VCU grad’s work as a costumer leads to opportunities around the world
By Joan Tupponce
The roar of the huge rain machines drenching the cast of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” during filming in 2006 was a cue that former Richmonder Josh Coleman would be spending a long night cleaning, repairing and drying the cast’s costumes.
A costumer on the film’s night crew, Coleman would be handed an overflowing bucket of wet clothing as soon as filming wrapped for the day. Each costume had to be tagged and readied for filming by morning.
“We had 10 washers and 10 dryers,” he said, recounting the story when he was back in Richmond for the holidays. “We spent all night washing. Any costumes made out of leather or wool or containing chains couldn’t be put into the washer or dryer.”
The work, by many people’s standards, would have been overwhelming. But not for Coleman. That job taught him a valuable lesson: how to take care of incredibly intricate costumes and maintain the most precious fabrics. It was an expertise that would take the Virginia Commonwealth University graduate on journeys around the world.
“That was the start of a life of very long hours,” he said. “Work snowballed from there on for the next few years.”
During his nine-year career as a stylist and costumer, Coleman, 35, has worked with films, television, music videos and tours. He has been backstage at the Oscars and the Emmys, on tour with the Jonas Brothers, in the desert filming with Tom Cruise, and in Puerto Rico filming with Justin Timberlake.
Would he ever have guessed he would lead a life that others would envy? The answer is no.
Growing up, Coleman attended St. Bridget School where he wore a uniform to school each day. When he and his mom would shop for his mandatory navy pants and white polo shirts, they would make it a fun bonding experience. He credits his dad with teaching him to take pride in what he wore. He taught him how to iron, shine his shoes and when to tuck in his shirt, Coleman said.
His parents, Sharon and Tony Coleman, who own gift shop Tinker’s and furniture refinishing and repair shop Tinker & Co., taught each of their four children not only the importance of having fun in life but also the value of working hard. Lessons that Coleman carries with him today.
His first brush with fashion was in high school at Trinity Episcopal when he was finally able to choose his style.
“My older brother, Jeremiah, taught me about thrift shops,” he said, noting his signature look at the time was a unique mix of the 1960s and ’70s. Think polyester and wide-leg pants.
“I slowly turned into liking … clothing with big, wide pants and cuffs made out of faux fur in bright colors,” he said.
Today his look is stylish but a bit more subdued.
His foray into fashion started earnestly at VCU. He came to the school after a short stint at Emory & Henry College. He didn’t consider majoring in fashion merchandising until someone from the school’s art department sent him to professor Karen (Guthrie) Videtic in the fashion department.
He found out that Videtic had only one spot left in the program. “If I wanted it, I had to say yes then, so I said yes.”
Videtic, who stays in touch with Coleman, was impressed with his unique style and creativity.
“He walked to a different drummer. It was always apparent he wasn’t going to do what everybody else did,” she said. “Josh is good at taking risks. He is persistent and able to stay positive. Every day is a sunny day for Josh.”
After graduating and working with Mark Montano on the host’s wardrobe for the TLC reality series “While You Were Out,” Coleman moved to New York and interviewed with design houses, such as Dior and Ralph Lauren.
But concerned that he would “lose creative control” in that industry, he accepted an offer from Montano and headed to Los Angeles to work with the host on TLC’s reality show “10 Years Younger.”
“I packed up my stuff and drove to Virginia and then shipped my car to California. Then I was on a plane,” Coleman said.
Los Angeles-based costume supervisor Marcy Lavender met Coleman in 2004 and recognized his talent.
“He’s a young guy that has it together,” she said. “He is an amazing artist. He’s a lovely human being.”
The last project the two worked on together was FX’s television show “American Horror Story.” Coleman was one of her main dressers.
“He was taking care of the principals on the set. That is a big responsibility,” she said. “Besides the simple things, you have to track continuity of the changes. There are a lot of special effects. Anytime they went back to a particular scene, you have to match it.”
Coleman calls the show one of his favorite projects, although it required many 16-hour days.
“You had to be ready for anything,” he said. “To do your job right you have to work with other departments, such as special effects. Our whole crew had to be extremely on top of it.”
Each project led him to a different and larger opportunity. His job at Los Angeles costume house EC2 Costumes introduced him to Emmy Award-winning costume designer Ret Turner and eventually led to a job doing wardrobe touch-ups on the stars presenting awards at the 2006 Emmys.
“Even if my career ended right there, I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Coleman said. “I just worked for the Emmy Awards.”
Coleman can be involved in a project from one day to 18 months. He works in all kinds of weather. Case in point: his job on the film “Valkyrie” with Tom Cruise.
“We were in the desert, and it was 120 degrees,” Coleman said. “I was a dresser for the background people. There were hundreds of soldiers. The working conditions were tough, but Tom did a good job of keeping the cast and crew upbeat and positive.”
Coleman had a chance to come back to his hometown for several months in 2011 to work on Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” starring Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis.
“I worked on ‘Lincoln’ from the prep process all of the way to the wrap,” Coleman said. “I knew the assistant designer, Ken Van Duyne, from Los Angeles, and he wanted to hire me as a Virginia local hire from IATSE Local 482.”
During prep, Coleman was involved in costume fittings, working with costume designer Joanna Johnston to make sure the right outfits fit the correct way. After fittings were finished, he moved to dressing secondary actors, such as senators in the House of Representatives as well as soldiers on the battlefields.
“Because our base camp was typically far from the sets downtown, I was known as the guy who could carry a huge box of hats while riding a bike through downtown traffic,” he said, talking about transporting costume accessories.
He’s always been drawn to hats, he added. “They are more than conversation pieces. They are a representation of your personality.”
In the past few years, Coleman has worked on various Marvel/Walt Disney films, including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “Iron Man 3.”
Timothy Wonsik, an Orlando, Fla.-based costume designer/supervisor, last oversaw Coleman’s work on the 2013 “Iron Man 3.”
“Josh has great attention to detail. Working with Marvel costumes is really complicated,” Wonsik said. “Josh stands out. He’s a hard worker, and hard workers are hired consistently in this business. When you are hiring, you look for the best people for your department.”
Coleman also helped with promotional appearances for the films. He accompanied actor Chris Pratt of “Guardians of the Galaxy” to New Orleans for a cover photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly and styled all the images but one.
“Chris was holding baby raccoons, and I was worried they would scratch the clothing,” Coleman recalled.
He also accompanied Pratt to the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles to surprise children who were screening the film.
“At the end, the superhero walks in wearing the costume to bring them toys,” he said. “That is my favorite part of the job.”
Coleman loves the diversity of his work. In 2009, for example, he traveled the world with the Jonas Brothers as their set costumer.
“I went on tour with them when I was 28, and it was the best time of my life,” he said. “They asked me if I was good with sewing machines, and I said no, but between the time the tour starts and ends, I will do anything I need to do.”
Backstage at the Grammys last year, Coleman helped Paul McCartney’s stylist by lending McCartney his own belt to wear.
“The cardinal rule in our business is never give your personal stuff to anyone because you will never get it back,” he said, noting he broke that rule for the former member of The Beatles. “But the stylist got the belt back to me.”
Currently, Coleman is out west on location fighting the winter weather working for costume designer Courtney Hoffman on Quentin Tarantino’s new film, “The Hateful Eight.”
“This journey has been humbling and also exciting,” Coleman said. “I have just been really fortunate. I have gotten to work with some of the most creative people in the world. It’s been a learning experience, and I’ve learned you have to make the most of every single day.”