Working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry requires more than just attention to detail. “Teamwork, compromise, mediation, staying calm, working well under pressure, and sense of humor are almost as important as the creative and technical end of things,” shares costume designer and wardrobe stylist, Natasha Newman-Thomas.
With an eclectic list of clients from musicians (Paul McCartney, John Legend, The Weeknd) to designer brands for fragrances (Carolina Herrera’s Good Girl, Dior’s Miss Dior) to shoe brands (Adidas, Converse, Nike) and even motor vehicle companies (Audi, Toyota, Ford), Newman-Thomas’ career has taken off over the last decade. However, this was not the path she initially had in mind.
Born and raised in Hollywood, Newman-Thomas had no direct attachments to the entertainment industry whatsoever, but she was lucky enough to end up at a school that offered a fashion design class when she was only in sixth grade. A field trip to Warner Brothers’ costume house would leave a lasting impact on her as she realized it was something she would one day want to be a part of.
“I didn’t know exactly what job I would have, but I knew at that moment that I wanted to spend lots and lots of time there,” she says. After attending a high school for the arts, Newman-Thomas attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but left early to go to helicopter school (yes, really). “Lucky for me, that’s when a former SAIC professor was just starting as Costume Designer on a series in Los Angeles and offered me an assisting position. It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit,” she says.
Since then, Newman-Thomas has followed her passion and is now living the life her 12-year-old self dreamed of. She has even added acting to her résumé with a short cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, volunteering to be the person whose head was shaved in one of the scenes. She remembers the experience, stating, “About five minutes after I agreed to the role, I had already forgotten about it, until several months later when Ellen, the casting director, called me to start making arrangements for my trip to New York.”
Newman-Thomas flew to New York with her bird, Birden, for a few weeks where she would go on to film shots that unfortunately wouldbe edited out of the film. ”In the days leading up to the big scene, everyone thought I was nervous about the literal hair cutting,” she recalls. “I was actually just anxious about not having been given any direction/motivation and not ever having acted before.” However, with the help of a few pep talks from the film’s lead actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, and director, Martin Scorsese, she was ultimately content with the final result.
Needless to say, she took the task on like a champ. Most women, being extremely attached to their hair, would find shaving their head to be a pretty big deal; that was not the case for Newman-Thomas. “I flew to NY with my bird nuzzling in my hair on the plane and on the flight back, she was upset she didn’t have her safety blanket to hide behind anymore. The biggest change was that I had to get a second bird (Birdadette) because I couldn’t hide her as easily when going out in public, and I didn’t want her to be home alone.”
Outside of her cameo, Newman-Thomas’ daily tasks as a costume designer and wardrobe stylist alter depending on the project and if she’s prepping, in fittings, or on set.
“On prep days, I usually wake up early, do emailing from bed and share a cup of tea with my birds, meet my amazing assistants for a light breakfast and make a game plan. From there we usually divide and conquer—I start by going to stores like Barneys and Opening Ceremony (or whatever is appropriate for that specific project) while the rest of the team goes to the costume houses. I’ll then meet them and review/edit what they’ve pulled and spend some time filling in holes and hand picking special pieces. Then we go have lunch while the clothes are being written up. We’ll all run a few more errands before meeting at my office to hang the clothes, sort by character and put looks together for the fitting. That process can last from days to weeks, depending on the magnitude of the job. Then comes the fitting and then the shoot!”
Although not every day of work is the same for Newman-Thomas, each project brings about a new concept and a different amount of creative control. “I’ve been really lucky to work with artists that trust my creative vision and are down to collaborate,” she shares. “I appreciate when those under public scrutiny are willing to take risks and just have fun in general.”
Over the last few years, Newman-Thomas has worked on a variety of projects and may best be known for her work on the music videos for U2’s “Song For Someone,” Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close,” Run The Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k),” and Florence + The Machine’s music-video-turned-short-film titled The Odyssey, each garnering millions of views on YouTube.
When asked about her career and if she would classify it as successful, she shares, “Success is the feeling of fulfillment I get when I’ve done the best job I possibly can, hopefully having made something exciting with a team of creative people I love—and then other people realize it and give us an Oscar.” That being said, if Natasha Newman-Thomas is a name you weren’t familiar with before, it’s one you’ll want to remember. There’s a good chance that one day she might go back to helicopter school to become a pilot and run a bird sanctuary, but there’s an even better chance you’ll find her behind the scenes and one day nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
*A version of this interview first ran in the current print issue of Substream Magazine, on stands now and available through our online store!