The CAFTCAD Awards salute the best in Canadian costume design

It’s said that clothes make the man. I don’t know about that, but it certainly makes a television show, movie or digital series. As important as the actors, script, music, set design and makeup, costuming can make a break a project.

Established in 2006, the Canadian Alliance of Film and Television Costume and Arts Design is a community that has come together to promote their artistic talents and each other. Recently, the group announced the nominees for its second awards gala, which brings the costuming community together to recognize and reward talent.

We spoke to Joanna Syrokomla (above left), who is co-chair of the CAFTCAD Awards alongside Cynthia Amsden (above right), about the group and their upcoming gala, hosted by Baroness Von Sketch Show‘s Jennifer Whelan and Aurora Browne.

Who is the Canadian Alliance of Film and Television Costume and Arts Design?
Joanna Syrokomla:  We are a nonpartisan, not-for-profit association of costume designers and costume art events and costume support staff that have come together to want to promote our artistic talents and promote each other. We put on networking events, seminars, workshops. We put on an event at TIFF called Celebration of Costumes. It’s about networking and promoting and bringing together voices and learning. And I’ve seen some people do remarkably well in their careers by joining CAFTCAD and volunteering for events and meeting people and growing.

How long has CAFTCAD been around?
JS: We started in 2006, but officially incorporated in 2008. And it started off with just half a dozen of us sitting around someone’s studio, saying, ‘We want more recognition and gathering and a cohesion of these types of people.’

When you’re watching a film or a television show or something online, an integral part of that is the costuming, and clearly there was a void that needed to be filled by your group because there wasn’t any of that recognition going around.
JS: There are some awards that do exist in Canada. The Canadian Screen Awards has one for film and one for television. The Leos has something. It was just with this event, we knew that there are different types of costume work that gets done, whether it be in the sci-fi or the period category. I was also very excited to look at what people do with really small budgets. There’s some incredible work that gets done in web design.

I just wanted to recognize that these are different types of work with different budget levels and support staff, and some incredible work that still speaks of character and plots and stories still happens in all these different types of ways. It’s not about the biggest movie with the most amount of costumes, which is often what wins at these larger events.

Costume designer Antoinette Messam

Explain the Excellence in Illustration category for me a little bit.
JS: Illustrator is a professional position in the costume department. The costume designer imagines, discusses, what the character will look like, and a drawing will occur to decide what is the length of the cape or whatnot. So these drawings are made for discussions with producers and directors and the network, but they’re also made as technical garments. They’re also made as technical sketches for the people who either have to make them or built them or dye them or whatever. And so we created an Illustrator category to recognize that this is one of the crafts that is a cornerstone of successful costume design, being able to, I don’t know the word if the word portray, be able to explain designers’ ideas.

In the press release about the awards, there is a newly minted International awards category. What are the requirements for that category?
JS: The requirements to be eligible for a CAFTCAD award in all categories is that 50 per cent of the production must have been made or built or created in Canada. But we did recognize that some of our very talented costume designers were leaving the country, whether they were going to Europe or America, and still costume designing. And we wanted to recognize those people, but we knew that we needed slightly different parameters for them and we wanted to recognize that.

For instance, Anne Dixon won the International Award for The Song of Names, and she did a really beautiful job, and that we know that she’s born and bred here, and that we recognize our talent even on an international stage. Instead of changing our requirements we created these new awards to recognize our own talent.

The 2020 recipient of the Nobis Industry Icon Award is Juul Haalmeyer. Why is he the recipient?
JS: He is an icon of Canadian costume history. He’s been around in the industry for quite some time. He was there at the beginning of some very interesting times with Canadian comedy that was also blossoming, whether it be The Doug Henning Show or SCTV. He also owns a costume rental house that many of us use and frequent. And he’s often supportive of production and he’s an interesting character. He’s a bit of a cornerstone to I guess you’d say the Canadian costume community.

The co-hosts for the awards are Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen from Baroness Von Sketch. What will they bring to the event?
JS:  I think they will definitely bring a warmth to the evening. They’re huge supporters of costume and clothing fashion, with all the familiarity of these different characters they have to play, they understand that costume can generate a character and support their performance. Obviously there’s a humour that’s going to be there. And I think it’s just going to be lovely and fun and warm and hilarious.

The CAFTCAD Gala Awards Event takes place Sunday, March 1, at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

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