtree says.

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