Kiersten Ronning ’01 has always enjoyed clothing, but she never envisioned where it would take her – behind the scenes of film and television to her current role as head costume designer for the TV show “Supergirl.”
It’s not her first job as a costume designer – she’s been in the business since 2002 – but it is the largest in terms of scope and budget.
“It starts with developing concepts after reading the scripts and helping to establish defined looks for each character as it pertains to the script,” says Ronning. “Every episode has a different storyline, and so we work with that as a starting point.”
She shops for the characters that are wearing “civilian clothing,” but also comes up with the concepts for the superhero characters that are part of the DC Comics universe.
“I work with an illustrator to draw up the concepts for the characters, and once the design is approved we move into manufacturing, which is a complicated process,” says Ronning. They decide on materials or fabrics and figure out what each character needs to do as far as the stunts and visual effects. “It is a very collaborative process,” she says.
Ronning not only dresses the actors, but she also dresses all the stunt performers with the exact same outfits. She also hires all the crew in the costume department. While there are permanent staff members, there may be 15-16 people on her crew at a time, depending on the number of camera units shooting and the number of background actors. And yes, she also “dresses” the actors.
“Actors come in all the time for fittings and sometimes it is just the actor and myself, as we talk about the scene and try on the options,” says Ronning.
Before shooting the pilot for “Supergirl,” award-winning designer Colleen Atwood designed the Supergirl costume. “I was working for her on that project, and that is how I got involved in the TV show,” says Ronning. Each of the pieces of the Supergirl costume is made from scratch, including the boots, which are made by an “amazing craftsman” who makes them custom to the design and to fit Melissa Benoist, the actress who plays Supergirl and her stunt double.
“There are a few versions of the costume so that we can accommodate different stunts and needs,” says Ronning.
Ronning considers herself lucky to have worked with talented costume designers, including Ellen Mirojnick on HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra,” starring Michael Douglas as Liberace, (for which Mirojnick won an Emmy for costume design). “The costumes were stunning and challenging and larger than life,” Ronning says.
The costumes were stunning and challenging and larger than life.
How did a girl from Stillwater, Minn., get to Hollywood?
“Oh man, I guess big dreams,” says Ronning.
Although she imagined going off to fashion school in New York or Paris, her parents weren’t on board and she decided instead to follow her sister, Kari Hoien ’94, to Concordia, where she started out as a psychology major. She soon realized she didn’t see herself finding a job in psychology that she would be good at and changed her major to apparel and design.
Ronning says Steve Speers ’93 was influential in getting her career started. “He is an extremely talented camera operator who was a friend of my sister’s. I knew he was in the film business in Minneapolis, and I asked him for advice. I still wasn’t sure I would like it, but it couldn’t hurt to try it,” she says.
“When I first went to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, but I feel I’ve benefitted from being able to combine all of my interests into my career, as opposed to having such a narrow focus," Ronning says. "I think clothing and the psychology of what people choose to wear every day always fascinated me … I enjoy the art of helping to create a character – however mundane they might be.”
Ronning's career, however, is anything but mundane.
Kim Kappes is the administrative and media relations assistant for Communications and Marketing.