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Renowned costume designer teaches Rutgers course, inspires students to work with new materials

Costume designer Mio Guberinic (left) has previously designed costumes for television shows and celebrities such as Katy Perry and Madonna. His designs mainly incorporate the thermoplastic Worbla, which has the ability to bend under heat.  – Photo by Jose Espaillat

During a five-week workshop, students at Rutgers had the opportunity to learn about wearable art under celebrity costume designer Mio Guberinic. 

The class, which consisted mainly of students looking to pursue careers as costume designers or technicians, introduced how to use the thermoplastic Worbla. Guberinic said Worbla was a material used mainly for the stage and not necessarily everyday wear. While it was used mainly by cosplayers for their costumes, the material also made its way to film and theater since it was a useful way to make armor and other plastic pieces.

The material works differently from fabric or other types of plastic because it becomes flexible when heated through either steam or hot water, so molds can easily be created. Guberinic said since Worbla worked fast, it was especially useful if a structure was needed quickly. 

“That’s one of the advantages of Worbla, that you can very quickly get to the finish point and very quickly assemble more elaborate structures. It helps you to figure out details around the piece you’re designing,” he said.

In the course, Guberinic taught the students all the different ways Worbla could be used by demonstrating how he was able to incorporate it into his work. One of the goals of his course was to expose students to new materials in their creations, he said.

His examples became a source of inspiration for the students’ own personal projects. After learning about the ways Guberinic used Worbla, the students would then sketch whatever they envisioned before making their ideas three-dimensional as well.

“My goal was to inspire them and push them as much as they can, and encourage them to push their vision as far as possible into reality,” he said.

Worbla was not the only material the students worked with. Guberinic said he also taught students how to combine the thermoplastic with wire, foam, fabric and studs to create their own unique wearable art design depending on their visions and goals. 

The students then utilized Worbla to make accessories such as hats and corsets, as well as more delicate pieces such as masks, he said. 

Although he had previously taught courses on his work, Guberinic said this was the first time he had ever taught an extended course as long as the one at Rutgers. 

”I enjoyed teaching it, the students are very talented … we made some pretty fun pieces,” he said.

Guberinic, who has previously designed costumes for celebrities such as Madonna and Katy Perry, said he knew from a young age that he wanted to be a costume designer. He was interested in “embellishing the human body,” but was not sure if he wanted to work in fashion or theater. 

His work ended up being somewhere in the middle of those two disciplines, as his designs tended to be more sculptural pieces that doubled as wearable art. He said he would often create pieces such as armor or headwear.

What he was not interested in pursuing though, was fast fashion. Guberinic said he did not want his pieces to be mass produced, but instead intended for them to be one-of-a-kind art pieces.

Eventually, since his pieces ranged over a wide variety of categories, he caught the attention of celebrity stylists and got involved with projects such as Madonna’s "Rebel Heart Tour" more than three years ago. For the tour, Guberinic designed the armor for both Madonna and her dancers. 

As for how he comes up with the designs for his work, he said the process was never the same each time. Taking in factors such as the timeline, budget and collaborators, Guberinic said the only similarity was that he always made sure each project had a purpose to in. He would also consider more technical aspects such as how long the piece would be on stage, how many times it would be worn, how heavy it needed to be and what the performer would be doing while wearing his piece. 

“There are so many things you need to answer … it’s not necessarily designing for the sake of beauty, but functionality is also a huge part of the development and creation,” he said.

The different requirements for each project were also one of the fun parts of his job, Guberinic said. With every project he is given, he tries to make it exciting and push the boundaries as far as he can. With the development of technology such as 3D printing and laser cutting, he is also constantly learning with the new set of challenges brought on.

Overall, his goal for the future is to not only create and design more pieces, but share the knowledge he acquired with younger designers. Teaching is also a learning experience for Guberinic, since he is able to observe how other people think about costume design and how they transform the material. 

“It’s rewarding in both ways. I definitely think I will be teaching again,” he said.

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