Theater Alum creates costumes for hit shows on Hulu, HBO
Alicia Austin ’16 had never even attended a play before coming to the University of Mary Washington. But after her first costume design class, she realized theater was the perfect fit.
“It was so interesting to me that I changed majors,” said Austin, who planned to study psychology but found bits of it in his new field. “I discovered that the costume could be a visual language to express the personality of each character.”
Now she’s putting those sartorial skills to work. After earning a bachelor’s degree in theater from Mary Washington, Austin earned an MFA from Yale University. Graduating just before COVID shut down Broadway, she leapt from stage to screen, joining design teams for HBO remakes sex and the city and Steven Spielberg West Side Storyas well as the hit Hulu Only murders in the buildingwhich has just started its second season.
It’s a success story that she put together little by little.
“I grew up sewing out of utility because it was cheaper to buy fabric and make clothes myself,” said Austin, who started classes at Mary Washington but took a break from his studies. studies to open an upscale consignment store in downtown Fredericksburg. “I’m not someone who walks around saying ‘I love fashion,’ but clothes have always had a deeper meaning to me.”
She sold funky jackets and floral dresses, designer jeans and buttery leather boots at Madeline Ruth and later at Forage. Enjoying a prime location in a college town, Austin’s small business was booming. But she still wanted to get a college degree, so she went back to Mary Washington.
At Mary Washington, Austin designed costumes for Leslye Headland’s workplace satire, “Assistance.” Pictured: Madeleine Dilley ’17. Photo by Geoff Greene.
Austin also designed costumes for the UMW Theater production of Bryony Lavery’s chilling drama, “Frozen.” Pictured: Jackie Filicko ’16 and Jake Crowley ’16. Photo by Geoff Greene.
Alex Newton ’17 and Lauren Frautschi ’18 in the UMW Theater production of Leslye Headland’s ‘Assistance’, wearing costumes designed by Alicia Austin ’16. Photo by Geoff Greene.
Choosing from a set of electives, Austin learned about fabric modification, pattern making, and costume design. She had no idea what those classes entailed, she said, “but they seemed very cool.” So she contacted the chair of the theater and dance department, Gregg Stull, to change majors and fast-track the next two years of her degree.
“Alicia brought both intention and passion to everything she did – every class, production and project,” Stull said. “She is a remarkable and gifted artist, and I look forward to seeing the great work of her future.”
Running his own business has helped Austin set the stage for the pressures of doubling classes, while designing costumes for UMW Theater productions like Frozen and Assistance.
“The caliber of education I had at Mary Washington prepared me to seek the same level of academic experience at Yale,” Austin said.
After UMW, Austin earned an MFA at the Yale School of Drama, where she designed costumes for stage productions like William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
Austin has also designed costumes for regional theater productions such as the Baltimore Center Stage production of Noah Diaz’s “Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally”. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
At the Yale School of Drama, Austin showcased the skills she developed at UMW, designing costumes for Em Weinstein and Michael Breslin’s “Arden,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” . Photo by T.Charles Erickson.
She thrived in the notoriously rigorous three-year theater program at the Ivy League school, winning the prestigious Princess Grace Award for budding artists in theatre, dance and film in 2019.
Now based in Brooklyn, Austin still loves the stage, but her work on Only murdersa streaming show about three amateur podcasters trying to solve a homicide in their posh New York apartment building, allows his talent to reach a wider audience.
His team’s dapper creations — including Selena Gomez’s faux-fur marigold coat, Martin Short’s regal purple outfit and Steve Martin’s dashing fedora — have landed in the likes of She, In the style and News Feed. But Austin said the real stars are the leaders of the all-female costume team.
“They taught me so much about the kinds of clothes you put on the characters to represent who they are,” said Austin, who might not have captured her current role if not for the education she found. to Mary Washington.
“If you’re ambitious and you know what you want,” she said, “there will always be someone at UMW to guide you and help you achieve those goals.”
Betty Emrey of Mindpower Inc. contributed reporting and writing to this story.