Cynthia Summers, who is perhaps best known as the Costume Designer for A Series of Unfortunate Events, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Unreal, and The L world (just to name a few) is a #GUNASGIRL with influence. She woos viewers through not only her sense of aesthetics but the integration of fashion and animal activism into her clothing. After beginning her adult life as a dancer in musical theatre, she branched into costume designing for film/television and styling for print. Though extremely busy, Miss. Summers took some time with us to dish on work, inspiration, and sustainable vegan fashion.
When did an animal friendly diet begin for you & how do you incorporate it into your work?
I have been an animal lover and advocate my entire life. Much to my parents chagrin, I was always bringing some animal in need home. I still do. So being vegetarian was always an on and off part of my life, which led to being vegan. I have been a solid vegan for 2 years now…a vegan baby really.
Sustainable fashion seems to be a huge theme in your costume designing. How did you first learn about the dominating un-conscious side of the industry?
Sustainable has always been a part of my life. I learned from an early age that “reuse” and “recycle” were not options, but a necessity. So when I started to see how the film industry disposes of all sorts of things we use in Costume-fabric ends and paper products being the most evident-I started to look around at my department and how we function. 10 years ago it was abominable. Today we are doing so much better with recycling our waste. We still need to do better and on a much, much larger scale.
That’s such a refreshing and motivating realization. Can you tell us about a typical day in your line of work?
No typical days in film. My day generally starts around 5:30-6 am. Check and respond to East Coast emails and all social media first, then get out of bed! Feed the dogs (I have 3 rescues ATM and that number fluctuates) and get them ready for their day. Get myself ready and then off to the studio. Once there the 12-14 hour day begins with meetings, fittings and set visits. All days involve research and creating mood boards, fabric and garment shopping both online and in person in multiple cities! Most lunches are at my desk. I work 5 – 6 day weeks. I love what I do!
How do you stay informed of positive industry and animal welfare changes?
Online and through organisations like PETA and an ever growing number of amazing new people I’ve been meeting both virtually and in person.
We can imagine sustainable and cruelty free fashion aren’t always understood by everyone. Do you ever receive pushback from clients who may not have the same ethics?
There are always people, who for many reasons, don’t see a need for change in their immediate day to day. I haven’t run into many actors or producers or coworkers who when I bring up my ethical and political concerns, won’t give me their ear. And I find most people in the film industry are in the know, but most just need to be shown that integrating cruelty free ethical pieces can be done. Like most people facing change, they really just need to be shown how!
Excellent point. What are some of the challenges you face when picking handbags (particularly vegan ones)? How does GUNAS help to fill that gap?
Well, to begin with, I dress “characters” not real people for the most part. So when I choose bags for a character, I have to take into consideration the vision of producers, directors, actors and how their pieces will fit into the story. So sometimes, I am limited in the vegan bag world, solely due to lack of variety and quantity to fit my characters closets. But I try really hard! GUNAS creates bags that do fill a wide range of styles, and the colors are amazing which in film and TV is so so important. On Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, I have been able to use GUNAS on 3 stylistically very different main characters, who appear in scenes together 80% of the time! Abby (Lisa Edestien), Delia (Necar Zedegan) and Barbara (Retta) and more, have all sported GUNAS over 4 seasons…not bad!
Who are some of the celebrities you’ve enjoyed dressing up and working with the most?
Some vegan actors I have adored working with are Lisa Edelstein, Emily Deschanel, Sandra Oh, Kim Basinger, Daniela Sea, Alan Cumming, Famke Janssen to name a few!
Can you let us in on any future projects?
I am currently working on Seasons 2 and 3 of Netflix’s Lemony Snicker – A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the reboot of The L Word has been announced, so you know I will be back for more of that!
What are your favourite pieces to wear with your GUNAS gear?
I love GUNAS bags. I wear mine mostly to work but find that they are so versatile they go from day to night effortlessly and I love when people ask me about them!
What are some of the best ethical fashion revolutions you’ve seen?
Pineapple really excites me. It is so versatile. From shoes to garments and bags.
What’s your favorite costumer design thus far?
Oh…way too many. I love what I do and beyond the designs my new passion is finding sustainable designs on a regular basis. That is my current personal challenge!
Do you find more actors asking for vegan options in their wardrobe?
More actors these days, for a variety of reasons are vegetarian or vegan. And as they live a very visible life, they try to be more socially conscious and that naturally makes it way easier for me to use vegan options in their costumes.
Their use of ethical products is definitely more apparent to the public eye. Where do you see ethical and vegan fashion going over the next few years?
Forward. I am not exactly sure I can profasize where we will be in few years.
My fellow #gunasgirls would say I’m…
Passionate, unconventional and creative.
Are there any mentors, books or documentaries that have shaped your beliefs?
What advice would you give to others striving to make a difference in the fashion world?
Slow and steady. Be well informed, take chances and stay passionate. And stay the course!
Are there any words of wisdom you live by?
Be gentle with yourself, accept your truth and live it!
We love that Cynthia uses her influence to display ethical fashion both in and behind the scenes. Despite her hectic schedule, she keeps her ethics in check-and isn’t afraid to let them come through in the homes of millions of viewers. We can’t wait to see what this #GUNASGIRL (and her characters) have in store!