Saturday, January 9, 2010

Time Out with Sandra Wininger

Coat: Vintage (her mother's); originally floor-length but had it trimmed for every day wear. Bag: Michael Kors.

After leaving her hometown of Paris for Israel when she was twelve years old, retired Hollywood costume designer Sandra Wininger has yet to slow down. At the tender age of fourteen, she began working in clothing stores and restaurants to help support her large family of seven. She never went to college, saying that “she was never given such an opportunity”, but with her street smarts and sheer drive, she proved that sometimes a diploma isn’t necessary.

When she was twenty-one, she packed up her bags and moved to London, where she was immediately inspired by the fashion, culture, opera museums, and of course, Tina Turner. After having conquered Great Britain, she took off for a trip around the world – it was just her and her backpack. On her first trip to Los Angeles, she wanted nothing to do with the “ugly city and the superficiality of the [movie] industry.” Oddly enough, it was through a babysitting job of hers a few years later where she met Claudia Weil – the director of Sesame Street – when her career took off.

Sandra, inspired by her travels around the world, particularly by the colors and prints she saw in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, loved every minute of picking fabrics and making clothes. After many 18-hour days on set and $6/hour shifts at the Costumer’s Union to get accredited as a costume designer, she finally got invited to design as the head costume designer for her very first show – E.R. Though she eventually turned down the offer because she was pregnant with her first son, she scored positions as stylist and costumer for the original Melrose Place, the 1992 film Straight Talk starring Dolly Parton, and several Target and Gap commercials. This past weekend, she met us in Rennes to talk about her incredible “rags to riches” story.

Be prepared for The Devil Wears Prada-esque tasks: “When I was working on the Straight Talk set, Dolly Parton refused to wear anything but 6-inch heels with 1-inch platforms. Granted, back then they were difficult to find…we had to get 12-15 pairs custom-made for $800 a pair. Jodie [Tillen, her boss and head costume designer] then called one day and said Dolly didn’t like a single pair. Jodie said for me to get new shoes, to ‘figure it out in 3 days’. I started panicking, thinking…where can I get 6-inch platforms? And then I finally got it – sex shops on Hollywood Blvd! I got them for about $60/pair and she loved them. This all just goes to prove…how much you pay doesn’t mean a single thing.

From costumes to window blinds: “Now I run an interior design business with my husband called F and R Interiors. Interior designing is, in many ways, an extension of my love of fashion. Clothing and interior design goes hand in hand – many times you’ll find that the color of the season on the runway is also the color of the newest curtains, and vice versa."

Her fashion philosophy: "I love fashion but I hate things that are 'in fashion' "

Cutthroat industry: “In Hollywood, it’s all about your connections and about how powerful your connections are. That being said, hard work is still key to succeeding. I’d much rather take someone who wakes up at 5 AM every morning and is willing to work than someone who has the diploma.”