MIKAEL SHARAFYAN is one of the most decorated and awarded costume designers in Hollywood.
He has charted an amazing career path, that in a short time, has put him in white-hot demand!
I met Mikael several years ago when he was first starting out. Young, passionate and hungry. Today, he is still ever so youthful, passionate about his work, and hungry as ever to showcase his designs to the world. He resides in Glendale, which he believes is the “center of all-things in L.A.!”
Mikael graduated from the prestigious FIDM Los Angeles Academy with two degrees. One in Fashion Design and the other in Theatre Costume Design. His debut show was in 2008. In 2011 he was the recipient of the coveted Best Costume Designer in Hollywood by the Cinema Festival of Hollywood. In 2016, he was voted TOP 8 Costume Designers of the World by the website TOP Teny.
Mikael began as a painter and sculptor in his teenage years. As a teen, he was awarded a gold medal from the country of Egypt for one of his paintings, which was followed by a Congressional Arts Award.
We sat down together at the very high profile and exclusive Palihouse in West Hollywood (www.palihousewesthollywood.com). Palihouse is located on Holloway between Santa Monica Blvd. and La Cienega Blvd.
Waide Riddle– What sparked your interest to come to Hollywood?
Mikael Sharafyan– Waide, that’s a very good question… in a way… it all started in my childhood… because I’ve always been passionate about movies. Theatre. Because of my background, my parents… my father’s an actor… my mother is a ballet pianist accompanist. So, my childhood was spent in the back stages of opera and ballet and live theatre and the dramatic theatre where my dad used to act. So, the first things I remember as a child were the rehearsals. So, it was normal to me. Never not normal. The plays, the performances, the ballets were so inspiring to me that I was sketching and creating those characters. And the reason why I moved to Los Angeles-Hollywood, it’s very funny, it’s very simple. We won a green card. We won it through a lottery. It happens every year… The government… Trump wants to stop the lottery system. He claims that only married people are allowed to come to this country through green card-lottery. We were married, but the things he’s asking is you have to bring lots of money. And, we’re just Artists, you now. Artists do not have that kind of money. So, it’s a really important thing to mention… so, my parents chose Los Angeles because they’d been here previously with their theatrical troops touring, but they were not planning to stay permanently because legally they couldn’t. I was back home in Armenia, they weren’t planning on leaving me… again, a year later, my dad applied for the lottery and he won again. We moved here… and not only because of the movie industry here, but for the Armenian community.
But, to me, I only have one connection to Los Angeles and that’s Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe is my weakness. When I found out we were going to Los Angeles, it was a dream come true for me. I didn’t want to go anywhere else in the world, but Los Angeles. Birthplace of Marilyn Monroe. And, I discovered when we moved to Los Angeles, all I wanted to do was see the places that connected to Marilyn Monroe. With that, I discovered the city Los Angeles and I know it very well. Inside out, with all its history. Landmarks… that’s how I discovered Los Angeles through Marilyn’s eyes. Marilyn Monroe in many ways has been “my teacher.” It’s fascinating how she became a life-changing person in my life. She inspired me to become a Costume Designer. Because of the iconic dresses she wore. Through her I discovered George Gershwin. I discovered Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald… the classics… the legends… the whole United States because of Marilyn. I’ve traveled the world and my favorite city in the world is Los Angeles. Even Europe… but, here in Los Angeles, I call it the most undiscovered city in the world. And now, currently, L.A. is having a renaissance… it’s the rebirth of Los Angeles… This is a life-changing time here… Waide, seriously… this has not happened since the 1940s… it’s been rather a dead period for Los Angeles. We live in a very beautiful time here. You can wear anything here and no one will judge you. Anything. You don’t even have to follow a fashion, because you’re the fashion. You’re the trend setter. We live in the most unique time period ever in history. For thousands of years we’ve never experienced something like this. So, this is really a great time period. It’s going to be very difficult to define this time period in the future. How are you going to explain it? For instance, the nineteen twenties through seventies were very distinctive.
Los Angeles is developing. We’re going to compete very soon with New York, Chicago… San Francisco is already behind us. Let’s not forget who lived in Los Angeles, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, George Gershwin… Charlie Chaplin lived here for most of his life… Placido Domingo could have chosen any city, but he chose Los Angeles to be the Executive Director of Los Angeles Opera.
Waide, we are the true Dreamers here, and the Dream Makers!
Waide– … What are you currently work on? Developing?
Mikael– In developing, I’m working on a World War Two film called “Dirty Bomb.” Directed by Valerie McCaffrey. At the same time, I’m collaborating with Buzzfeed on some of my shorts. It’s always fun. There’s something always happening with my career. Back-to-back projects. I’m very active with Costume Designers Guild. I just started with the film series, CDG Movie Nights. The inaugural night we screened “An American In Paris.” We were lucky enough to have Patricia Ward Kelly, the widow of Gene Kelly, as our guest to present the film. And this is held at the Guild and currently open to the members. The next screening will be “All That Jazz,” honoring Albert Wolsey.
Waide– What would you like people to know about your career?
Mikael– Sculpting in a different medium. I call myself a sculptor. A painter. Costume Design is not about clothes, it’s about characters. There’s a huge misconception about this profession. Costume Design-Designers. We’re not Fashion Designers… We’re Costume Designers. We help directors bring those characters to life. We help them envision. At the same time we are collaborating with the actors. We envision with them. It’s character development. Detailed oriented. You are a psychiatrist at the same time you’re a Costume Designer. You work with actors discovering new things about life through this profession. It’s such a beautiful profession. For instance, actors come for a fitting for the first time, and they come in their t-shirt, jeans, sweats… and then, I’ll put an 18th century costume on them, and all of a sudden, the way they walk and talk. They become the stage. They love themselves. They observe themselves in the mirror and become the character. It’s fascinating to see how the actors work with the costume. The costume helps the actor get into character. It’s a very intimate and personal job. I think the closest profession next to Costume Design is Couture. As a Couturier, you create the dress, the elegant gown. She’s going to the opera, what kind of dress is she going to wear? You work with your client to achieve that. Make a statement… red-carpet… Oscar… Not all characters are red-carpet. I have to do homeless. Drug addicts. Young teenagers. Intensive research. I think research is one of the most exciting things about my profession. Read books. Find little details about why they were wearing what they were in the time period. I look at the authenticity of the character. How real and not staged. And, one of my latest feature films that will be released is “And Then There Was Eve”… I’m really excited about this project. It’s a very stylized and psychological film. I did my best and I’m very happy with all the pieces on my actors. I slap did “Diverted Eden.” An action-thriller… contemporary. I’m only 31 and I’ve done close to forty movies. I’ve done just about every genre.
Waide– Now, we get to the fun questions!! What are your favorite films that have impacted you?
Mikael– Ohhh… there are tons of films… films about films about filmmaking… they’re always exciting… “Cinema Paradiso,” “Some Like It Hot” it’s a masterpiece… of course, Marilyn Monroe is connected to it. I love “8 1/2” Federico Fellini. Anything Fellini I love. Fellini is the most inspiring. I love New Wave Cinema… Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Demy, Billy Wilder, William Wyler… and, I have to mention Stanley Kubrick.
Waide– What’s your favorite book?
Mikael– Ohhh… I’m obsessed with books… where to begin? “The Fairy Tales of Grimm’s Brothers,” “Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales” … Charles Perrault… “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty.” Every time I visit those books, I see things with a different eye. With each year, you revisit, you get a different meaning with these fairy tales. How dark and realistic and unrealistic they are. Three of my all-time favorite writers that I’m obsessed with are William Shakespeare, Lord Byron and Alexander Pushkin. I’m not just in love with these writers, I’m obsessed with them. Their literature and lives. I’m obsessed with the composer Giuseppe Verdi…
Waide– When you’re in the car and by yourself, what is your Happy Place song?
Mikael– Wow… that’s a really good fun question actually… there’s one particular composition that takes me away… it’s by Pietro Mascagni … the “Cavalleria Rusticana”… It takes me away… You’re in Heaven… I feel safe… I feel happy…
Waide– … that’s what I wanted to know… Thank you, Mikael. You have been wonderful to chat with and you’ve given me much food for thought.
To contact Mikael Sharafyan, find him on Facebook and Costume Design by Mikael Sharafyan.
Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.