This past Tuesday, MWS attended Designing Women 2017, an annual award event presented by New York Women In Film, which honors the excellence of women working to make all of your favorite films and TV shows pop with great design. It was a night of celebration and we loved being there to honor these amazing women.
Designing Women 2017 was hosted by the charming Sasheer Zamata, a rising star from the ranks of “Saturday Night Live,”” Inside Amy Schumer, “‘Bojack Horseman,”” Transparent” and more. She was a delight and kept the show on flow with humor and ease.
There was a real running theme through the night: presenters and honorees alike made it clear that this is a business that’s all about connection. No, not just connections (though that always helps!), but actual human connection. The end result of a great film or TV show is polished, expressive and entertaining. Stories connect us all. And the meticulous work that goes into telling a story well is distinctly not glamorous; it entails grueling hours and constant creativity and problem solving. With all of the moving parts of a production, it’s crucial that the people involved are not only bringing their A-game, but helping everyone involved to do the same. This kind of community effort was clearly on display, even as the individual award recipients were being honored.
Costume Designers, Make Up Artists and Hair Stylists are not only close collaborators who help create the visual world of the story being told, and the look of a character, but also the most intimate connections that ease an actor into the vulnerable work that they do. They understand that actors are baring it all- body and soul- and that to listen, inspire and nurture an actor is to contribute to the great work that they do. These professionals juggle the detailed work and artistic excellence that it takes to create the look of a character, as well as the understanding of the need to stay human and connected in the quest for perfection.
Honoree Melissa Toth, Costume Designer
Actor David Constabile gave a hilarious and touching speech, honoring his long standing friend and collaborator, Costume Designer Melissa Toth, whom he described as an outspoken, loving, humble and smart creative artist who drives singularly towards excellence, while making it look easy. He talked about Toth’s outspoken nature and ability to speak up and fight for excellence, and the dynamic of standing up to a male director “mansplaining” to her.
“She stands up because it’s the professional thing to do. She does it because it’s right; it’s decent; it’s moral. She speaks up because, if in that moment she doesn’t, where will any of her younger assistants look for their models? Truth speaks to power regardless of employment status… I’m proud of her, not just because of the great work she has created as an artist, not just because she models herself publicly as a smart and accomplished working woman with opinions, but because she always has. I’m proud of her because she models these things for her daughters, and for mine,” said Constabile.
Melissa thanked the writers and directors she’s worked with, and the remarkable actors that she’s collaborated with. She described the thrill of “those moments in a fitting room when a garment becomes the germ of a performance idea.” She thanked the city of New York for its inspiration, and all of the crew that provide not only hard work and support, but a steady stream of ideas. It was striking to realize that, for a great artist in any discipline, the ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.
Honoree Melissa Forney, Hair Stylist
In a touching tribute, Carmen Ejogo presented the award for Hair Stylist to Melissa Forney. She described the safety that she feels in “Missy’s” chair at the start of the day, not only because Forney’s excitement around hair is palpable, and her sense of professional challenges inspiring, but because she creates a warm and peaceful vibe at the start of the day. An actor’s day typically begins in the chairs of hair and make up artists. This is where they collect themselves and prepare for a day of performing.
Ejogo spoke about the ways in which stories are changing and becoming more inclusive of all ethnicities, making the job of the hair stylist even more important, as they need to be able to work with all hair types and textures. These are modern skills, and Forney is at the top of Hair Stylists offering the ability to express the vision of actors of all backgrounds.
Forney graciously thanked actors, directors, fellow designers and family alike, and talked about the importance of setting a good vibe that makes actors comfortable. She wants people to love coming into her trailer, and according to Ejogo, they do. A good designer has the combination of creative vision, passion, and technical ability, combined with patience and a listening ear. “Stepping into Missy’s chair means you can exhale and chill out,” said Ejogo.
Honoree Kyra Panchenko, Makeup Artist
The always uproarious Amy Schumer did not disappoint in her presentation of an award to Kyra Panchenko, Makeup Artist extraordinaire whose brushes have transformed Schumer into countless characters on 2 seasons of “Inside Amy Schemer.” Schumer talked about the incredible line up of beautiful women that Kyra has worked with- Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Kim Catral, Meryl Streep- as all leading up to working with… herself! Hollywood’s most beautiful leading lady!
Putting jokes aside, Schumer talked about how Panchenko transformed her sense of self, and how Panchenko made her feel truly beautiful working on the movie “Trainwreck,” in which Schumer played the romantic lead with some trepidation as to whether or not she really had a right to be in that role.
Panchenko, said Schumer, always had her back. Not only did her make up expertise help to put Schumer’s best face forward, but Panchenko would stand up to DP’s if she felt that they were putting her at a disadvantage. Here we find more loyalty and willingness to stand up and demand the very best from another fierce woman behind the scenes!
As Panchenko took the stage there was a shout of “we love you Kyra” from a crew in the audience, highlighting how beloved she is by her team and fellow designers. She thanked them all, saying “we really do look out for each other, don’t we? We recommend each other and have each other’s backs.”
She talked about being welcomed into the industry by Uma Thurman, who trusted her and brought her onto many films and the many actresses, including Jodi Foster and Nicole Kidman, who brought her onto projects, knowing that they were in the best possible hands when they were in Panchenko’s makeup chair.
Her work has gone beyond just highlighting beauty; it has included transforming Meryl Streep into Julia Child, Emily Blunt into a rough-around-the-edges alcoholic and Amy Schumer into, well, all of the outlandish characters that live within her and find form with the help of designers.
Honorees of “Jessica Jones,” Ensemble Award
Lastly, screen veteran and current badass of the Marvel universe, Rosaria Dawson, presented the ensemble award to the design team behind “Jessica Jones.” She called her time with makeup artist Sarit Klein the highlight of her day, admitted to trying to get one of Hair Stylist Pamela May’s head massages even when she’s in and out of her chair, and talked about extending a quick fitting with Stephanie Maslansky into a three hour affair… just because. She referred to the film and TV world as being populated by workaholics, and emphasized that a lot of life gets lived together, and the importance of living that life with good people.
The three head designers brought their departments onstage with them, emphasizing how they function as one organism. It was clear that these women hold each other up and inspire each other with their talents and work ethic, and the love between them was strongly felt. These women work in close quarters together, and just as they support the actors, they support each other. An obvious necessity in this fast moving world of film and tv.
In a shifting industry that is including more women, people of color and a wider view of beauty, these women have been pioneers. They have fought for their vision, adapted to any circumstances necessary and forged a path for future generations of brilliant women with passion for design, talent for storytelling and a love of the business and all the people in it. Congratulations and thank you to you all!