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Worker Bee: meet Ludmila Krzak, the Costume Hire Manager at Royal Exchange Theatre


Warsaw-born Ludmila Krzak studied archaeology before coming to Manchester over fourteen years ago to take an English Language course. Whilst on the course she met her now husband and never left. With her interest in historical textiles and jewellery, she took a further degree in Fashion Design here and was sent to The Royal Exchange on a work placement where she discovered her love for theatre and costume.  She started out making costumes before being promoted to her current role of costume hire manager where she manages a team of over thirty enthusiastic and experienced volunteers.

As a busy producing theatre, the team is highly skilled in producing costumes and accessories with historically referenced attention to detail. They create a huge range of hand-made, beautifully crafted clothing, jewellery, hats and shoes. At the end of each production, many of these unique pieces find their way to what has to be one of the most exciting and competitively priced wardrobes in the city for costume hire, generating further income for the theatre.  They are available to individuals, amateur dramatic groups and businesses for musicals, pantomimes, TV, film, and photo shoots.

Maintenance plays a huge part in the role of the department as each item must be painstakingly cleaned, altered and re-fitted for each hire.

Based in the Northern Quarter, Ludmila and her team work on an appointment basis, often six days per week, with Halloween and Christmas their busiest periods.

What got you started in your field of work?

Originally studying archaeology in Warsaw, I always had an interest in history, and especially costume, buckles, accessories, that type of thing. When I started my fashion course in Manchester and came here to The Royal Exchange for work experience, both my studies in archaeology and fashion seemed to come together. I never wanted to leave. I’ve been their costume hire manager for nearly nine years now.

Who have been the biggest influences on your work? 

Growing up, we had a famous actress in our family – my aunt Iza Teller (best known for her roles in The Devils, Billion Dollar Brain, The Good Shoe Maker and the Poor Fish Peddler.) She lived in the UK and we would always hear about her. There was an air of mystery in what she did. We would watch her movies in awe. I always wanted to meet her and when I came here I went to visit her in London. She definitely inspired my imagination.

What is your proudest achievement so far?

Whenever I see anything on television that we have provided costumes for I feel so proud – adverts, panto on CBBC on Christmas Day and recently Peaky Blinders. A lot of detail went into that.  And a couple of years back we provided costumes representing the last two hundred years for a law firm celebrating their 200th anniversary. The event was at Manchester Art Gallery and it was a very big job that we put in a lot of time over. Seeing the whole collection on display there made me very proud of the whole team here.

What does your typical day involve?

Expect the unexpected. I never know who I will meet each day or what they might ask for. We start at 10am most days and take appointments until 4pm. But I’m normally here until about 6pm, dealing with admin and emails. It’s exciting and varied with different challenges and very specific requirements for each client. There are a lot of alterations need doing after most fittings as everyone is a different shape and size and we are especially busy at this time of year. It’s amazing to be part of.

And how do you relax on your days off?

We have an allotment but what we grow depends very much on the weather here. I enjoy going to exhibitions. The recent Vogue Exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery was fantastic. And I like eating out, especially Alberts Schloss who are clients of ours. I also love to travel – short trips to Europe when I can.

What is the best advice you have been given or can give?

To follow your dreams and be determined. That’s it.

If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?

In the past I was going to be an archaeologist but that didn’t work out as I definitely wouldn’t want to be doing that in the weather here. It would have to be another costume-related job as I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else.

Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear

A couple of years ago I did the Manchester Swim at Salford Quays. Anyone that knows me was surprised as I’m not very sporty, but I do have extremely strong arms from all the costume lifting!

Red or Blue?

Blue. I live near the new stadium and I like how the owners have made great improvements to the club over the past few years. When I had cousins over from Poland I took them to both though as I love the atmosphere they both create in Manchester.

Name your three favourite places in Manchester 

Royal Exchange Theatre obviously. I love the building with the most fantastic architecture and how it has been maintained. I like The Northern Quarter as it’s an arty part of the city, vibrant and colourful with great cafes and charity shops. And I think The Wharf in Castlefield is the best quintessentially English pub. I love to walk there. The location and views are stunning, plus good food and drink. I always take my family when they visit.

If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be? 

I would like Manchester to be much cleaner – not just the city centre but outside too where I live. Considering what we pay in council tax, the council needs to be doing much more. I don’t think it is really that clean at all.

And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?

I love the fact Manchester was an industrial city, all the history here. And that it’s a big city that is always changing and expanding. It’s my home now and I feel more Mancunian than Polish.

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