Costume designer Matt Van Dyne remembers Wetzel County roots
PINE GROVE, W.Va. — Despite years of designing clothing for the Hollywood elite, Matt Van Dyne is adamant: he never has forgotten his roots, and he never will.
Van Dyne will return to his native Pine Grove in Wetzel County for Saturday’s Shortline Alumni banquet. He will serve as this year’s Honored Alumnus.
Van Dyne, a member of Valley High School’s Class of 1975, was bestowed the title of Honored Alumnus a little less than a year ago, just after the 2017 alumni festivities.
“I was really honored,” Van Dyne stated of the request.
Van Dyne has designed costumes and served as wardrobe and costume supervisor for a variety of Hollywood works, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, E! Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, CBS, ABC Television Network, CBS Sports, Miss Universe Pageant, Murphy Brown, Dreamworks, Ford Models Supermodel of the World, The Merv Griffin Show, Jeopardy, Entertainment Tonight, The Shield TV, and NBC Universal.
Growing up in rural Pine Grove, W.Va., he would sit in class and sketch. “I made really good grades,” he was quick to point out. However, he noted, “On the side, I’d be designing something or just creating something.”
Van Dyne realized he had discovered his dream after seeing a production of Godspell in Wheeling.
“I remember riding home on the bus that night, back to Pine Grove, and I think I said to my friend Sheila, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to be a part of that world.'” Van Dyne attended West Virginia University. He had plans to be an Art major, “but then there was something about a class at the wrong time of day on a Friday…”
“I kind of spent the first semester in General Studies, and I was miserable,” Van Dyne said. Although he knew he wanted to be in Theater, he was afraid to speak up. It was not until his mother’s encouragement that Van Dyne officially decided to pursue Theater. He spoke to an adviser, who assured Van Dyne he would find him a spot in the program.
However, once in Theater, “I was a fish out of water. I didn’t start the first semester with those people, and they had already bonded.” However, “I continued through it, and I got my degree.’
From there, Van Dyne wanted something more. At that point, he met Albert Tucci. Tucci was ahead of the costume department.
Van Dyne approached Tucci with some of his sketches. Tucci’s reaction? “He said, ‘Well, why don’t I know about you?'”
“I started studying with him, and he is the person I would say was the most influential. He changed my life. He was so hard on me. Nothing I did was ever good enough, but it was a good thing! He was wanting more from me,” Van Dyne said.
Van Dyne said he designed a couple of productions while at WVU, which he received positive feedback for.
Tucci’s goal was for Van Dyne to be able to present his portfolio to anybody, “and get a job.”
Van Dyne chose to head to Los Angeles. He said he had always thought he would move to New York or Los Angeles, and since the recent winters had been so cold, he decided to pursue Los Angeles.
He used a connection from a student, who had given him the name of the head of Art and Advertising at Columbia Pictures. From that point, one connection — along with will and perseverance — led to another connection. Van Dyne’s biggest break, after a period out of work, was Entertainment Tonight.
Van Dyne had first found out the coveted position on the program was filled; however, that didn’t stop him. He called the associate producer of the show, who invited Van Dyne to show his portfolio. After seeing Van Dyne’s work, the producer noted “I did hire someone else, but I like your work better.” The work was only supposed to be temporary, but Van Dyne ended up staying for 10 years.
“Right before I left West Virginia, I watched Entertainment Tonight and thought, ‘This is new. This is different.'” Van Dyne reflected that 14 months later, he was working on the show as Costume Supervisor.
“From Entertainment Tonight I got other jobs,” he noted. This included the Merv Griffin show.
“I got to meet all these people that came through his show — actors and writers and politicians.” Van Dyne recollected one experience when he accidentally burned Gloria Steinem’s skirt. However, “She couldn’t have been sweeter!”
Other folks who stick out in his mind as being the kindest are Patty LaBelle and Placido Domingo.
Out of these experiences, opportunities grew. He worked with Pat Sajak on his television show in the late ’80s, and he also dressed sportscasters for the 1992 Winter Olympics. Of the latter, he went to New York City to pick out clothing and make wardrobe deals for the sportscasters.
“We had really high-end designers,” he noted. Other work included One on One with John Tesh, followed by Cheers, Murphy Brown, Passions, and The Shield — among other television shows.
During this time, Van Dyne heard about a new network called the WB, which would feature a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As odd as that may have sounded at the time, Van Dyne perhaps found his biggest work on the show. In its final season, Van Dyne worked as Costume Designer.
“That seems to live on and on,” Van Dyne said of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“I’m thrilled,” he said of its success.
“It is big in Europe, and kids over there have found me on Facebook. I designed a jacket for the finale that Sarah Michelle Gellar wore, and that seems to be the big, big thing to a lot of these fans.”
Van Dyne has been invited to speak as a celebrity guest at a Buffy Fan Meet in Paris this November. “I’m very honored to be included and grateful for their interest!” he stated.
“It’s just been kind of a crazy ride,” Van Dyne said of his work which has given him the opportunity to meet A-list stars such as Tom Cruise, George Clooney, and the now-late Whitney Houston.
“All of those people were still in the industry, and to me, they were icons that made me want to be in the business.”
“I always say if you can visualize it, I believe you can manifest it. I believe I lived a lot, not out of unhappiness… but I lived a lot in my imagination. You couldn’t make it real, so I did… You know, I haven’t done everything I want to do, but I’ve done enough. It brings me satisfaction being able to do what I’ve done. I’m grateful, so grateful to so many people.”
Currently, Van Dyne is working on some on-camera projects as an interviewer. Those projects are not yet made public.
Besides to keep trying, Van Dyne encourages authenticity.
“Be authentic. Just be yourself. There’s only one of you out there. Be yourself and be honest.”
“It’s been my experience that people want to help you then. They want to help you succeed.”