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Dressing for the part: Guelph costume designer chases her dream

In this Arts and Culture story we chat with Guelph costume designer Lee Diemer about her experiences working in LA with some of the biggest names in film and costume design

The show must go on as they say in the entertainment industry, but COVID-19 is in the director’s chair right now and calling cut on most Hollywood film projects until the pandemic is lifted.

Guelph-born costume designer Lee Diemer is eager to get back to work but she is self-isolating for the time being at her family’s home in Rockwood.

“I headed home to be here with my family until it blows over,” said Diemer. “We definitely had to reconsider some plans and change things around.”

Diemer moved to LA in 2015 to study at FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, and has since been involved in more than 20 film projects ranging from music videos and television shows to full-scale films with hundreds of cast and crew members. The projects have given her the opportunity to work with some of the industry’s top costume designers and learn from the best.

“I am learning because I am just starting out,” she said. “Obviously, I would like to keep working in LA with these designers I have admired for a long time.”

Costume design has allowed Diemer to indulge two of her passions.

“Honestly, it was just my way of being creative with sewing,” said Diemer. “I love making fashion, but I also really love film at the same time. Costume design for film was the perfect amalgamation. I get to be a part of that movie magic but also get to express myself with sewing and fabric.”

Diemer has been expressing herself with fabric since she was a child

“One of the things my mom jokes about all the time is what I used to do when I was really little,” said Diemer. “You know those fabric sample books you get for interior decorating? I would quarantine myself in a cupboard downstairs with pages of fabric and make all these things. I would use all the tape in the house before I learned how to sew, putting everything together and then I would come upstairs and everyone would tell me, ‘that looks great Lee’.”

Diemer was born in Guelph in 1993, the oldest child of Rudy and Terresa Diemer. She has a younger brother Luke. The family moved to Rockwood in 1999 where she attended Rockwood Centennial Public School followed by high school in Guelph at John F. Ross CVI.

“I was in the arts classes for sure, but I never really did any acting in high school,” she said. “I did take the one fashion class they offered but I mostly learned to sew on the side. I kind of knew I wanted to do costuming and things like that.”

She looked forward to Halloween each year when she could try out some of her early creations.

“Absolutely, you’re not wrong about that,” she said. “That was when I was able to make costumes and explore a little creative energy.”

After high school she studied and graduated from the fashion arts program at Humber College in Toronto.

“I did fashion business there,” she said. “It was more like business merchandising for the fashion industry and then I went back to school when I moved down to LA in 2015.”

In the past two years, since graduating from the Product Development and Film & TV Costume Design program at FIDM, Diemer has worked on a variety of award-winning productions including the Viking-inspired adventure film Sworn by director Wesley Quinn and horror short, Haunt, by director Nikki Born.

“One of the more recent ones was awesome and that was working on Ford v Ferrari,” said Diemer. “Just the scale of it was impressive and getting to work with a designer like Daniel Orlandi and being part of something so big. We were out in the desert and they built this racetrack up from scratch out there in Agua Dulce. There were 500 background (cast members) a day – dressing them all in and out. That was an incredible experience.”

The Oscar-winning film, directed by James Mangold, starred Matt Damon and Christian Bale and documented the competition between car manufacturers Ford and Ferrari to win at the legendary Le Mans racetrack in France in 1966.

“There was so much research done for Ford v Ferrari on things like the type of fabric for the race suits, the technology they had at the time, everything,” said Diemer. “They had to create that all from scratch. I love doing research like that. It is definitely, one of the most interesting parts.”

She has designed costumes for a number of commercials, music videos and television series including the video The Drug in Me is Re-Imagined by the band Falling in Reverse and the soon-to-be released Netflix series Ratched created by Ryan Murphy and starring Sarah Paulson.

“I would love to get into the guild in LA, which is the fashions designers, kind of union and really get going on some larger scale projects,” said Diemer. “Hopefully, I get to do more historical films. Those are always the best. I did a Viking one a while ago and had a great time doing all the armour and everything.”

Diemer has come a long way from taping fabric together in the basement of her family home but Guelph still holds a special place in her heart.

“I like to hype Guelph as much as I can,” she said. “Every once in a while, you meet someone who knows Guelph and it’s always so exciting. There are more Canadians working in LA than you might think. I meet them all the time. It’s great.”