Florence Barrett (left) on the set of The Chronicle 3 with actor Roman Podhora, who also attended Fernie Secondary School and was taught by Lorie Sinclair. Submitted

B.C. costume designer sews up future in film industry

B.C. woman Flo Barrett lands gig on Lifetime TV film; Harry and Meghan: Becoming Royal out May 27

Two years ago, Flo Barrett lost everything. One object in particular was missed more than anything else; her sewing machine.

The successful costume designer was working in Vancouver when she left the keys to her apartment in her car. Her car was broken into followed by her apartment. At the time, her career was soaring; Barrett was working on multiple films, this stopped her dead in her tracks.

A GoFundMe account was set up, to which countless Fernie locals donated to help out their childhood friend. Years after graduating from Fernie Secondary School, parents of classmates she grew up with remembered her passion for costume design and helped get her back on her feet.

Two years later, Barrett is working as the lead costume designer for the upcoming hit show Meghan and Harry: Becoming Royal. Barrett hasn’t forgotten the support shown by her home town.

“I was able to buy a new sewing machine and get back to work,” she said. “Now, that’s the sewing machine I used on this show. And every time I use it, I smile. Because it was a gift from the community.”

Growing up, Barrett witnessed countless doors opened for her by her childhood mentors. When she attended high school at Fernie Secondary, her drama teacher Lorie Sinclair let her show her true colours.

She still remembers when the Fernie Museum hired her during the summer to create and manage events. At the age of 16, she held keys to The Arts Station, where she was allowed to work on her creations and help run lights in the sound booth.

In her youth, her parents never pressured her to think of a ‘backup job’ in case costume design didn’t work out.

“When I come home, I’m surrounded by so many people that just remind me that this is my passion,” said Barrett.

The now 30-year-old Barrett has just stepped off the set of Lifetime TV production Harry and Meghan: Becoming Royal, a sequel to the successful Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance, which focuses on the couple’s first year of marriage. According to a description of the film, it will ‘pull back the curtain’ to reveal the untold joys and challenges of life inside the royal family.

Barrett held the title of Lead Costume Designer, and worked with a crew of designers and stage hands to help ensure the film was a success. She worked closely with British and American lead actors Charlie Field and Tiffany Smith.

Barrett is the winner and nominee of several Leo awards. Despite her quick ascension to fame, Barrett still remembers what got her to where she is today.

As an independent artist she began in theatre design at the age of 19, which led her to her first feature film at age 24. This eventually took her to Vancouver, where she found work with television companies such as Hallmark and Lighthouse Pictures.

Starting out in theatre design taught Barrett how the crowd would react to certain costumes. This helped her predict how an audience would react to her costumes on the big screen.

She has since worked on indie films, short films, ‘who dunnit’ mystery tv shows, comedies and romances. At the 2018 Leo Awards, she received Best Costume Design in a Motion Picture for Public Schooled (2017) and Best Costume Design in a Short Drama for Send Us Smokes (2018).

Applying for lead costume designer for the new royals film, Barrett didn’t think she would get the part. She was up against another costume designer whom Barrett described as having a stronger resume and more experience.

But the key to success, she explained, is staying true to yourself. She believes this is what scored her the opportunity. For this, Barrett says she’s eternally grateful.

“I come from a community that just teaches you to be genuinely true to yourself,” she said.

As they finish the film and prepare for it to hit screens around the world, Barrett expects that there will be criticism surrounding the costumes worn by the film’s royal family. However, she is confident in what she has done.

Looking back on each film she has helped produce, Barrett explained that there are always things she would do differently; but this doesn’t stop her from hitting the ground running in her next project.

“Perfection is a dead man’s quality,” she said. “And I’m not a man, and I’m not dead. So none of my work is every going to be… perfect.”

Barrett considers herself a costume designer, which she says is far from a stylist. A stylist, she explains, creates outfits as standalone pieces without their subject in mind. A costume designer will create an outfit to suit a personality, a situation, a mood or a season.

“I never want you to see my costumes, I want you to see my characters,” she said.

One of her favourite things to do is drop an ‘easter egg’ in the film, using very subtle alterations to clothes or even earrings, to help convey a message or foreshadow a pivotal event.

In the film industry, you have to be fast, efficient and have a keen eye for what looks good.

“My Meghan Markle had 49 different outfits and that was like one person out of a cast of 52,” laughed Barrett.

The entire royals film was shot in 20 days. Short timeframes, busy days and mistakes along the way are all a part of what Barrett describes as the ‘creative beast’.

Some mornings would begin with a fitting at 5 a.m. She credited all the actors and actresses for being great to work with throughout the entire production. Without their energy and grace, she said the film wouldn’t have been possible.

Barrett explained that a great gift, which comes with her job, is the ability to interact with the cast, day in and day out.

“It’s really great when actors leave the fitting and they’re like; I understand my character so much more now after trying on all these clothes. Landing (nailing) the silhouette, finding their body posture,” she said.

“That, for me, is when I feel like I’m doing my job. And it feels… great.”

Harry and Meghan: Becoming Royal will debut May 27 in the U.S. on Lifetime.

In just a few weeks, Barrett will be back on set designing costumes for the next films in the Chronicle Mysteries series, a television program produced by Hallmark. The first two completed shows are set to show in Canada on Bravo this month.

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Florence Barrett on set as costume designer in Last Stand to Nowhere, an all-female western movie. Left: Photo by Mavreen David, Submitted

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