Fashioning her career – Mollie Gates dishes on Hollywood costume design

It was the show that made Manolo Blahnik a household name. It let women know they can wear lingerie as outerwear, tutus are perfectly acceptable for grown women and mixing is matching. Through fashion, it empowered women everywhere. The show was Sex and the City, and it was in the wardrobe department of feature film Sex and the City II where local costume designer Mollie Gates got her first taste of the business.

Gates knew early on that she wanted to work in fashion, but it wasn’t until clocking in on a film set that she knew exactly which direction that interest would take her. While attending LSU for a degree in apparel design, she took advantage of internship opportunities working for Paper Magazine clothing line and a New York-based celebrity stylist before Sex and the City.

“That’s when I discovered that I wanted to work in film,” she says. “In film you really have to know someone to get in, and I didn’t really know many people in the business [in Baton Rouge].”

That didn’t keep her from landing a job on the most hyped productions this state has seen to date, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, parts I and II. “That just kind of fell in my lap,” Gates remembers. “I sent an email, and they just happened to write me back.” Since the movies were filmed while she was finishing up her last courses at LSU, Gates got special permission from her instructors to work on the Twilight films during the day and complete her coursework at night.

“It was really hard to do both,” she recalls. “But I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

Gates now splits time working in the wardrobe departments on productions in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The latest is Quentin Tarantino’s Western, Django Unchained, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx. The film requires her team to outfit hundreds of actors as African-American slaves and other Civil War-era characters.

A few years ago, Gates would have had to move to Los Angeles or New York City for a similar career, but Louisiana’s booming film industry has made it possible for her to work close to home.

“Fashion has always been a passion of mine, but you also need to find a work environment that suits you,” Gates says. “The lifestyle can be unconventional, and there are drawbacks, but every day is different, and you can forget about ever having to live your life in a cubicle. That, to me, means everything.”

Though glamorous at times, Gates’ job comes with many of the pressures associated with filmmaking: long hours, budget concerns and resource constraints.

“You always know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “You may be working 14-hour days, but you know you won’t be working those hours forever.”

Only 24, Gates has a healthy resume behind her already. She’s had the unique experience of working with renowned costume designers like her idol, Patricia Fields, as well as some iconic actors.

“I really don’t get caught up in the hype of actors, but you can’t say its not exciting to see someone like Robert Pattinson walk on set, or to have an actress compliment me on my dress,” Gates says. “And it’s so fulfilling to see my work on screen. It’s really neat to have all the memories flood back as I’m watching.”