How We Met: Lea Anderson & Sandy Powell
'Lea had this punky Mohican haircut... I remember dressing her in an Indian squaw outfit'
Sunday 05 September 2010
Sandy Powell, 50, is a costume designer and winner of three Oscars for her work on 'The Young Victoria', 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'The Aviator'. She works regularly with the director Martin Scorsese. She lives in south London
It was my first day at St Martins college, where I was doing an art foundation course, in 1978. They got us all in one room, and told us to draw something to do with where we came from. They put all the drawings on the floor and grouped them into categories; you had to stand with your picture – and that was how they decided your tutorial group. They kept forming these groups until there were five or six left who they couldn't slot into a category; of course, Lea and I were in that group of weirdos. They told us we'd break for lunch. We just looked at each other and said, "Shall we go to the pub?" That's how it started – and went on, to be honest. It was a great course, but a lot of time was spent in the pub at lunchtime, Patisserie Valerie in the afternoon, then back for the final hour at college.
I thought Lea was quite cool. She used to have this punky Mohican haircut and carry around a giant can of hairspray she'd disappear into the loos with. Outside college, a lot of our socialising was done at gigs: Lea was lead singer in a band and I did her stage costumes. I remember making her an Indian squaw outfit and dressing her in 1950s swimwear.
At the end of the year we went our separate ways, but we've always come back together. I was around when she started at the Laban centre of dance and choreography. The first piece I saw that she had choreographed struck me as completely different from anything I had seen, and I ended up designing dresses for her final-year performance.
I work with her in a very different way to how I work with film directors. She's incredibly visual, so before we begin, she compiles a scrapbook of images that appeal to her – it might be a fashion photo or a picture of a fingernail, an old painting. I look at it, watch a rehearsal and come up with a costume to show her. So sometimes the costume is determined by the piece and other times the work is partly determined by the costume. To be honest, I don't know how it works, but it always comes together and I love collaborating in that way. We both work on our instincts.
Lea is an eccentric – in a good way. She's a non-conformist. She is incredibly creative and brainy but there's no vanity. She is always doing 1,000 things at once, which is what I do; we're on the same wavelength.
Lea Anderson MBE, 51, is a dancer and choreographer. In 1984, she co-founded the all-female modern dance company the Cholmondeleys, then, in 1989, the all-male Featherstonehaughs. Their experimental pieces have been performed in theatres, at Glastonbury, on beaches and in cars and lifts. She lives in south London
It was our first day at St Martins and it was quite nerve-racking. You arrive at art college hoping you've found a place to belong, then you're told you don't fit in there either – it was quite traumatising. It was mostly boys on our course, but I remember catching Sandy's eye and there was a connection with us from that moment.
Sandy was fascinating. She looked very different from everyone else. She had really long, vibrant, red crinkly hair. In the foundation year there were lots of sculpture types who wore hippyish, paint-splattered jeans, rolly-cigarette-hanging-out-of-their-mouth boys; so it wasn't all fashionistas.
Sandy would often get a theme going in her wardrobe and suddenly her clothes would be all checks for a while, then it might be stripes. So she was distinctive. She's also very funny, with a really dry sense of humour. We spent a lot of time in the pub, a lot of time deciding what to wear and organising outfits for the next day, a lot of time maintaining my hairdo.
We both went off to do different courses, but after my dance training at Laban we got together again more frequently. The first time she designed costumes for me was in 1985 – she came to see a show and said, "God, you really need to get some better costumes. I'll sort you out." It's so easy for designers to put dancers in things that are comfortable and easy to dance in – basically, bare feet and pyjamas – which is so tedious to look at and evokes nothing. Whereas Sandy's always had a strong idea about creating characters and stories.
Sandy travels an awful lot, so we rarely get a chance to meet unless we are working together, and then it's hard to stop chatting and get down to business. Our working process can be hopelessly vague. We have a lot of meetings where I say, "It's kind of like this," and show her pictures and she just says, "Hmm..." – but I really trust her.
We keep track of each other when we're not together. I was on tour in New Zealand last year and a bunch of people said they were going to the cinema. So I went and didn't even ask what the film was. If I'd known it was a Scorsese film, I would have expected Sandy. But it started and I thought, "Interesting shirt! Ooh and that's an interesting dress." I could see her colours and the way she puts things together, and sure enough when the credits came round, I was right, it was her. It makes me laugh thinking of her on the red carpet at the Oscars – I think, "Go on Sandy! Show them what they should be wearing, not those stupid dresses they all choose."
Lea Anderson's Featherstonehaughs are on tour from 16 September to 10 November (visit thefeatherstonehaughs.org for details)
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