Ai LIVE: RuBen Permel Talks Costume Design, Fashion Career
In this segment of Ai LIVE, host E. Vincent Martinez speaks with costume designer RuBen Permel about his career, advice for current students, and path to success.
Permel’s design work spans art, film, fashion, and photography. He’s currently the wardrobe supervisor for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas—a position he’s held for 17 years. During the pandemic, Permel went from working long days on the performance stage to working mostly from home—a shift that’s given him the chance to focus on what he’d like to work on next.
In addition to making masks from extra fabric he had on hand, Permel participated in workshops and joined a writing group to best utilize his lockdown time. He emphasizes that it’s important to seize opportunities when they become available—it’s the way he’s gotten ahead in his career.
Permel explains that the fashion industry is challenging and competitive. And while he’s had a creative streak since childhood, it was only after performing onstage that he realized performing helped him to feel free. After years of performing, he transitioned to costume making, originally creating costumes for puppets. Slowly but surely, he filled many roles that helped him to better understand the industry while setting himself apart with his well-rounded skillsets.
Noting that there’s much more to fashion than just design, Permel says that costume design teams work on everything from wardrobe support, sewing, and shoe maintenance to caring for wigs, dressing actors, and patternmaking. In his position at Cirque du Soleil, Permel oversees a team that ensures costumes must look as good for each performance as they did on opening night.
He recommends that current students learn a variety of skills and remain adaptable as they find their niche in the industry. He still works and creates each day—and while some parts of the job are glamorous, Permel states that many are hard and time-consuming. Still, there’s nothing like “the great feeling in your stomach” when you see your name on the big screen, he adds.
To conclude the segment, Martinez and Permel discuss how to handle rejection in the industry, whether it’s in a job interview or a costume review. Permel says that rejection shouldn’t be taken personally and instead should be viewed as a learning opportunity. If you don’t get a job, look back on the interview and ask yourself if you were truly prepared. How could you have done better? “You have to be confident and remain focused. Bring something to the table,“ he states, adding that candidates are being interviewed for their skills and ability to get along with the whole team.
Permel also surprises Martinez with the news that he’s won a reality TV show (watch the interview to find out which one) and emphasizes that finding a mentor and listening to advice are key to becoming successful. He tells the story of advising a young woman who wanted to succeed in fashion. “She had energy and a wide-eyed attitude,” he says, and watched as she made sacrifices to reach her goal. Today, she runs a successful business in downtown Las Vegas.
“Once you find your voice and confidence, once you get there, there isn’t anything stopping [you],” he concludes.
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