Slaying It

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 for the Sept. 15 Shortline Alumni banquet where 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. He said he previously thought maybe organizers just weren’t interested in his work. However, he noted, many folks perhaps didn’t realize just what he did for a living until it was revealed through social media.

Van Dyne’s resume is quite extensive. He has designed costumes and served as wardrobe and costume supervisor for a variety of recognizable 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” and NBCUniversal.

Van Dyne’s own story could be the substance of a Hollywood film. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s in rural Pine Grove — population 630 in the 1970 census ­– 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.'”

Despite the “Godspell” epiphany, Van Dyne seemed to struggle during his collegiate beginnings. He had known he wanted to study the arts; however, he was unsure of which specific direction to take. He had studied piano prior to college and for a while thought he would be a piano major. However, “I don’t think I was good, to be honest, not at that caliber,” he said.

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, head of the WVU costume department. Van Dyne approached Tucci with some of his sketches. Tucci’s reaction?

“He said, ‘Well, why don’t I know about you?'”

Though Van Dyne expressed a desire to work with Tucci, the department head noted the graduate assistantships were full.

Van Dyne responded with an ultimatum of sorts, telling Tucci he couldn’t study with him if he didn’t have the graduate assistantship. In response, Tucci gave an ultimatum of his own: Van Dyne would have to stay with Tucci over that summer, to be ready by fall.

“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 he designed a couple of productions while at WVU, for which he received positive feedback. He noted he designed costumes for a production called “Land of the Dragon,” and he chose bright colors for the costumes to appeal to the intended audience of children. Van Dyne noted children were bussed to Morgantown from around the state to watch the production.

Tucci’s goal was for Van Dyne to be able to present his portfolio to anybody, “and get a job.”

Van Dyne then 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. “It was as simple as that,” he said.

Van Dyne didn’t make it to Los Angeles as quickly as he hoped though.

“I had a bone tumor in my arm and couldn’t sketch. After I recovered and got the free and clear, I got in my car and came in L.A., with a few possessions.” Van Dyne didn’t really know anyone in Los Angeles. He also couldn’t find a place to live, because he couldn’t find a job. He then decided to use 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 perseverence, 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,” Van Dyne said. 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 stick out in his mind as being the kindest, such as Patti LaBelle and Placido Domingo.

“I have fond memories of meeting all these people.”

Out of these experiences, opportunities grew. He worked with Pat Sajak on his television show in the late 1980s, and he also dressed sportscasters for the 1992 Winter Olympics. For 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 big-league show such as “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 sostume designer.

“That seems to live on and on,” Van Dyne said of “Buffy.” “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 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 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.”

When it is suggested that Van Dyne has “willed” things into working out for him, he agreed.

“I do have a will that is strong.”

Van Dyne noted he has a friend who is going through a tough, bleak time. Van Dyne said he has said to her: “There are a million ways to win. You can just do it from a different angle.”

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.”

And Van Dyne never forgets home. He said he has met those who say they couldn’t wait to leave their hometowns, but “Honest to God, I never felt that way. I knew I had to leave to do what I wanted to do.”

Van Dyne also has found inspiration thanks to home.

“In elementary school I was always fascinated by the teacher decorating the bulletin board as the seasons change. Since then, I have been trying to decorate the bulletin board. I always want to make it look new and create. That’s been my thing. I’m decorating the bulletin board. That’s how I see it, and I get such joy out of it.”

Van Dyne is also touched by the inspiration people have gleaned from his creations.

“I always get that it uplifted people, and it’s something they would see visually, and it would resonate them. It enhanced their lives in some way.

“I love to celebrate other people and talk to them about what they do and what they’ve done and what they’ve brought to other people’s lives. I think that’s a lot of it, and it just uploads and uplifts, and I just think it makes the world a better place.”