Feature Stories

Deborah Landis Is Founding Director of Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design

David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design is the world's first


Posted on June 1st 2009 in Scholarship

Deborah Nadoolman Landis, an Academy Award–nominated costume designer and scholar, has been named to the newly endowed David C. Copley Chair for the Study of Costume Design at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

An unprecedented gift of $6 million to the school from newspaper publisher and philanthropist David C. Copley last June supported the establishment of both the chair and the Center, which will further scholarship in the field through research, coursework and a program to bring in leading professionals as visiting faculty. Landis will serve as the founding director of the Copley Center, the only institution of its kind in the world.

In addition to her distinguished film career, Landis is an award-winning designer for the theater and opera and is a noted scholar and author in the field who has lectured and written extensively and published three books.

Landis received an M.F.A. in costume design from UCLA in 1975 and a Ph.D. in the history of design from London’s Royal College of Art in 2003. She recently completed her second term as president of the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892. She has had a distinguished career designing for major motion pictures directed by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Louis Malle and Costa-Gavras.

“Deborah Landis has made the point on many occasions that costume designers are first and foremost storytellers,” said Robert Rosen, dean of the school. “They are full creative partners in art forms that are intrinsically collaborative, and academic recognition of that fact is long overdue.

All of us at TFT are very proud indeed that Mr. Copley has chosen UCLA as his partner in this pathfinding enterprise. And we consider ourselves fortunate, as well, that Deborah Landis, an acclaimed professional who is also an accomplished scholar, has agreed to provide leadership.”

“The Copley Center is dedicated to the deeper understanding of the role played by costume design in the collaborative process of the cinematic and performing arts,” Landis said, “and this is the goal that I have always pursued in my scholarly work and in my writing. So to be appointed to this unique position is for me both a great honor and a priceless opportunity.”

The David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design will work toward three pioneering objectives:

  • Becoming the world leader in the academic study of costume design — an institution that crosses media boundaries and enhances the already top-ranked theater costume program at UCLA with a bold new focus on film, television and digital media.
  • Preparing graduates for career and artistic success through a balanced curriculum of theory and practical experience, as well as mentorship from the most accomplished practitioners in the world.
  • Establishing an approach that will unify theory and practice in the area of costume design through the research and study of the cultural significance of costume, its relationship to aesthetic theory and, most importantly, the role of costume as a centerpiece of narrative and storytelling.
The establishment of the Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design will break new ground in academia and help secure the school’s future preeminence in this artistic endeavor. Areas of study will include the history of costume design in Hollywood, genre research, costume illustration as an art form and explorations of the influence of costume design on fashion and culture.

FTF2 “The artistry of costume designers has long been a vital part of storytelling in the moving image and performing arts and deserves significant scholarly attention from a great educational institution such as UCLA,” David Copley said. “I’m delighted to help the field move forward with this gift. I’m confident it will pay dividends for scholars and practitioners for many years to come.”

As a member of the international film community, Landis delivered the keynote address at the inaugural Costume Symposium in London in 2006 and served on the 2007 Cinefondation Jury at the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. She teaches at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and the American Film Institute and is a professor at the University of the Arts London.

Landis is the author of “Screencraft/Costume Design” (2003), “50 Designers/50 Costumes: Concept to Character” (2004) and “Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume” (2007). She is currently preparing “Deconstructing Glamour,” due out in 2010.

As a costume designer, her many collaborations with her husband, director John Landis, include “Animal House” (1978), “The Blues Brothers” (1980), “¡Three Amigos!” (1987) and “Coming to America” (1988), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, as well as the groundbreaking music video “Michael Jackson’s Thriller” (1983). She worked with Steven Spielberg on “1941” (1978) and designed the iconic Indiana Jones adventure “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). Landis’ distinguished theater work includes costumes for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and “Turandot” for the Virginia Opera.

IMAGES: “Raiders of the Lost Arc:” Costume designer, Deborah Nadoolman; illustrator, Kelly Kimball. © Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.