Ngoye: From tailor to movie costume designer

Emmanuel Ngoye working at his tailor shop in the city center. He has designed costumes for some of the biggest movies shot in Rwanda. Emmanuel Kwizera.

When Emmanuel Ngoye was training to become a tailor, he did not know that a lot was awaiting him in the movie industry.

The 58-year-old stands out as one of the few Rwandans who have made a mark in the movie industry in costume designing, having worked on about ten movies including Hollywood films like ‘Sometimes in April’ and ‘Shooting Dogs’.

Like many Rwandans, he was born and raised in Burundi because of endless conflicts in the country at the time. He would later go to the Democratic Republic of Congo for his secondary school education.

Not being able to continue with school, he returned to Burundi, and concentrated on his passion, tailoring. He worked with about three tailoring companies in Burundi, where he was able to gather good experience, which would later turn out to be an asset in the movie industry.

By the time he returned to Rwanda in 1997, the Genocide against the Tutsi had just ended. And he says things were not going so well in the country at that time, yet he decided to continue working, tailoring in a city that was still recovering from the atrocious tragedy.

It was almost 8 years later that his journey in designing costumes for with movies began. He was attending to his tailor shop in Kigali in 2004 when an elderly French woman walked in and wanted her clothes done.

“I warmly received her, tailored some clothes for her. We got along since I could speak French. She told me that they were in Rwanda to do a movie. I got interested, asking myself, ‘Movies in Rwanda?’”

This lady turned out to be Paulo Mangenotte, the chief costume designer of “Sometimes in April”. She offered him a role on the costume designing team, where he was to tailor a couple of the designs that were worn in the movie.

She went ahead and proposed to him an acting role of an RPF soldier in the film which he gladly accepted.

For about one and a half months, Ngoye was busy with his new role, working but learning as well. The movie was completed, and the team returned to France.

However, this was not the end for Ngoye in his new found career.

More films were coming up at that time, many of them about the Genocide against the Tutsi. Having worked well on the “Sometimes in April” project, he ended up being recommended to work on “Shooting Dogs”, a movie that came up the following year. Still he was working as an assistant costume designer.

One of his great achievements in the industry came in 2006 when he worked as the chief costume designer for the first time. It was on “Kinyarwanda”, another film about the Genocide.

“I was happy because they had started to put confidence in us,” he says but adds that it was also a daunting task, since he had to research how people dressed in 1994.

He also had to go to different homes and look out for old clothes. Besides, the movie also required some actors to bring their own clothes, and this also was not simple. Despite this, they still managed to shoot the movie.

Ngoye has also worked on the costume designing teams of “Operation Turquoise”, “Zone Turquoise”, “Un Dimanche à Kigali” and “Ezra”, a movie from Sierra Leone, among others.

What does a costume designer do?

“Our department is responsible for dressing people according to the time in context,” he says. For him, it means more than just finding clothes for actors. A costume designe, needs to go out, research, and then dress the actors accordingly.

“You need to find out how mothers, children or fathers worethat time, so that you dress each character accordingly,” he says.

He adds that you need to pay attention to details like shoes, the size of the clothes, and even the colours.

While some costume designers learn the art from universities, Ngoye learned on the job but he confesses that it was not difficult since it is more or less like tailoring.

Meeting movie stars

He says he met many movie stars including British actor Idris Elba who was the lead actor in Sometimes in April.

“He is friendly and such a simple guy”.

“I even made some clothes for him, which were not to be used in movies. He likes linen. He paid me handsomely” Ngoye says with grin.

He says he learned a lot from costume designers like Paulo Mangenotte, who according to Ngoye, came to Rwanda after doing more than 50 movies.




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