Professor Noelle Raffy: Creating Character Through Costume


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Designing costumes from Cal Luthern to  London: “I am telling a story through the directors and producers vision, creating a person with the way they look, describing someone without them saying anything,” said Noelle Raffy, a theatre arts assistant professor. Photo by Jessica Colby- photojournalist

Designing costumes from Cal Lutheran to London: “I am telling a story through the directors and producers vision, creating a person with the way they look, describing someone without them saying anything,” said Noelle Raffy, a theatre arts assistant professor.
Photo by Jessica Colby- photojournalist

When theatre arts assistant professor Noelle Raffy was a senior studying fashion at Otis College of Art and Design, she came to a realization. She didn’t want to design for a consumer, but for a character.

“I realized I wanted to develop a story and a character in any time period. So I worked for a gap year, a year outside of school, and then I went back and got my master’s in costume design at Carnegie Mellon University,” Raffy said.

Since then, she has worked in film, television and theater from London to California. For the past six years she has taught costume construction lab, theater makeup lab, advanced costume design and advanced makeup design at California Lutheran University. She also manages the campus costume studio, designs Cal Lutheran shows and works on outside projects.

“I will create a character without them even opening their mouth. When somebody walks on stage you already have an idea of who they are by the way they look. You’ve already made up your mind,” Raffy said.

Raffy has spent her entire life living and breathing theater. Growing up with both parents as ballet dancers, she spent her childhood backstage while on tour.

Raffy especially enjoys designing period pieces, particularly from the 1700s, 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, which she likes to study and research. Raffy said she also enjoys “the fantasy pieces where you can combine modern clothes with historical clothing.”

Putting together a costume is no simple process, and involves designing, creating and altering. Typically, creating a costume will take up to a week; however this varies based on the different components of the piece.

“I think it’s a really fun process. There’s no boundaries in costume- you can make them look like whatever you want and it’s really fun figuring out ways to make that work,” said junior Jordan Erickson, a theatre arts department assistant.

Erickson met Raffy as a first-year and found a love for creating costumes through his costume construction lab. 

Some costumes must be created from scratch, like the cardboard monsters Erickson made for last semester’s production “She Kills Monsters.” Other times, pieces are ordered from Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles costume shops.

“If you really want to be backstage and in costume, it’s 100 percent dedication to it; you can’t do it halfway,” said Kim Foster, costume shop manager and adjunct professor. “It’s literally like it wants your blood. It’s just constant you know…It’s rare that you’re not doing two shows at a time or thinking about the next one.”

Foster got involved with costume design when her 10-year-old daughter decided she wanted to do theater. One day, she helped backstage safety pinning goblins, and since then she has not stopped working in local theaters in and around Thousand Oaks.

Costume design is not just about the outfits characters wear; it also includes accessories, hair and makeup and even socks.

“It’s a collaborative process for the most part. It will initially be my vision…and it will sort of morph into all of the other departments chiming in and helping, including the lighting department. You need to make sure all of those visual elements create a good picture,” Raffy said.

Raffy also loves to travel, and being a costume designer means there is often opportunity to do so. Each city has its own style, Raffy said. Paris is her favorite place to visit, partly because her father is French and she visits every summer to see family, but London comes in second.

Currently, Raffy and her team are working on Cal Lutheran’s spring musical, “The Pirate Queen,” which opens at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on April 11, as well as working on “Matilda The Musical” at the Plaza March 22-31.

Rosie Baker
Reporter