Programme: 'Performance Costume', Design and Applied Arts

Year: 2005

Robbins graduated from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in 2005 with a first class honours degree in 'Performance Costume', Design and Applied Arts.

Anna is now a successful costume designer and has worked on numerous productions, including Sunshine On Leith, The Bletchley Circle, Cuckoo, and Downton Abbey.

Tell us a little about yourself

I previously read law at University of Edinburgh, but knew throughout the latter part of my degree that I wanted to pursue a more creative career.

I started at ECA the year after I graduated from studying Law. When I graduated in 2005 I went straight into the professional industry. I have since worked with various costume departments across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Why ECA?

I chose ECA because of its reputation and its strong commitment to fine art. My love of Edinburgh as a city was another big reason.

I only discovered my passion for costume design during my first year at ECA, after having taken modules in various disciplines. It was a bit of a light bulb moment when I realised that there was a potential career path here for me that fulfilled my creative and artistic interests, alongside my interests in history, literature and a more academic approach to research.

What did you most enjoy about ECA?

It’s an amazing hub of creativity across so many disciplines, and it never failed to inspire me during my four years there. The varied presentation of individuals’ work on display around the buildings was a constant source of new ideas.

"Enjoy the experience. Never again will you have the chance to indulge in your creativity so exclusively."

Anna Robbins, 2005 Performance Costume - BA (Hons)

How did ECA set you up for what you do today?

The structure and focus of the Performance Costume programme, from design through to costume construction, equipped me with a broad range of skills and prepared me well for the industry.

I also took every opportunity that presented itself during my time at ECA to gain as much extra-curricular experience as I could. During the summer between third and fourth year I travelled to a Greek island to costume a low-budget adaptation of Twelfth Night. It cost me all the money I had to be able to go, but it also kick-started the research for my final project and I was able to start my dissertation on the white sands of a Mediterranean beach!

I constantly refer back to the skills I learned during my time at ECA, and I value the foundations that were laid so well there. I also work regularly with other graduates who have gone on to specialise in other areas within costume. I gained some brilliant contacts during my time studying in Edinburgh.

What are the most interesting projects you’ve worked on as a costume designer?

I am fortunate that I have always worked on productions that have been interesting to me. This always begins with a script that I see as having the potential to become a beautiful production. I am driven by quality productions that have something visual to say.

I enjoyed the stripped-back simplicity of costuming the unusual but visually arresting drama Murder: Joint Enterprise. But the pinnacle of my career so far, for its sheer scale and audience numbers, as well as the era of the costumes, has to be Downton Abbey. I have been given a real freedom to create, and it’s been a costume designer's dream job.

Still from "Tumult" (2012) Image courtesy of Anna Robbins
Still from "Tumult" (2012) - Image courtesy of Anna Robbins
"The Bletchley Circle" cast Image courtesy of Anna Robbins
"The Bletchley Circle" cast - Image courtesy of Anna Robbins

Do you have any advice for those studying at ECA?

Enjoy the experience. Never again will you have the chance to indulge in your creativity so exclusively. There aren’t the same hurdles that get in your way when you’re working - writers, directors, producers, production designers, actors, budgets etc. You are a one-person production for your own imagination during your studies.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking about working in costume design?

Take the creativity and passion you develop and nurture at university and maintain the work ethic and stamina that you build there. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a demanding industry! Working in film and television tests you emotionally, physically, psychologically, but if you've got what it takes, it's a career like nothing else out there.

Are you interested in studying Performance Costume - BA (Hons) at Edinburgh College of Art?