Costume Designer Ruth Carter Makes Leading Ladies "Sparkle"

Whitney Houston's professionalism and confidence in Ruth Carter made the costume designer "walk three inches above ground." Their relationship began during production for "Sparkle," a Detroit-based film starring Whitney Houston, Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter, Derek Luke and Mike Epps, that chronicles three sisters and the challenges they face as their rising Motown stardom begins to tear their family apart. "[It] started with me being excited about meeting her and dressing her," Carter says, "and it quickly transformed into a mutual respect. I would put the garments in her room and she would try them on and run straight to me -- not to the mirror -- and wait for my approval. You couldn't ask for more."




But lest you get the idea that it's her way or the highway, the veteran wardrobe designer, who has worked on many films including "Five Heartbeats," "Malcom X," "Do The Right Thing," and "Love and Basketball," is a true collaborator. "We create the arcs and it's motivated by the story," she explains of forming a character's wardrobe. "I really want to help facilitate this actor visually tell their story." It was the relationships between the women in "Sparkle" that made Carter fall in love with the script. And it didn't hurt that it was set in a bombastic era for fashion: "The greatest thing about "Sparkle" was that the era changed from the early 1950's to the late 1960's, which was a very exciting time for fashion. Fashion was booming in innovation, the mini skirt came into fashion, and people were making dresses out of paper and metal and there was even a dress made out of checkers!"

It wasn't all vintage on set, however. Jordin Sparks (who plays Sparkle), "had a lot of costume changes, and during the time where we were creating her look for "Sparkle," a lot was in the fashion magazines of today that was retro '60s, so I had more than just the vintage costumes or clothing to select from," Carter explains. "I also had pencil skirts from J. Crew."

Carter was "very affected" by the news of Whitney's passing, and looks back fondly on the days she would arrive to set and the way she presented herself, and she would reciprocate the confidence Whitney instilled in her. "She had a great little body," Carter recalls. "She was an older woman -- and a mother…I used to tell her, you've got to stand tall. Stand tall! And when I would see her in her own clothes she was always fashionable, tasteful, and comfortable."

Ruth Carter shared some parting words of wisdom:  "If you really want to be true to yourself, don't try to emulate anyone else. Buy what makes you feel comfortable and represents you from the inside out, and when you put it on, feel confident. You can own it, as they say." She goes on to add, "I think when you wear clothes that make you fit in -- a trend -- sometimes thats fine, too, but you always have to put a spin on it and make it yours. Think of what speaks to your personality and what you would like to present to the world."

"Sparkle," featuring original music written by R. Kelly, opens in theaters nationwide on August 17th.

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