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Unveiling the Artistry of Costume Design At Northwest School Of The Arts: An Interview with Jean Brendel


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Costume design is a pivotal element of the theater, breathing life into characters and enhancing the overall narrative. Jean Brendel, an accomplished costume designer and dedicated educator, is at the forefront of nurturing aspiring designers in Charlotte, North Carolina. In our conversation with her, we delved into her students’ exciting projects and the transformative journey they embark on under her guidance.

Recently, Level21 sponsored a collaboration between her students and Northwest School of the Arts is aimed at supporting the design program and featuring their students in a fashion film. This fashion film is a reimagining of Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video, produced by Jason Hylton’s Good Look Productions and directed by Tempestt. The film features main characters Actress Ida Misghina and Model Samuel Posey, with wardrobe styling by Ryne Oliver ( Art Anonymous) and hair & makeup by Miracle Hands by Penny. Ida is showcased wearing a 2024 designer piece by Tygerian Lace, adding a touch of glamour and contemporary flair to this classic production. Background models were from The Charlotte Fashion Collective, special guest international model Tara Nichole, and Northwest students.

Jean enthusiastically shared the essence of her students’ current project: “Right now, they’re working on masks for our production of Sule Junior, and they’re doing the preliminary sketches. We’ll be sending them to the director so she can improve what she likes and what needs to be revamped. Then they will create those masks using different materials.” This collaborative process highlights the meticulous nature of costume design, where creativity meets precision to bring characters to life on the stage.

As we delved deeper into her background, Jean shared her journey of self-discovery and dedication to her craft: “I am a graduate of an MAT program from East Carolina University. I’ve been sewing for many years, but basically, I’m self-taught, and I’ve been learning as I can.” Her passion for costume design led her to be primarily self-taught, continually learning and growing in her field. Her story serves as an inspiration to her students, illustrating the importance of dedication and continuous learning in the world of the arts.

Jean’s journey from outside Charlotte to becoming an integral part of the local arts community is equally inspiring. She said, “I grew up in New Jersey, lived in New England, and I’ve been down here for about 27 years, 27 years in Charlotte, North Carolina.” Her extensive experience and contributions have made her a respected figure in the world of costume design.

In addition to her role as a costume designer and educator, Jean Brendel is a National Board certified teacher. She explained, “I’m also a National Board certified teacher,” which showcases her commitment to excellence in teaching and guiding her students. This certification further reinforces her dedication to providing the best possible education and mentorship to the aspiring designers she works with.

Looking ahead, Jean outlined her plans for her students this year, revealing that they will be working on the Spring Musical production of “Legally Blonde.” Her students will be responsible for creating their own costumes, a challenging yet rewarding task. “They have two that they have to do from head to toe, which will go down our fashion show runway.” This hands-on experience will allow them to showcase their creativity and craftsmanship in a tangible way.

Moreover, her students will explore various aspects of costume design, from watercolor designs to sketching and creating costumes for different scenarios. This comprehensive approach ensures that they gain a deep understanding of the art of costume design and its many facets.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Jean’s teaching is the growth and transformation she witnesses in her students. She explained, “Now, I have seen a lot of growth from the time that they entered apparel one to where they are now. They feel so much more comfortable on the sewing machines. They feel more comfortable about making mistakes and then revamping and talking about what they could do and what may or may not work.” This process of learning from mistakes and embracing the world of theater is fundamental to their development as designers.

In conclusion, Jean Brendel’s passion for costume design and her dedication to educating the next generation of designers shine brightly through her work. Her students are not only learning the technical aspects of costume design but also gaining the confidence and creativity needed to succeed in the world of theater. The collaboration with Northwest School of the Arts and their involvement in the fashion film “Thriller” serves as a testament to the talent and innovation fostered by Jean and her students, ensuring that the art of costume design continues to thrive and evolve.

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