We had the good fortune of connecting with Lauren Carmen and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Lauren, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Work life balance is a challenge! Especially in the performing arts sector, where often their work is your employers’ passion project, and work/your desire to set it down and be a human sometimes can be taken as a personal affront. When I was performing as a professional ballet dancer more, I was full-time with one company any given season, so could give my every-waking moment toward the job when needed. However, as a freelance costume designer now, at any given moment I tend to have around seven different projects that I’m costuming, usually all with different groups, so even if I wanted to I could not give each project around-the-clock love. Nor is it healthy to, long-term, I believe!

I actually got a dog to help with this, most ironically, at a moment in my career you’re arguably not well-suited to bringing home a puppy. I love dogs, and wanted one someday, but got to thinking and realized 1) the perfect moment rarely arrives, you have to just make the decision and make it happen, and 2) I have a hard time setting down work to do things to take care of myself, but an easier time stopping to care for others for whom I’m responsible. In the case of having a dog, what she needs (to take walks, going outside for fresh air, to stop for food breaks, social interaction, etc.) is actually exactly what I should be doing for myself anyways, and brings tremendous joy. It’s been great! Toulouse (my Yorkshire terrier) comes with me almost everywhere, into costume shops, to dance & opera rehearsals, into theaters for tech, etc. and its nice to watch the energy of the room change as others allow themselves to stop and recharge for just a moment to say hi to her before returning to work, re-invigorated. Learning from her, I really try to take more moments throughout the day/week to do things that refill my battery and make me work better/faster: pilates in the morning, making a whole proper recipe for dinner most nights during the week, etc.

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Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am tremendously determined, and tremendously curious, and I think those two attributes (paired with a thick skin, professionally) have really helped me out. When I was younger (elementary school aged) I spent my after-school time taking dance classes, researching training programs, ways to better my craft and studying the history of the art form. I was pretty nerdy about it, but I learned a lot at a young age, and was forming goals of how to get where I wanted to go. As I got older this expanded to include costume, and is still how I think– spending free time trying to eat more art, go to museums/shows, reading art history books etc.

I faced a lot of rejection, mostly in the dance sector, largely because of my body (specifically, the shape of my leg bones/their lack of rotation or “turnout”), and while I continue to think it’s unfortunate for some to entirely dismiss someone as an artist because of such a detail, it made me hyper aware of the following at a young age through to the present: the line of the body/beauty in line & curve shapes, how clothing and light wrapping the body in 3D impacts this, what lines and shapes seem to flatter different limb and torso shapes in dance aesthetic settings, how to wear a costume/accessory to best flatter oneself… etc. These are all observations I now apply on the daily in my work costuming dance (which makes up the bulk of my design work, currently), but also that I bring to opera, plays, film, etc. Some performers have an excellent sense of how they want their own proportions flattered, some are less concerned, but understanding when and how a slight tweak of a seam, of the fit, of a color or accent can entirely change the overall effect has served me incredibly well. For dance especially, I see a lot of designs that are good in theory/drawing, but when executed the proportion is different and the effect is just…off. I felt this a lot in the costumes I’ve worn through the years, and know how uncomfortable and disarming going onstage in something you know or feel you look terrible in due to improper fit, or just general bad design choices, can be, so am emotionally driven to help prevent that for performing artists in whatever way I can.

Because I feel it’s important to avoid these pitfalls in my work, I’ve spent much time training in and working in the construction side of costumes. I firmly believe that while sewing is decidedly not my favorite thing to do (though I love draping patterns), deeply knowing how to pattern something, put things together from scratch, alter or create whatever it is I want to appear on the body, gives me even more tools, options, for being able to get the best fit, feeling of costume on the body in movement, aesthetic, etc.

All of these things play into what drives me artistically, aesthetically. I am absolutely fascinated by beauty. Many different things can be many types of beautiful, and I’m interested in exploring them all, or their antithesis if useful for stories, characters. I find nature divine, and the movement, color, light, texture, line of the natural world (especially plants, insects, birds, clouds, water…) intrigues me endlessly. I’m interested in the beauty of emotions. Yes joy and “good” emotions can be beautiful, but what about the extreme drama, moodiness, tragedy of something devastatingly romantically heartbreaking, melancholy, gathering up one’s internal fire to be powerfully furious, etc? There’s something majestic and beautiful about that too. Part of the reason I love working in dance (ballet especially), as well as opera, so much is that the stories tend to contain a lot of these extreme and extremely-presented emotions, and in narratives as well as in abstract dance works, it is all generally presented through a lens of beauty, that perhaps allows or makes people want to engage with these ideas more than if they were less enticing? So perhaps similarly, given the artistic background I have, I am very interested in exploring ideas and stories through this same filter of beauty.

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Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ooh I love this! I’m based in lower Manhattan, so I might be biased with some of these locations but as a list some must-do’s would be

-Maman (especially University Place location)
-Pause Cafe (LES)
-L’appartement 4F (to be fair, I’ve never tried– keep going to try their consistently reportedly best croissants in NYC but always sold out!)

-Avant Garden
-Double Zero– get the vegan pesto pizza!
-Bar Verde
-Loring Place
-Spicy Moon Vegetarian Szechuan

Things to do:
-Catch the Union Square greenmarket, get fresh bread and produce, and go have a picnic for lunch! Favorite spot used to be along East River, but that’s currently torn up, so making the trek up to Central Park is good way to go!

-If you’re eligible, get $30 tickets to New York City Ballet or American Ballet Theatre evening performances (if not eligible, worth splurging on!), go all dolled-up, and afterwards hit up Empire Hotel rooftop for cocktail and views to discuss the show.

-Catch any of the “night-at-the-museum” events after work! I especially love the MOMA, Morgan Library, and Brooklyn Museum’s, that make it feel like a party with music, drinks, and a bustling feel.

-If you’re artistically inclined, I love biking along to the East River piers in the summertime (you can even find porch swings with views of the bridges) and planting on a pier to watercoloring/sketching your surroundings

-Equally, if you like dance, Ballet Arts (inside City Center) teaches some of my favorite ballet classes, at all hours, for all levels, in a spacious studio (no poles in the way!) with great live music!

-I’m always looking up the festivals, street fairs happening, and try to wander through– Manhattan Vintage Fair is especially great, but there’s always something, and especially when it’s outdoors it’s a blast to stumble upon, stroll through with friends.

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The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’m where I am because I’ve had a handful of absolutely fantastic teachers, mentors through the years. There are too many to possibly thank them all, but these few stand out for their being supportive of my interest in two disciplines (dance and costume) that don’t necessarily go together very well at the same time, but they understood that my study and passion for one enriches the other, and worked to give me information and opportunity in both:

My parents: Lee & Eileen Carmen, Grace & Tad Snider, Leslie Nolte, Lloyd Cracknell, Mary Margaret Holt, (the late) Travis Halsey, Margaret Raywood, & Campbell Baird are all standouts for sharing their support, expertise, passion.

Website: https://LoECarmen.com

Instagram: @paillettebylc

Linkedin: Lauren Carmen

Facebook: Paillette

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Image Credits
Kelly Bryant, Lauren Carmen

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