Texas Connect


Costume production associate Desireé Humphries facilitates diverse character representation on stage

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Desireé Humphries pulls fabrics during a fitting session at the Department of Theatre and Dance. Photos by Kara Hawley and Leila Saidane

Desireé Humphries collided with the world of costume design in middle school. In the musical film “Moulin Rouge!,” the protagonist Satine wears a scarlet red, silk and satin dress in a scene titled the “Elephant Love Medley.” Humphries felt captivated by the Victorian-era inspired gown with its dynamic ribbon-like bustle. She took out her sketchpad and drew it again and again. This obsession began her dreams of becoming a fashion and costume designer, she says.

Today, Humphries is a costume production associate at UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance, and a freelance costume designer. She works closely with students, designers  and drapers to schedule fittings and purchase materials. She also supervises stock in the department’s costume shop.

Humphries’ choices of fabrics, garments and style contribute to the art of storytelling and help broaden representation. Through her work in theater for families, Humphries aims to show young girls of color that the characters they admire resemble them. She wants Black girls to realize that they too, can be a princess.

 “It’s not just Cinderella. It’s Tiana. It’s Jasmine. … A princess wears a crown, but she can also wear a sari and she can also wear pants,” Humphries says. “Her hair could grow to the sky. It’s not just straight hair. It’s kinky hair. It’s braids.”

Humphries’ academic career took several turns before she arrived in Austin. She began general studies at Austin Community College in 2006 and went on to pursue a degree in fine arts at the University of North Texas in 2008. She landed at Texas State University in the spring of 2013, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater design and technology. Humphries’ non-linear journey allows her to empathize with students as they pursue creative careers. 

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Dance sophomore Eden Ryder is measured in the costume studio during a “cattle call” audition.

Nanette Acosta, Humphries’ supervisor, works as an assistant professor of practice and costume production director in the Department of Theatre and Dance. She says Humphries knows how to address the needs of both graduate and undergraduate students. 

“She’s able to talk to (graduate students) in a one-to-one way and not approach (them) as if she’s the boss,” Acosta says. “With the undergraduate students, she’s very kind and reassuring and takes on a great educator role in the way of teaching them new skills.”

The most meaningful part of Humphries’ job at UT is receiving additional costume design education while being able to mentor students, she says. Though she enjoys the educator role, Humphries says, she prefers being a confidant and adviser to students while they all learn together. 

“I went to college for a very long time, so it’s not too long ago that I remember being very stressed out,” Humphries says. “Sometimes it’s mitigating feelings, reminding (students that) ‘It’s OK if (the design process) doesn’t go exactly how you want.’ There’s always a solution.” 

Humphries’ hardworking, compassionate and fun nature translates to her job as a freelance costume designer. Her freelance work entails a level of detail that helps actors fully transform into their characters. 

Her costumes come to life off campus in shows such as “Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven” at The Vortex repertory theater, “Dot” at Ground Floor Theatre, “Rap Unzel” at the Austin Scottish Rite Theater, “Spunk” by the Spectrum Theatre Company, and “A War of the Worlds” by the Penfold Theatre Company.

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Scenes from “A War of the Worlds” by the Penfold Theatre Company. Photos by Kimberly Mead

Lisa Scheps, co-artistic director of the Ground Floor Theatre, says Humphries puts love and care into the design process. Her costumes inspire directors to put their best foot forward too, Scheps says. 

“(Humphries) is someone who brings her own goodness to (costume design),” she says. “She has an incredible work ethic and is always very pleasant.” 

Character and costume sketch by Desireé Humphries. Photo courtesy of Desireé Humphries

Shows such as “Rap Unzel” provided Humphries with an opportunity to craft costumes for Black children in theater. The play, written by Jeremy Rashad Brown and Deanna Belardinelli, reimagined the fairy-tale princess Rapunzel as a Black boy who embraces his natural hair and true identity. 

“It was a blast to do little things like take an African print, put puff paint on it, and make these little designs pop out and look like a pic, comb and an afro,” Humphries says. 

Inclusion and diversity are guiding intentions for her as she advances in her career. Humphries says she is considering attending graduate school for costuming or illustration and animation — both could provide an opportunity to continue storytelling, as well as to design for film and television. 

The middle school girl who obsessively drew Satine’s red dress would be amazed to know that the adult version of herself is doing exactly what she dreamt of, she says.

“I feel very lucky to be able to think back on that little girl,” Humphries says. “If she was in front of me, she’d probably be really proud.”

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A tailor pins tracing patterns to an idea board.