“Apparel oft proclaims the man” as we are told in Hamlet in spite of what Colin Firth (as Galahad) tells us in Kingsman: The Secret Service that “Manners maketh man.” In spite of this gender specificity, it’s undeniable that what someone wears effects how they feel as well as how we perceive them. Deborah Cantor has cultivated a very enviable career based on this premise. No, she’s not a part of a high-fashion design house or a pop textile trending label; Deborah is a UK based costume designer and stylist working in film, television, and media. Classically trained at the BBC, Deborah has work with such famed talents as model Jodie Kidd, pop star Rachel Stevens, BAFTA Nominated Actress Alison Steadman, Primetime Emmy Award-Winning Actor Chris O’Dowd, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (Oscar, Grammy, Primetime Emmy, and Golden Globe Award Winning Composer), singer Dame Shirley Bassey, sports star Jamie Redknapp, BAFTA Nominated Actor John Barrowman, and many more. Her embrace of change and the opportunity for constant reinvention is an approach that has made her one of the most sought after in her profession. She informs, “The industry is ever changing and evolving and you move with the change to stay current and relevant. It always excites me to create a look or vision for TV or print. Each day is different, meeting new people and working with other creatives.”
As someone always looking for the next challenge and opportunity, Ms. Cantor readily accepted the role as costume designer for BAFTA and RTS (Royal Television Society) Award-Winning sketch based The Big Narstie Show, one of the UK’s most popular comedy programs. Hosted by Grime rapper Big Narstie and his constant collaborator Mo Gilligan, the lauded production featured eclectic skits that span the gamut of genres. From “Mo Train” (based on the iconic American Production) featuring the legendary (and Grammy Award Winning) Nile Rodgers to “Boyz to Mend”, music centric skits allowed Deborah to recreate clothing of bygone eras. The Romeo & Juliet inspired “Bromeo & Juliet” took a decidedly Shakespearean aesthetic while “Central Jerk” (inspired by Friends stars David Schwimmer’s appearance on The Big Narstie Show) presented 2000 NYC era city attire. The unspoken but obvious aspect of Deborah’s work is not only the great authentic looks she achieved but the fact that she continually did so on a moment’s notice. It’s a requirement of the job as she recalls, “One of the most challenging moments I have had was whilst working on Season 2. When I had prepped for a superhero sketch the day before filming for Narstie and Mo and got to studio the following day and the guest (the skit was meant for) had dropped out the show and production changed the sketch last minute and I had an hour to get newsreader costumes for them for a pre-record. Opposite the studio is a shopping mall that I was very grateful for in these instances. Part of my job is creating solutions and thinking on the spot.”
Reality TV is the most modern of genres and certainly the most popular. The presenters of these programs are celebrities in their own right. As the stylist for Stacey Solomon on Bake Off: The Professionals, Deborah was key in establishing this new host who replaced the exiting host Tom Allen. As with the characters she designs for in fictional productions, Ms. Cantor insists that the attire of presenters like Stacey communicate a great deal to the audience. She describes, “The look I created for Stacey on week 1 was meant to make a statement, it needed to be strong as Stacey was a new presenter. The theme was classics. I had studied Stacey’s look and the color palette she liked. She likes color. I wanted to color block this with the sugary tone of the pink on the top and a bold green colored trouser, to give the classic a twist. For the press picture, we went with a floral dress. Stacey likes floral and this was again a pretty color palette with a frill, the theme “A Garden Paradise.” I wanted the dress to have a flavor of spring. The dress had a little structure, so not too floaty, but with a little authority and sense of ease.”
Costumes and the way we choose to dress says a great deal about who we want to be, perhaps more than who we fear we actually might be at our core. Donning the visage of someone more brave, more gregarious, even more nefarious is a mental and emotional springboard both for those who makes these choices and those whom experience them. Actor, presenter, comedian, musician, baker, finance executive; all these and more offer a message to the world about how to interact with us. Deborah Cantor has a higher perception of these than most, as well as the skill and experience to manifest these appearances at the most convincing level.
Writer: Arlen Gann