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Interview with a Costume Designer: Rowan Kelly Designs for Paxton Manor’s Shocktober

How did you become interested in costume design?

It started when I was a little kid. I loved to buy different kinds of costumes and combine them to make one unique costume.  Then recently, I made a really cool top hat that I decided to try selling on Ebay.   And then, someone bought it immediately.  I just started to make more and more. The top hat had a striped banner and two aged playing cards similar to what visitors will see at the Carnival of Souls feature at Shocktober. 

How long have you been designing costumes for Paxton Manor’s Shocktober? 

I started planning and coordinating over the summer, in July.  Matt Smith invited me several times  to show prototypes and he was impressed. I made the costumes for the Carnival of Souls, a new attraction at Paxton Manor. The suits are made specifically for that attraction: forgotten, wrecked, and very old looking.


Do you consider yourself someone who is interested in fashion and style?

I focus more on costuming than everyday fashion.

How would you describe your personal style?

I like to dress casual. I wear jeans, a flannel shirt, and a hoodie. I usually wear Vans.

The Carnival of Souls includes scary clowns.  Were you inspired by the movie It?

I did ask Matt Smith what he thought about the clown theme. I made a suit for Shocktober to show him and it is modeled after the Pennywise character.

What other costume design jobs have you had? 

Besides the Paxton Manor Shocktober, I like to specialize in making costumes that are cosplay for Comicon. I enjoy making costumes for people to wear to Comicon, as well as characters from movies. Two of my recent costumes I sold include the new Death Trooper from Star Wars and the Predator costume.

Do you have any ambition or dreams of working as a costume designer for other productions or possibly after high school as an adult profession?

It’s early for me but I really want to work on making suits and costumes for films.

Can you describe what your experience has been like working as a costume designer for Shocktober at the Paxton House?

It’s been amazing. Matt and George and the entire crew at Paxton are super helpful. I can make things on the spot or I can come in the next day with whatever they request.  Last week, I bought five more jumpsuits on a Sunday night. I start with a base jump suit from Aromark, Dickies, and sometimes eBay. Once I get the jumpsuits in,  I’ll visit stores like Michaels. I always include patches on my costumes for clowns.  I’ll either use a special glue or I’ll sew them on. 

Does the Director of Shocktober influence the costume choices you make? If so, how? 

After Matt and George see my prototypes, they’ll send me images of what they’re envisioning and I create suits that are unique and that can be used over and over again for different actors. My suits are durable and resist the scraping, etc. that bangs up the suit during the Shocktober performance. 

What kind of research did you do to prepare the costumes for this year’s Shocktober show?

Lucky for me this year’s theme was clowns. I already had a good idea on what to do. I searched for haunted attraction clown suits on the internet. I came across a suit I really liked; it was short with striped arms and striped legs. I knew some other clown costume ideas from other haunts. Most of the suits I created this year have that striped look. 

Also, one thing I added to the clown’s suits this year is putting icecream on the shoulders. You take silicon sealant and you slap it down the jumpsuit and make it messy.  Then you paint acrylic over it. It seals into the silicon and it looks like ice cream. 

Is there a time period or a style that you love but haven’t been able to incorporate or work with in one of the projects that you’ve done?

I focus on making suits for haunted attactions, movie suits and for Christmas. I plan to offer Christmas suits, like elf and Santa suits this year.

What is the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your career so far?

Do your research and know your merchandise. I have had several instances when I was buying supplies on Ebay and realized that the prices listed were not fair.  I was sure to buy elsewhere.

Rowan Kelly resides in Northern Virginia and attends the Flint Hill School.     You can purchase costumes by Rowan Kelly at https://rjfxstudio.weebly.com

October 29th is the last day to experience the 2017 Shocktober.  Visit http://www.shocktober.org

Shocktober at Paxton Manor supports the Arc of Loudoun,  a full-service organization with multiple programs and services that together provide an integrated and innovative environment for people with disabilities from childhood through adulthood. To learn more about the Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Manor, visit http://www.paxtoncampus.org

Interview by Jessica Monte

Photos by Vincent Sales

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