Talking Killer Style And Empowerment With Cynthia Bergström, Costume Designer For “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”

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By Colette Fitzpatrick

Few things have affected me and my life in the way that Buffy has; it is part of what made me such a self-identifying feminist as a very young child, it cemented ideas about style in my head, made me adopt certain elements of slang and mannerisms, and it gave me a major thing for vampires (Spike, in partciular). To this day, it is one of my all-time favourite shows and Buffy, herself, remains my ultimate fictional role model. As well as a major style icon. In fact, when I started out writing in the public sphere, with my own blog, some of my first posts were about the style in the show and how it had impacted me.

Imagine my delight then, when I managed to track down the agent for the costume designer on the show, Cynthia Bergström, and convinced them to let me interview her – not that she took much convincing, she’s an incredibly lovely person. My blog was less than a year old, I was a nobody and, yet, she set aside time for me. It is still a post and a string of events that I am very proud of.

Years later, when I told Cynthia about Bean, she agreed to do another interview for us. I jumped at the chance to prod her brain some more about a show I’ve been talking about for a solid twenty-one years now…because I’m not tired of it yet, obviously.

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Hey Cynthia,

Long time! How are you?

I just wanted to preface this by saying that I really appreciate your taking the time to chat to me all those years ago. It was at the beginning of my career as a writer when I had no name or company behind me and you gave me the time of day when many wouldn’t have done the same. I still often brag about getting to chat you.

Today, I’m a full-time writer, though I’m still not anywhere close to my dreams but I have a path ahead of me now and I’m proud of myself. I’m also founding a website that I’m pretty excited about in the next couple of months that is by women and for women. Bean Magazine will be a place of fun and escapism but with a heart and soul. I have lots of great people on board as editors and contributors of the various sections, which will include Fashion, Beauty, Food, Culture, Womanhood, Crafts, Travel and Books. We’re trying to start something collaborative, fun and supportive, a space for all women.

I’d really love to chat to you again for the site. If you’d be interested, please let me know.

All the best,
Colette

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Hello Colette!

So nice to hear from you. I’m so excited for you and your online magazine. I look forward to it when it goes online.
Yes, of course…more than happy to be interviewed again!
Warmly,
Cynthia
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How did you get into costume design?

I was in my early 20s working at the California Mart as a sales rep for a contemporary women’s line. It was a great job, but I had mastered it. I thought, there’s got to be more to life than this…I started to think about how I had wanted to be a costume designer. As a kid I would watch Charlie’s Angels and all those groovy 70s shows and think, who puts the clothes on the actors? I want to be that person!

So when I knew I was done with being a sales rep, I told a friend of mine what I really wanted to do with my life. He just happened to be producing a small film starring Virginia Madsen called Zombie High. He asked me to come on board as his costume designer. I knew from the moment I read the first page of the script that I had found my calling. I felt right at home.

How did you come to Buffy? Were you a fan of the show?

I did catch Buffy the first season it was on. At first, I was turned off by the look of the show so I didn’t watch it. It seemed dark. But one night there was nothing else on so I watched. As I was watching, I had the distinct feeling that I was supposed to be working on that show…Then, a few days later my agent called me with the interview and the rest is history!

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Who was the most interesting character to dress?

I loved the ease of dressing Willow. There was always something for her character…to this day I still find perfect Willow pieces in the stores! I loved dressing Angel. I went to all these cool rock’n’roll stores in LA where I had a personal connection with the owners, it was great fun. Buffy was so hip and stylish, her character was always evolving and had many different needs. It was so exciting when I would find something interesting and unique.

In our last interview, you noted that you are most proud of your work as a costume designer on Buffy and that you came to work on the show just after you started loving it. Did you immediately recognise how groundbreaking the show was at the time?

To tell the truth, no. I had no idea! I just thought it was a cool show that offered me to the opportunity to design some amazing, creative and fun costumes.

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How did you feel about Buffy as a character – as an incredibly strong and complex female character, in particular? Were you excited to dress her?

I was excited to dress Buffy as well as the whole gang. Each character was so individual and unique. It always felt like a creative & collaborative endeavour.

Which character was the most difficult to dress and did you ever have trouble trying to accurately reflect a character’s story arc in their wardrobe?

I loved all the characters and never found difficulty in costuming any of them. They each had a specific look that was indigenous to their particular character. My approach was mostly intuitive with a little bit of research.

Do you feel proud that your work on this show is still beloved and that social media accounts, blogs and youtube videos are still made about the look of Buffy? Does the fan culture that still exists surprise you?

I love that the fans still love Buffy. I love that new fans are created everyday!

Ultimately, this is a story about empowerment and finding inner strength in times of great peril & hardship. People find the themes relatable because these themes continue to exist in our lives. It brings me great joy to know that the people who watch the show find the means to their own inner strength. I’ve received so many letters over the years of people telling me how it was the show and the costuming that helped them get through some obstacles and struggles in their lives. It gives meaning and purpose to what I do and did. I’m happy to hear that show has had such a positive impact on so many lives.

If someone was interested in getting involved in working in costume design, what advice would you give them?

Be open to constant change and allow for flexibility.

Thanks again for agreeing to talk to me once more! Hope you’re doing great.

Best, Cx

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This article repurposes some text from my own blog and a previous interview with Cynthia, in order to enrich it.

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For more articles on television and culture, check out Emma’s HBO gems and Colette’s discussion of why there is more to love about K-pop beyond the snazzy outfits and fun songs

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