"I help to create a three-dimensional environment where something takes place, be it a fashion show or a photo shoot" is how Simon Costin would quickly summise his craft. Of course, there's a lot more to Costin and his vast body of work. Since graduating from Wimbledon, he has gone on to establish a trademark aesthetic that often conjures up the terms wonderful, magical and fantasy. Working with leading talents such as Tim Walker, Alexander McQueen and Paolo Roversi, story-telling is always at the heart of his work.
The centre of Costin's world is his east London home, a four-storey Victorian house which is crammed with many of the props that have once featured in his work, ranging from the unusual to the macabre. An oversized painted Humpty Dumpty from an iconic Tim Walker shoot, a glowing Love lightbulb sculpture commissioned by Italian Vogue, an 18th century Italian state coffin and various wax mannequins and taxidermy figures. The love of "stuff" can perhaps be traced back to his upbringing – both of his parents were antique dealers so, as a child, Costin was always surrounded stby unusual objects and artefacts.
Costin, a charming and enthusiastic character, studied theatre design at Wimbledon College of Art, where he learnt a variety of skills including mask-making and costume design, and his weekends were spent at The Natural History Museum, attending a taxidermy course. During his course, he created a series of small, unusual pieces of body sculpture made from fish heads, and versions of the designs eventually ended up at the V&A and New York's MET. "I became tired of the scale of jewellery – I always wanted to be making bigger things," Costin explains. Through a series of introductions by friends, Costin began working on pop videos for indie bands including Suede and Pulp – "It was a great learning curve because the budgets were tiny. I'd have to whip something together with a glue gun, some fabric and a stapler." Later moving into the sphere of fashion, Costin has become an internationally respected art director and set designer – no doubt chosen for his talents as much as his infectious personality and passion for each project he undertakes. He collaborated extensively with the late Alexander McQueen on his own line and for his shows at Givenchy as well as designers such as Gareth Pugh.
When not working on set or sourcing props or materials, much of Costin's time is spent at home, which incorporates a studio and an extensive library. "The house is good for feeding my creativity", he says. "It's a very social house – I like cooking and having people over." The house is also the place where Costin spends time working on his other passion – research for the Museum of British Folklore, which he both founded and is the director. It is Britain's first organisation solely devoted to the celebration of our continuing living folk culture. "I’ve always had a love of museums and objects and the relationship between objects and the stories they tell and that sort of thing", he says, "and folklore is something that I think the British have overlooked for such a long time."
Text by Laura Bradley
Film by Stefan Heinrichs