Celebrating costume design at Aalto University!

The Finnish costume design educational programme at Aalto University celebrated its 20th anniversary this autumn, alongside the Costume in Focus research group that celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Juhlanäyttelyn pukuja. Kuva: Paavo Ihalainen
Costumes in the anniversary exhibition. Image: Paavo Ihalainen

The celebrations took place on Friday 24 November and Saturday 25 November 2023 in Väre. The programme featured presentations on the past, present and future of costume design pedagogy, costume research, and the profession of a costume designer in theatre and film. A costume exhibition, open in the lobby of the Väre building, will delight visitors until the 13th December 2023.

"The celebration event was a big party for the wider Finnish community of costume designers. All generations of costume designers were represented, and a tribute was made to those who initiated and further developed costume education in Finland," says Sofia Pantouvaki, Professor of Costume Design for Theatre and Film. 

The celebration was attended by costume design alumni, guest lecturers and teachers, close partners from the Theatre Academy (Teak) UniARTS, representatives of the Finnish OISTAT Centre and the Theatre, Film and Television Designers LP, professional designers' association from the Trade Union for Theatre and Media Finland (Teme), independent costume designers and researchers, and current costume design students.

"There was broad exchange of ideas on the future development of costume pedagogy and research. Of special mention was the panel offered by members of the professional designers’ association LP, which focused on the connections between costume design studies and the challenges of the professional life," says Pantouvaki.

Juhlanäyttelyn pukuja. Kuva: Paavo Ihalainen
Costumes in the anniversary exhibition. Image: Paavo Ihalainen
Juhlanäyttelyn pukuja. Kuva: Paavo Ihalainen
Costumes in the anniversary exhibition. Image: Paavo Ihalainen

Inspiration and collaboration

In 2003, the Department of Film, Television and Scenography (currently Department of Film) established costume design as an independent field of study at university level. Today, the major of Costume Design: Performing Arts and Film at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture offers a wide range of costume design studies at both Bachelor's and Master's level, as well as costume research studies at Doctoral level. Aalto University's degree programme is the only one of its kind in Finland. It covers all aspects of costume design, including theatre, opera, dance, film and media storytelling.

"During the past 20 years, the terminology and understanding of the field of costume has evolved. The tacit knowledge of the professional field has continuously been integrated in the studies. Over these years, costume design education has expanded to new areas, and new courses were introduced in fields including digital design, costume in animation and games, new technologies and new materials for costume," says Sofia Pantouvaki. 

"Today, costume design addresses societal and sustainability issues. There is also emphasis on more inclusive collaborative artistic practices. Another new development is the research-informed pedagogical approach for both Bachelor and Master studies. We can see that the costume design graduates are critical thinkers, with a wider range of skills for their future careers."

Aalto University costume design students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of creative performing arts and film projects. During the years, students have participated as costume designers in many awarded films and live performances. 

"One of the highlights was when together with students from the Theatre Academy (Uniarts), our students created the Finnish student exhibitions at the Prague Quadrennial, awarded three consecutive times. We are also proud of the Hospital Clowns Costume project, in which students and staff designed costumes for clowns performing in children’s hospitals," says Pantouvaki.

Juhlanäyttelyn pukuja. Kuva: Paavo Ihalainen
Costumes in the anniversary exhibition. Image: Paavo Ihalainen

In-depth knowledge and developments in the field

The Costume in Focus (CiF) research group works on deepening the understanding of the many aspects of costume design. It offers costume designers-researchers the opportunity to contribute to the development of the field. Its research focuses on costume in live and film/media performance, with the aim to bridge theory and practice, generating new ways of thinking on/through costume and developing a critical discourse on costume to advance existing knowledge in the field. 

The 4-year Costume Methodologies research project has been CiF’s most significant achievement in strengthening costume research on a global scale. The exhibition included in the 10-year anniversary features some of the outcomes of the project.

The group's research also supports the teaching of costume design by providing students with insight into current issues in the field. CiF has also contributed to Early Career Researcher training and continually develops peer feedback practices and research tools specific to costume research.

Juhlanäyttelyn puvut Väreessä. Kuva: Paavo Ihalainen
Costumes in the anniversary exhibition. Image: Paavo Ihalainen
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