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Behind the mask

From creating costumes and props for Universal Studios to having his breathtaking designs grace epic famous stages across the world, Jozef has turned the skills he learned at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus into his dream career.

By TAFE Queensland

Jozef Koda was working as a barista to support his studies as an aspiring architect when a chance encounter changed his course. Now, after a dazzling decade-long career working around the globe with some of the most respected names in the entertainment industry, the talented costume designer couldn’t imagine his life any other way.

Raised in Morayfield before spending his senior years of high school on the Sunshine Coast, Jozef used his creativity as an outlet for self expression from an early age.

“I didn’t enjoy school, so I would come home in the afternoons and pour my energy into making things. I especially enjoyed making chainmail shirts from scratch, which might sound weird, but I found it super interesting and somewhat therapeutic,” Jozef said.

Heavily influenced by his mother’s artistic skills and the ingenuity of his carpenter father, Jozef possessed traits perfect for a career in costume design. But those same traits nearly led him down a very different career path, with Jozef initially choosing to study architecture at university – a choice he soon realised was not quite right for him.

Jozef was explaining how he’d lost his enthusiasm for his studies to his husband Chris at a café one afternoon, when a group of TAFE Queensland fashion students celebrating their graduation in the bar next door caught his attention. It was the inspiration he needed, and with Chris’s encouragement, he decided to enrol to study fashion design at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus.

“It was immediately hands on from the very first day, which is how I learn best, and the teachers were amazing and so supportive,” Jozef said.

“The highlight for me was the end of year graduation show – I loved that the whole process was akin to putting together a big production. It gave me my first insight into what it was going to be like working on any kind of live performance.”

Originally drawn to the incredible creativity of couture fashion, Jozef was put off by the limited demand for such garments in Australia, and instead decided to explore other options that would still allow him to explore his imagination.

“I began looking into wearable art as a way of expressing my creativity using the skills I’d been taught in my studies, which I entered into several local and state competitions," he said.

"It was through doing this that I won my first overlocker machine and that gave me the confidence to pursue a career as a costume designer.”

Setting his sights on one day working for the pinnacle of costume theatre, Cirque Du Soleil, Jozef set out to get his foot in the industry door. During his studies, he began working as a dresser at QPAC, where as a member of the local wardrobe team, he helped dress performers on a range of shows, including Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera. Upon graduating, he begged the touring costume team for extra work so he could gain experience, helping fix costumes and even repairing the curtains just to prove his enthusiasm.

As a result of his efforts, Jozef was offered a touring contract and he moved to Sydney to continue growing his skills. There, he worked every day for six months at the Opera Centre making costumes for productions like Madame Butterfly and Don Giovanni, before heading to the theatre at night to carry out his work as a dresser for theatrical stage productions like Wicked. It was hard work, but for Jozef, it was all worth it when he landed a job at Universal Studios in Singapore making costumes for their performers.

“I learned so much in that job and was able to create so many interesting pieces,” Jozef said.

“During my time there, I organically transferred from costume making to creating props and accessories as well, as there was a definite gap in the market for these types of skills.”

Three-and-a-half years later, Jozef’s work caught the eye of renowned theatre director and former Cirque Du Soleil creative director, Franco Dragone, who offered him a job as an assistant and accessories builder for Dragone’s Chinese production, Han Show. Jozef spent a year in Beijing working on the project alongside Academy Award winning costumer designer Tim Yip, who was responsible for the costumes and art direction of the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

From there, Jozef continued working for Dragone as Head of the Costume Props and Accessories Department at their costume shop in Belgium, where he created awe-inspiring pieces for productions right across the globe. From large-scale shows like Dai Show in China and LaPerle in Dubai, to smaller projects in Asia and Europe, Jozef’s work has graced some of the world’s most famous stages. He’s even created pieces for Russian pop star Philip Kirkorov’s performance inside the Kremlin.

“With Dragone, I got to work on some amazing projects and was able to travel to places I never dreamed I’d get to work or even visit when I was just a young man starting out in Australia,” Jozef said.

“Sitting in the audience at the Lido and seeing my pieces on stage in front of a full audience of Parisians was such an extraordinary and surreal experience. These are places that are so well-known to the world and suddenly I was there showing pieces I had made.”

Having received praise from Franco Dragone himself for having “golden hands”, Jozef decided to start his own business, establishing J1K Innovative Costume Technology in July 2019.

Though his business is based in Dubai, Jozef continues to travel the world in his quest to bring joy to others through his breath-taking and elaborate designs. In his current location of Hong Kong, he and his team are producing puppets and costumes for Kaisa Golden Bay Resort’s atmosphere shows and theme park attractions. They’ll then move on to Beijing, designing pieces for a new Universal Studios resort.

“Being in charge of my own team and my own projects means I can do things the way I like them to be done. I can give a client something that I am 100 per cent proud of, and during the process I have more creative freedom,” Jozef said.

“I really love being a part of the birth or creation of something – to see something I’ve designed and created evolve. It’s highly addictive and usually I don’t want to go home at the end of the day.”

Having come a long way from being that shy young man who didn’t know what to do with his creativity, Jozef is highly supportive of newcomers to the industry, even taking time out during his visits to Australia to offer advice and encouragement to current fashion students at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus.

His number one tip?

“Be nice to people, even if you think they aren’t relevant in your life. You have no idea how small the world is and where a good first impression could lead you.”