Costume Designer Soyon An Talks Winning Emmys, Motherhood, and More
All photos except Emmy portrait: Courtesy of Soyon An
For anyone starting out in the business, Soyon An's career is something straight out of a Hollywood pipe dream. The costume designer is responsible for custom creations worn on stage by the likes of Britney Spears and Katy Perry, and has even taken home two Emmys for her work on So You Think You Can Dance. But arguably, her three kids, Elijah, Tadgh, and Senan, are her greatest achievements thus far.
An's latest little one was added to the brood just a few months ago, and as a result, her household is as happily hectic as ever. How does that effect her life as a badass boss lady at work? At the moment, she's finding herself flexing a whole new muscle: learning how to say "no." Though the celebrated costume designer is grateful for her hard-earned career — one that's seen some major milestones — she's also learning the fine art of balance that many working moms strive to master.
As admirers of her many accomplishments, we were excited to ask her more about how she got to wear she is now as well as what it's like to dress some seriously iconic pop starts, but during a recent chat with Soyon, we also got to know the ways she's squeezing in some much needed family time while she juggles it all.
Photo: Courtesy of Corey Nickols/Emmys.com
How did you get to where you are today? Did you always want to be a stylist?
I was always curious, so I never said no in the beginning. A little like Alice in Wonderland, every opportunity took me closer to where I am now and I just tried everything. I went to Otis College of Art and Design and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) to become a fashion designer.
I didn't even know what styling was, let alone a costume designer. I was always hustling to find a job since I didn't like relying on my parents for money. One day, an A-list celebrity stylist was looking for an assistant and since it was a paying job, I went for the interview and BAM! That was the beginning. Honestly, I was so shocked when I learned celebrities didn't dress themselves! After I found this career, I never really turned back until now. But that's a different interview — maybe in a few years.
What would you consider your first "pinch me" moment?
Probably when I won my first Emmy. I was in Amsterdam riding my bike and I stopped to check my BlackBerry for emails. I swear I thought I couldn't speak English anymore and what I was reading was a mistake. I must have read that email a hundred times before I had to have a friend read it for me. My ears were ringing and my head was in outer space (and that was not the cannabis, ha!). It was pretty cool. Then Carol Brunette gave me my Emmy. That was like stepping into a time machine and being a part of Hollywood when it first started!
You've styled some of the biggest pop stars' tour costumes. What are some of your most memorable moments?
My most memorable moment was with Katy Perry. I had five days to make her costume and her dancers and I had to fly out to San Francisco to do our first fittings a few hours before the show. This was my first time working with Katy. Everything fit great minus a couple of alterations and the dancers' looks were great.
Right before the show, Katy always does a prayer and I guess and somehow I ended up in the prayer circle. I think she was surprised to see me there as I was! So then she says, "Let's give Soyon a round of applause for making our costumes in an uncalled-for five days." Everyone clapped and I got red hot. I always heard Katy was down to earth and cool as hell, but I definitely didn't expect that. Feels good to be appreciated, especially after you bust your ass!
Another memorable moment was with Britney Spears. I had three weeks to come up with Britney and her dancers' Vegas costumes. We were all on such a mad rush, flying things with around the world for her fittings. Literally everything is a blur with so much adrenaline pumping from racing the clock, next thing I know I'm driving to her private jet on the tarmac handing the pilot and the flight attendant bags of costumes. Somehow we only did two fittings before she ended up on that Vegas stage in Planet Hollywood, bringing her A-game.
What have your top three favorite looks that you've created so far — whether it's for a movie or tour or otherwise — and why?
That's hard, only three? The first one has to be the Jem and the Holograms movie. The scene when the girls come out of the limo and they are now badass rock chicks. I got to recreate my version the iconic Jem and the Holograms look in live action. I loved working with [director] Jon Chu and the amount of creative freedom he gave me really liberated me and I was then able to create some of my best work.
My second favorite would be from So You Think You Can Dance. There's so many costumes to choose from, but my favorite is...all of them! It was my first TV show as the lead costume designer and I was on it for eight seasons. With 60 costumes I created every week for eight years, there's too many too choose from.
Third would be Taylor Swift for the American Music Awards. That's a favorite because Taylor's the client I met my husband through! Oh, and making Taylor a custom dress was also pretty cool.
You also have your own private costume design shop and service, Kizmit Inc. Can you tell us more?
Kizmit Inc. is a shop where any stylist or costume designer can come to have their designs produced. Being a costume designer and stylist myself, we are always faced with crazy deadlines and budgets. It was always hard for me to find a shop that could do my turn-arounds with the budgets challenges that I came with, not to mention a place where they understood my esthetics and standards for quality. So about 10 years ago, I opened Kizmit Inc. We do everything from taking your design ideas and illustrating them for you, to making the patterns and constructing the garment.
How has motherhood influenced your career decisions?
I say "no" now. I'm no longer little Alice that says yes to everything just to try it out. After 17 years in this business, I know what each and every type of job requires of me. I'm much pickier now and I'm really trying to save my time for my dream gigs. Also I try and stay away from jobs that will have me working seven days a week or on weekends. I also try and make sure I'm home by dinner time.
I love me some fun projects; those are usually the ones where I can bring my kids and I don't have to be so serious. The balance for me now is making sure I make time for all three of my boys. So every moment I get, I try and do some one-on-one time or family time; it's hard with three under 5 years of age. Weekends are big family fun days for us so we try and make it pretty epic so on the working weekdays we don't feel as guilty and the kids don't miss us as much.
Now that you're officially a mama of three, what advice do you wish you could tell yourself back when you were a new parent?
My advice to myself is work less and enjoy the moments with this one because you know now first-hand how fast they grow and how quickly this time goes. And as exciting as every phase of their life is, you will never get the passing ones ever again, so get your priorities straight and enjoy the tiny hands, feet, the baby rolls, the coos, the newborn cuddles and smell a for as long as possible.
Finally, is there a project or client that's on your "dream list"?
I would love to do a Marvel film. Deadpool should be designed by me! I would love to do a Star Wars movie and I think Tim Burton and Baz Luhrmann need to hire me on their next films. Cirque du Soleil is on my list and a TV show like Sex and The City, Game of Thrones, or American Horror Story. And the list goes on.
Follow Soyon at @soyonan.