This is me: Rosa Dias' otherworldly costumes transcend everyday conformity

Dias recently worked on O2's England Rugby campaign.

This is me: Rosa Dias' otherworldly costumes transcend everyday conformity

I often stand on a train platform and watch people as they pass by on their commute. Every day, I look at all the businessmen and businesswomen and think, "I bet you always wanted to be a ballet dancer", and imagine them in a leotard and pointe shoes.

Even as a child I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was obsessed with London culture. I used to devour The Face and iD, and I remember thinking "these people are crazy, I’ve got to go there", but coming from a very strict Portuguese background, my parents didn’t want me to study far from home in South Africa. Unfortunately, our nearest university didn’t have a fashion design course, so I studied graphic design instead.

Once I moved to London, my career started in film, where I made these very kitsch, very ornate props for Julian Clary [Carry on Columbus, Dick Whittington]. I worked insanely hard, but I loved every minute of it because I was just so happy to be here. 

It took a good five years before I actually started working in costume. I remember having this big book filled with production company names and numbers, and every now and then I’d call up hoping to talk to a producer. Of course, they were all conveniently "busy", so I would write a note in my book to call back a few weeks later and sound more confident on the phone. 

All I was trying to do was actually meet these producers so they could have me at the back of their mind or maybe see something in me, and that’s kind of how it went. Initially, it was me calling producers but eventually they started calling me.

Now I’ve been freelancing for 27 years and it never gets easy. I don’t want to sound like a hippy but you have to trust in the bigger picture and have faith that the universe will provide.

My biggest passion is creating shapes and cuts that are uniquely quirky and beautiful. I think it’s wonderful. I love things that are otherworldly, and so quite a few directors know to use me for unique projects. 

For example, with Sex Education we were trying to create a world that was timeless – a non-specific place in a non-specific time. I wanted people to get a sense of nostalgia, which is difficult because "nostalgia" is such a big word. It’s creating something that people can relate to, and that’s an interesting concept in itself, whereas creating samurai costumes for O2’s Rugby World Cup campaign was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We tried to work as close to the traditional costumes as possible, but the final versions used in the ad do have an element of modernism to them. Each costume needed to reflect England’s rugby kit, so we dyed them white and embossed an English rose onto the chest, which eventually became part of the story as well.

We had to design everything from scratch, and that’s the only sad thing about ads – we put so much detail into everything, and viewers don’t get to see all the little things we spent hours making. But if these details weren’t there, I really believe they would be missed. 

The human race as a whole is so strange. Look down the train, and everybody is wearing grey, black or blue. There’s nothing wrong with those colours, but it’s this conformity and invisibility that everybody tries to achieve. It’s such a shame, such a wasted opportunity, because there are so many wonderful colours to explore and embrace.

The seriousness of clothing needs to go. We’re so conditioned in what we have to do and we get so caught up in the admin of life, and we get tighter and tighter and more repressed until we can’t even laugh. That is the saddest thing you see. Fashion is about looking at things differently and not conforming to any rules, but making it beautiful and fun.

Rosa Dias is a costume designer working across film, TV and advertising. With credits on Netflix’s Sex Education, The Inbetweeners Movie and the music video for Sir Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets, Dias recently designed the samurai costumes for O2’s Rugby World Cup campaign, "Be their armour"