Interview with Costume Designer Brian Parsley

Note: Project: Rooftop was founded by two guys who shared a mutual appreciation of super-hero costumes, and one aspects that’s received great attention in the past decade is the realism that’s brought to the designs. While comic artists’ primary goal is making something iconic and memorable, they may not be concerned with how it works in the real world. Luckily for me, I happen to know someone who deals with that on a daily basis: Brian Parsley. Parsley is a full-time costume designer who is a staple of comic conventions in the Southeastern United States for the costumes he wears and the the cosplayers who wear his creations. A former newspaper page editor, turned his passion from a hobby to a full-time job last year.  If you want to commission him to create a costume for you, you can either email or message him on Facebook. Now on to the interview! – Chris A.

Chris Arrant: Is it correct that you do costume full-time now?

Brian Parsley: That is correct.

Chris Arrant: Can you describe the kind of service you provide for people, and what the big demands are?

Brian Parsley: I do my best to make quality costumes for just about any occasion anyone can think of. Generally speaking, my usual clients are comics/sci-fi convention attendees, but I have done just about everything from wedding dresses to Rocky Horror Picture Show gear.

Chris Arrant: How many superhero costumes do you think you’ve created?

Brian Parsley: I had a list going on the League of Heroes message board a while back, and I think I managed to do at least one costume for every letter of the alphabet, some letters many times over. I don’t think it would be overstating to say possibly close to 200 costumes. But definitely over 100. Mind you, a good many of those are repeats. I have probably produced a dozen Superman outfits, just for example. People love their Superman! It’s the cape, I think. [laughs]

Chris Arrant: For those Superman outfits, do they request a particular version? What seems to be the most popular Superman version?

Brian Parsley: Everyone loves the Reeve version. Most that I have made are exactly that. But every now and again I’m asked to make a variation.

Chris Arrant: Have you had anybody request these new DC New 52 designs, or have you thought about making some of them yourself?

Brian Parsley: Yes, in fact I am working on some now to be debuted at MegaCon in February. I just completed the new Superman, and I’m working on Supergirl. I have also been asked to make a bodysuit for the new Batman, which I am still trying to figure out because the lines on it are supposed to be recessed, or so I have been told.

Chris Arrant: Which costume creations have been the most rewarding, and why?

Brian Parsley: It’s difficult to say one is more rewarding than another, simply because so many of the people I have made costumes for have been so gracious and enjoyable to work with. What really makes this worthwhile for me is starting out with a client and ending up with a friend.

Chris Arrant: Why are you so enamored by super-hero costumes and outfits?

Brian Parsley: Super-heroes go way back for me. They have always been part of my life. The first costume I ever attempted to make was Robin when I was 9, and it turned out terrible, of course! But my mom took pity on me and made me a better one. The first one I made as an adult was Green Lantern, way back in 1988, and I just never stopped. I did branch out a little and dabble in other genres, but super-heroes have always been my mainstay. There is a simplicity to it that is undeniable; the designs are usually straightforward, feature a limited amount of colors and textures, and to be honest, it is much easier to fit a spandex suit to someone who is 300 miles away than it is to fit a tailored suit of non-stretchy fabrics. Easier for me, anyway.

Chris Arrant: Do you have a favorite costume designer in comic artists you’re particular drawn to?

Brian Parsley: I really love Alex Ross’ work, Almost everything he does is photo-realistic, so you see seams, creases, wrinkles, textures … everything a costumer wants to see to help determine what materials should be used and how they should be put together. With most comic artists, figuring out the mechanics of it all is a crap shoot, and you kind of have to just pick one picture and concept and decide for yourself what is going to make it work the best in textiles. Alex just makes it easier for me.

Chris Arrant: When it comes to super-hero costume design, what are the little things that matter most to you?

Brian Parsley: Usually it is just the finishing touches; making sure seams are properly finished, snaps fasten properly, and that costume parts are comfortable and easy to wear, and don’t require a lot of repositioning or adjustment. A lot of that comes from con experience in my own costumes. I know if I wouldn’t want a cape to shift on my shoulders while I’m walking or posing for a photo, a client probably won’t want that either. I also would not want seams splitting, paint cracking, items falling off, you name it. So I really try to focus on the wearability of what I’m making because people aren’t buying these costumes just to wear in their house or hang on a display rack. Outside of that, I ask my clients to describe what they want and what they expect in a particular costume with as much detail as possible, because sometimes it is just one little thing that will make the difference for them in regard to them loving the costume or just kind of liking it.

Chris Arrant: Design-wise, what are your favorite superhero costumes?

Brian Parsley: I have always loved the Aquaman suit. Something about orange and green together. One costume I made for myself that I like a lot is the Black Terror, which is a fairly simple design, but it’s the combination of black against the red lining of the cape with flashes of gold accent that comes off very stylish, in my opinion. And black is slimming, of course. [laughs]

21 comments to “Interview with Costume Designer Brian Parsley”
  1. Great article. I like the diversity of P:R postings- top class. As for the costumes- they look FANTASTIC. I have to say my favorite of these pictures is the Black Terror. I’m not particularly drawn to cosplay, but I can totally respect a professional craftsman’s work when I see it. The choices you’ve made on these outfits, from cut and material to accessories are exceptional. Great great stuff Mr. Parsley!

  2. I love Brian’s work! He’s one of the superhero costume gurus I used to take notes from on the League of Heroes site when making my own costumes. Great little interview.

  3. For the New 52 Batman costume, what if you cut the fabric so that it would overlap at the recessing areas, then fold the flaps back and stitch them so that there is a recession?

  4. These are amazing costumes and, I gotta agree, the Black Terror costume is absolutely top notch. Outstanding work, Brian. =D

    Mr. Q

  5. I’ve been dabbling with Costuming. These are fantastic, the Namor and Black Terror really pop. I’d give higher points to the Deathstroke costume, but the giant sequins is a little off-putting for me. I understand why it’s not actual mail-armor, and it does look good on the cosplayer, I just don’t think I’d be comfortable walking around in it.

    Great stuff though.

  6. @Freelancer I’m fairly certain he does original work as well. Though honestly, taking a costume design from the page and making a pattern from it that works in the real world is quite difficult.

  7. @WhitneyD: I won’t argue with the latter point. However: no matter how difficult, it’s still not DESIGN. It’s craftsmanship. Solidly done, but a different thing. Just as what he’s doing is no refrigerator.
    As for the question whether he’s doing his own original designs as well: nothing about it in the interview, no picture shown. So I’m going with what I can see.

    Hence my question.

  8. The design involved in making an actual, 3-dimensional costume based on comic art (as distinct from concept art or an illustration intended for the purpose) seems fairly self-evident to me.

  9. Freelancer: Frankly, I agree with you. Just to clarify, I did not and do not call myself a “designer.” That was the writer’s word choice. I am a costume maker.

  10. Brian’s costumes are unsurpassed , the quality and workmanship is equal to none. The man is a Magician with a sewing Machine!!

  11. Just want to take this opportunity to thank Chris Arrant and Project: Rooftop for this great honor, and send a shout out and love to my cosplay friends and family for all of your support. :)

  12. Congratulations on the much deserved interview.
    Whether you’re using an old tried and true method for creating something, or “designing” a new way to take a 2 dimensional costume into a 3D world, you are tops in my book.

  13. Just to clarify one thing again: I commend you, Brian, for your excellent work here! It was the choice of words that had me puzzled. I am duly impressed by your openness on the topic. Great spirit here!

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