Costume designer Kym Barrett, whose artistry most recently helped bring “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Aquaman” to life, has been named the 2022 designer in residence at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Throughout the month of May, Barrett’s career will be discussed in the “Advanced Costume Design for Motion Pictures" class taught by distinguished professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis. Several of Barrett’s films, including “Shang Chi,” “The Matrix” and “Romeo + Juliet” (1996), will be screened and Barrett will mentor graduate students through the design process as they create their own versions of costumes seen in another of her films, Jordan Peele’s “Us.”
“Nowhere else in the world do graduate students spend a month diving into the creative process with a distinguished costume designer like Kym Barrett,” said Landis, founding director of the UCLA TFT David C. Copley Center for Costume Design. “Her mind-bending creative career includes a roster of modern classics like ‘The Matrix,’ two operas at the Metropolitan Opera, and three productions for Cirque de Soleil. Kym is nothing less than the dream designer in residence for our students.”
A native of Australia, Barrett didn’t always plan on becoming a costume designer. In fact, she began her college career
studying marine biology. But after becoming friends with students studying theater, she started tapping into her creative side.
“I decided to take few classes and those led to a few more classes,” she said.
She switched majors and after receiving her BA from Australia’s University of New England, she enrolled at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney and never looked back.
In the eight years following graduation from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts, Barrett designed for theater productions. She received her first costume designer film credit on fellow Aussie Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (co-written by Craig Pearce), working alongside Luhrmann’s wife, costume designer Catherine Martin, as they filmed in Mexico City.
“It was a completely adventurous time, and we were all in our 20s,” Barrett said. “We didn’t know what the rules of filmmaking were, so we just had to make our own and adapt. We learned rudimentary Spanish and collected a crew from a completely different culture … it was an amazing experience in so many ways. It wasn’t always easy, but it was fun, too, and unforgettable.”
Her work on “Romeo + Juliet” led to her first collaboration with the Wachowskis on “The Matrix,” which, in turn, cemented her career.
For her most recent film, George Miller’s upcoming “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” Barrett was charged with creating the clothing for characters whose storylines span thousands of years, from the Bronze Age to present-day London, importing cloth material from India and Turkey while they filmed in Australia during the early days of the pandemic. Plot details are still under wraps, but Barrett describes the film as an epic fairy tale.
“But like all fairy tales, it has a really dark and violent underbelly,” she says. “It’s more than what it appears to be.”