Denise Kuan is definitely a woman who knows her craft. She is a versatile, knowledgeable, organized and efficient womenswear designer with a strong background in embroidered, beaded cut-and-sewn garments and knitted-to-shape sweaters. Naturally, these lists of talents gravitated their way into the world of Cosplay. In addition, she has experience in wardrobe styling for photoshoots and film shoots. Read below for the full interview…
Denise, how did you get started into the fashion industry?
Denise: I went to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) straight out of high school and finished the program quickly–I didn’t have summer vacation for two years so I could start my career [laughs]. Luckily, I found both my jobs (my first and my current) on Craigslist!
What kinds of things do you look for when spotting and picking out a good wig? Also what kind of special technique have you learned pertaining to wig usage?
Denise: I prefer wigs that have more hair than less–I’ve bought some wigs off of eBay that barely provide enough hair to cover your actual hair. It’s harder for me to work if I need to cut and style the wig if there is less hair to work with. I usually go to Hollywood Wigs so I can physically assess the quality but I’ve recently started ordering wigs from Epic Cosplay. They have a good price for the excellent quality of wigs they carry, and they stock a ton of colors. I obviously can’t pay too much for a wig so if I can find a place that carries good quality, lace-front wigs I’ll consistently buy from there. Also, the wigs need to be comfortable enough for me to wear the whole day! The wigs I’ve bought in person are not heat-resistant like the wigs on Epic Cosplay so I have to use a setting spray that I actually buy from the same wig shop. I’m not sure if I have any “special techniques” that haven’t been shared by other cosplayers already, but I recently styled a wig in a hotel room and couldn’t bring my wig head so I ended up using the bottom of the ice box from the hotel, which worked extremely well.
You make an endless variety of costumes but you tend to stray away from Anime characters? What is the reasoning behind that?
Denise: I recently realized this about myself as well–I watch a lot of anime but for some reason I feel more of a “connection” (for lack of a better word) with game characters, when I play the game. I just feel I have a deeper understanding of who they are and their story; I feel that I am more involved, whereas in an anime I’m just watching a story progress. In a game you ARE the character. It sounds cheesy but I suppose I have more of an emotional attachment to game characters, and since my cosplays take a few weeks for me to make, I really have to be passionate about the character.
So, aside from anime, musicians seem to have a big influence in your costumes. Are Bjork and Lady Gaga a few examples?
Denise: Yes. Music is also another one of my passions and I go to a lot of concerts throughout the year! I love it. Not all the musicians I like have elaborate visuals/costumes in the way Bjork and Lady Gaga do, but I certainly appreciate an added visual experience when I’m at a show or watching a music video. They’re also usually the only ones that can get away with wearing crazy outfits! But somebody has to create these crazy outfits and I’m glad that music and fashion/costume design are more connected than ever; it’s very inspiring.
What qualities do those musicians or people like them have, that can transcend qualities into creating a successful cosplayer? What is their ‘it’ factor?
Denise: I think this would depend on your definition of a “successful cosplayer”? I don’t really think I’d be able to tell you what a “successful” cosplayer is! Cosplay should be fun, it’s not a competition. For me, personally, if I can complete a costume to my own standards and transform into the character, meet other people who are just as passionate about cosplaying and/or the series I cosplayed from, I am successful.
2012 marks 10 years in the game for you. What is the biggest thing you have learned in your 10 year experience?
Denise: I haven’t been cosplaying consistently the past 10 years but when I first cosplayed in 2002 I remember there weren’t that many cosplayers at the convention (Anime Expo). There were maybe 5-10% of the con attendees that were in cosplay. At the time everyone was cosplaying for fun, which is how it should be, but now there is actually a community for cosplay, which is pretty cool to me but of course there is drama. I really try to stay away from that. I was also working at the conventions as part of the staff for a few years between 2003-2007 so I got to see a lot of behind-the-scenes and pre-con work–part of the reason I didn’t cosplay during that time. I also didn’t keep in touch with the same friends I cosplayed with initially so it was hard for me to be gung-ho about it when people in high school thought cosplaying was “weird”. But I got back into cosplaying when I wanted something creative and fun to do when I got home after work. I made clothes for myself here and there but I always had a lot of fun making elaborate Halloween costumes. To me, cosplaying is almost haute couture–high fashion–you basically translate someone’s 2D idea into reality, which was the reason I decided to work in fashion in the first place, and I suppose I was also looking for a new creative outlet. In the past 10 years I have definitely learned a lot about conventions (I still work at some) and the cosplay community now as opposed to the cosplay community of 10 years ago. I’ve met some awesome people after getting back into cosplaying, I’m very thankful for that, but I’ve heard stories of people cosplaying simply for attention. I don’t personally know any of these people but that really disappoints me because all of the cosplayers I have met are extremely passionate about their hobby. And while the internet has helped the cosplay community grow, there are also certain web pages that mock cosplayers, which discourages people from cosplaying. I’ve learned to just ignore the negativity/drama and do what I enjoy doing.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime?
Denise: I don’t watch too many Asian films but my two favorite are Oldboy and Infernal Affairs. In terms of anime my current favorite is Gintama. My other favorite anime include Death Note, Initial D (only 1st and 2nd Stages though), GTO, Detective Conan, Fairy Tail, Yakitate!!Japan and xxxHolic (1st season).
When creating costumes for other people what is the biggest factor to take into account? How do you adjust your costumes to different body types?
Denise: I actually don’t make costumes for other people very often. Well, [my] boyfriend is obvious exception, but I have occasionally made clothing for other people. The most important things for me when I am creating something for someone else to wear–is the fit, how comfortable the person is and how to recreate the costume in the correct proportion to flatter the person wearing the costume.
What can you tell us about embroidered costumes. You don’t see embroidery used in cosplay too much, is it a hard technique to master?
Denise: If you have an embroidery machine it isn’t hard, but those are very expensive. Most of the time you can have pieces embroidered for you elsewhere, or if for some reason you are extremely lucky you will find the exact embroidery you are looking for in your cosplay. But that will probably never happen [smiles]. You can also embroider by hand if you aren’t on a time crunch–my tip for that is simply a lot of patience. Maybe some caffeine, too.
Living in L.A., many actors would recommend moving out there to better their career. As a costume designer/cosplayer, would you recommend the same?
Denise: For costume design you definitely need to be in LA in order to work as an apprentice or an assistant in a costuming/wardrobe shop, especially if you want to work in movies. There isn’t much of an industry anywhere else for costume design outside of LA (at least in the U.S.). It is also extremely difficult to land a good job straight out of design school but just keep working hard, sending your resume EVERYWHERE and building your portfolio.
Want to keep tabs on Denise’s cosplay adventures? Follow her cookie crumb trail below: