Costume designer

Without Erin Benach, your favorite silver-screen hotties would be naked. Damn her.

  • The Poker House

  • Half Nelson

  • Cold Souls

Who she is: Syracuse University alum Erin Benach personally handpicks the outfits worn by actors and extras in films such as Half Nelson (staring Ryan Gosling), The Poker House (with sexy starlet Selma Blair) and Cold Souls (featuring Paul Giamatti).

Her start: “I went to Syracuse because I wanted to be a photojournalist,” Benach explains. “One year into classes, I realized I wasn’t a fan of being in caves in Iraq, so I got into graphic design.” Once out of school, Benach worked for Penguin Books as a graphic designer. “I felt like I was outgrowing the job and started to think about getting involved with fashion, but the industry had unappealing qualities.” One day, when Benach went to visit her boyfriend at work (he was a bartender at the now-closed Passerby), he introduced her to a patron who happened to be a movie producer. “He said he was working on a movie and offered to introduce me to the costume designer. I took him up on it and began interning on his movie called The Baxter.”

The Baxter and beyond: “I took two weeks’ vacation from Penguin so I could intern, but after the ninth day I was 100 percent sure this was going to be my new career.” Benach gave her notice at Penguin and spent two more weeks working both jobs—on set before and after her desk job. “My parents thought I was insane to leave my paid job to work for free. As an intern. With no future of a paid job.” After impressing the head costume designer during her internship, Benach was hired asan assistant on three more films. She then assisted another designer and soon after scored her first solo gig, dressing Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson.

What her job entails: Costuming is more than picking clothes. “I have to consider how much it will cost to secure the clothing, how many shoppers and assistants I’ll need, what size trailers I can have, the level of union crew I can hire and more,” Benach explains. Then the fun part begins, pulling inspirations and talking with the directors to get a vision together. “I have to picture how these characters will look, think about their style and every single nuance. It’s a very fun, creative process.”

Advice for breaking in: “I wrote letters to costume designers that I respected, and they actually called me back,” recalls Benach. She says it’s even easier these days to contact people, because everyone has a website and an agent you can go through. “I called Aggie Rodgers’s agent (she did the costumes for Beetlejuice, American Graffiti and others), and the message was surprisingly passed on to Aggie, who called me back.”

Check out her work aterinbenach.com.

Movie inspirations

Blade Runner “The detail and imagination it took to create an alternate universe is amazing.”

Annie Hall “It took guts to dress the main female character so daringly.”

Children of Men “For the incredible use of restraint in creating a futuristic world.”

Star Trek (2009) “For the amazing pod coat worn by Spock.”

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