Ane Crabtree on creating worlds through costumes

The costume designer has made a name for herself working on productions including The Sopranos and The Handmaid’s Tale. She discusses her unconventional route into the industry, and why costume designers can no longer be dismissed as ‘the shirt girl’

Born in South Dakota and raised in Kentucky to immigrant parents during the 70s, Ane Crabtree couldn’t have been much further from the film and TV industry’s Hollywood heartland. The designer originally studied fine art at Harlaxton College in Lincolnshire, UK, before moving back to the US to go to The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and ended up working as a stylist for everyone from rappers and musicians to fashion magazines such as Elle during the late 80s.

“I went to New York in search of fashion, but then it gets old because your influences begin to change your point of view,” she says. “I would start to find such inspiration from regular people on the street. It’s what I get excited about the most because it has its roots integrity.”

Crabtree worked on the costume design for season one of the sci-fi western hybrid TV show Westworld

Today, sidestepping the world of fashion into costumes wouldn’t seem all that surprising, but at the time, Crabtree says, it was almost unheard of. “It’s been a long road. I look at things now and realise that because of social media the world has really become more accepting and creatively homogenised for folks whose backgrounds are in art, fashion and music. It’s so normal now to be doing all those things, but when I first started [pursuing costume design] people thought I was insane.”

Luckily for Crabtree, her persistence paid off. After getting a few gigs designing costumes for Asian films (which she largely puts down to the fact that she is half Okinawan), her first big break was the pilot for The Sopranos, David Chase’s hit show partly inspired by a real-life New Jersey mafia family that he had grown up around.