Working In The Theatre: Costumes

Working In The Theatre: Costumes



you my trainings in set design I went to the Yale Drama School in set design to study with Ming Chile and I've actually only taken one course in costume design the rest has been monkey-see monkey-do this is the fun part if you never know peace in order I'm not exactly sure when the switch happened from scenery to costumes but I think it happened as simply as I couldn't get any jobs doing scenery when I moved to New York and everyone needed some clothes so I'll call William he has something in a bag somewhere so that's how it became 9 was my first big musical second musical on Broadway it was like right out of the gate and I won this tourney word thinking back on it I don't know how that happened but it did change my life and made me feel like oh I guess I guess I'm doing this I'm always afraid of not being able to come up with an idea and to counteract that fear of not being able to think of something it's why I've developed this amazing sort of blitzkrieg gathering of images because if you live in a cocoon like this cellar basement of mine osmosis it just sort of bombard you with the research and with the feeling with the energy and I think that helps ward off that fear of designers block and so far so good the designers block is kept at bay at the moment but doesn't mean I don't have nightmares about it absolutely you know when I first started I took no prisoners in fact my agent she used to get these little packages it had dimes and a valium in it and it was if you're having a panic attack call me and take a valium this lasted through the years up through 25 cents so became quarters and two valium I never took the valium because I can't even take aspirin and and not be affected but the mere confidence of having the little packages with two quarters and two volumes in it just was comforting to me but it also acknowledged I was out of control I didn't have an overview I thought everything was life or death and I'm going to tell you right now that was the best way to begin kids starting out it has to be life or death I never say no to a project I would say yes and then I figure out how to make it happen because one door opens another and theater is all about relationships and I learned that the hard way when I came into this business I had a chip on my shoulder the size of Manhattan growing up in New York City in the 70s you could see it as the best of times and the worst of times the city was bankrupt and I lived in the South Bronx which is a lower income neighborhood but within the craziness of the time I was able to find beauty I always was interested and what color people painted their apartments because in the Bronx well a lot of the buildings were broke down or banned 'end you can look into the windows and you can see the different colors New York in the 70s that was the birth of hip-hop and it changed the music we heard the fashions and you can still see it in my aesthetic graffiti it's pretty much an everything I do what there's texts I love text I am prone to use bright vibrant colors so my upbringing is always apart I had a friend in Los Angeles who emailed me just said Project Runway is looking for designers and I think you should audition but they weren't sure that I had the right fit for the show Kyle's a costume designer and back when I was doing the show costume designers were thought of as a gimmick they really didn't see us as fashion designers so I had to go back again and really prove to them that I was a fashion designer I learned that I have very little patience for when things don't go my way and I think tbh just amplified that but also I learned that I can put out good work under extreme stressful situations and if I follow my instinct I could be successful great designer I knew was Charles James I moved to the Chelsea Hotel he lived on the sixth floor I lived on the fourth floor I would send him notes saying I'd love to meet you there's and of course totally ignore all them because you need would get that all the time and then I was making a doll and I was having trouble with the bodice and I something just occurred to me to write a note dear mr. James I'm having problems with this dress 10 minutes later he came to my apartment and there was the doll and he saw the doll and he advised me he thought I was going the right way he said he was just too bad it was too small he would love to see it life-size but that's really soon I said well we're starting with the doll are you look where I am your head Easter blue top yes what I loved about it was the light when I create I need light yeah swinging tell what colors things are exactly and when I procrastinated look at the stuff that guy what do you mean I find it really hating it actually I was in fashion school I was I think for 15 that's 16 maybe and 9 I just a 9 oh my goodness and that famous lace jumpsuit that Anita Morris war and I remember opening the newspaper seeing that I was like whoa what is that in error why I was so attracted to it it just changed my at least my idea of what costume was because that was more a fashion he's nothing then done anything like that in theatre before and it got so much press she was on David Letterman and I stayed up late one night just to watch her and I think it was by using that little ruffle at ankle and not the cuff that's what made it not just a leotard it gave it the sense of size edited you why did you add that yeah you know I don't know I'm fascinated by that story because the ankles were small and I wanted the curve just a curvy and not go pointy so I gave it out a little while Mako energy to give it a little ba-ba-ba-boom then goes out you know and she decided to go for it Wow so it takes her career it didn't change all that careers oh my goodness well I'm glad I didn't realize yes that this interest that fasted you that's I think the power of theater it transcends generations color lines economic boundaries your people are in a dark sharing a story what's in this room oh this room all you have to come to this this is where like the actual work gets done I have my brother you can tell how tall you are I'm telling you this I saw some of my favorite times when my actor is in the fitting room that's when I get into their heads and then how does it starts a fitting say you start with a of what a mirror a mirror and in your wear and underwear yeah mirror underwear let's get everything where it needs to be where you feel comfortable and then I don't ask them do you like something I asked my first question to an actor is tell me about the character who is she where did you go to school what kind of music do you listen to you know are you a high heel girl which they all say yeah yeah it doesn't matter what I roll it right right right what do you do when men want to wear what waists waistline on man period versus contemporary well I well why don't you do what did you do with porgy and bess with the waistline well here's the thing and for me sometimes it's a little tricky because I come in with these modern ways my pants are lower and my hips and then I'm trying to teach them or get them to wear their pants at their natural wave oh yeah then that is yes and that's totally completely different for the youth for young people today but I just I just make them do it and and then when they don't want to do it enough put a pair of suspenders on to make sure and then I stays and then I I stitch up your system the triggers they'll drop in down hey I realize that men are fussier than women because we don't have a lot of different things to wear we wear a pair of pants every day a shirt or t-shirt or a jacket that's what we're in every day so that that saying suit has to say everything because they're they don't have five different changes also men throughout history have really been peacock themselves – one longs for the 17th century and the way the 14th because then you can its peacock to the alley it is a natural thing for men to have the plumage all the birds the owner then they channel nature the men always have the the males have the bright colors do you see they're coming back though now with so much freedom with the pop culture and the performers do you see where men are being more experimental with color or they just unjust like performers and not really wish that that were so in fact they're skinny suits and the boys and the young gay boy and the young straight metrosexual boys and I would love all that I mean I'm you know it's wishing right but wishing don't make it so I haven't done a job where I can't look back and look at something you've done because I remember Annie Get Your Gun was so influential because I was working at matera that the time and you did all that wonderful leather all those chaps but there were like normal chap these were like the most beautiful Jessica Chaffin but just the craftsmanship Willa oh you know is my hero oh I know and I mean sort of got me started in the business by I saw her work on PBS in the early 70s late 60s early 70s and it just I thought someone can do that that's a job you can make a living and you can do that I didn't know that that level of art could be done with and she had done the sets and the costumes for this ballet and it was in black and white that's on television always the high oh and I just what it is about that one about blah how do you do black and white and still keep it dynamic and interesting for the audience but yeah we're I getting repetitive are you getting you gave me an amazing an amazing trick about the skin tones how you brain the skin tone to bring it's not just black and white like you have to bring it because it has to somehow soften it in the promotion permit Raj man and of class trick you know who did that so beautifully his Willa she always painted skin tones into the Lea turns yes and so you didn't know where the color was coming through that's because she wanted them to be basically naked yeah well who doesn't but uh she and so she discovered that that had a kid with Sally in person see so and we're gonna go see well uh oh cool and hopefully she'll have so I don't know whether she has sketchy you know she's also right at the edge of tomorrow she made you know cutting edge you're my hero well thank you're my hero nothing on visit thank you I've been wearing this outfit far decades white shirt ref thai navy blazer khaki pants black shoes now they're been variations for some reason deeply psychological things I have forgotten but we a we period during the 70s I wore blue jeans what was I thinking the worst thing a costume designer can wear are interesting clothes nothing destroys confidence like cleverly inventive clothes worn but your costume or wardrobe person because it means you are spending time thinking about yourself you need to save all of your energy and design essence for the work I have candor nebs Chicago running now in its 18th year sometimes the fabrics are no longer available so I have to choose other fabrics and actually I'd love this I mean what a wonderful problem to have oh the costumes are falling apart you hope the shows run forever and but when they don't I try very hard to get the producers to give them to me gosh I'm going through fabric stores and I find fabrics that I should have used in a play that ended two years ago and I buy it I buy the fabric I bins a fabric of should of what it could have been that sit up there and sometimes I reuse them but usually I just collect them because for me it's completing a process and I owe it to the memory of that production I sort of crazy but I could be on a guest episode of Hoarders this is my concept board for Cinderella I always at the end of one show I have one board that is just for that show and has the essence of that show and I'd leave it on it especially if it's still running I was trying to figure out I wanted during the ball scene the Cabal room scene you know it's very aspirational who doesn't want to marry a prince and I was trying to show my costume houses that I wanted to see through these dresses like this and I couldn't I was trying to invent something so I made this little doll and you know what it worked because I was able to take a look a little doll and of course everyone laughs very indulgently at me and they said Oh William and his dolls but here we go and so all the ball gowns are like this bullets over Broadway is a backstage musical and the story is basically no one wants to give any money except for the gangster who said oh I'll give you money for your show but my girlfriend has to have a big role in it that's old story like this still happens today fact it's one of my shows right now anyway because we're over exposed to gangsters at the moment I just I'm trying to very hard to make my take on it different I've lined them up like this because these are all the gangsters and here's the set and all this color is this is based on this Art Deco door I like to turn upside down because then you're not reading it so the interesting thing to do which is very exciting for me is to try to keep that color very strict color scheme so you've got like all these gangsters on stage but you want them all to be tied together in front of this well there aren't enough colors in this right and then I found this wonderful bug picture 1925 which actually has little bits of green little bits of blue that's sort of a peach but anyway that's that's the job that's the assignment because unlike a film we see all these people on stage head to toe I have to help the audience know where to look in fact often on stage I have the leading lady's understudy standing next to her well guess what I've got to be as I often tell her I said darling I'm so terribly sorry I haven't bury you under a bushel I still wake up in the morning so excited about what I'm doing my favorite centerpiece of my life is in the fitting room I'm often aware of the fact the body language in a fitting I can always tell that a-ha moment it's very exciting because then they can see themselves being transformed I often start with vintage underwear even though no one will see it it's like the inside of pocketbooks I always filled pocketbooks with compacts and period lipstick and period handkerchiefs that help someone realize this is where I am this is what I'm doing I was I think I was sick maybe I was five or four but I had this wonderful dog named Manteo and she would follow me everywhere you know move when I moved and sit when I sat I got a needle and thread and I had the end of a pillowcase that was already a hemmed and I remember taking I remember this taking the needle and thread and going in and out all the way around I think I ran out of thread or something I remember and I thought oh I have to get around there and I pulled it and I invented pleating and I put it on my dog and I tightened it more and it was a rough a ruffled collar for my dog okay I invented it that was my first my first costume I love the news JP morgan's and legal hurdles expected to multiply Wow that's all they need speedy trains transformed China well I would think so BlackBerry buyout offer raises questions army of questions I can't believe this I should try to clean this thing up it's just awful and here's a atanga and Julie Andrews I designed her constants for her one of the shows that she's I guess the last one she did what's so funny is it I ride her around and bought a lot of stuff you know and she picture what she died and when it was all over she asked me what happened the rest of them she wanted to keep would ya I knew oh you're dressed I'm just going to change uh no don't change never change anybody here in a while huh I haven't been here on our own yeah isn't this from the Russian yo uh huh you remember I remember I remember I it's crazy i if when the effort who is on his deathbed and about to die and Russian yells sings and then he wakes up and so he doesn't die and it's in color but when I saw it when I saw it on PBS broadcast it was in black and white watching that made me want to become a designer I was in art history I was gonna write I know I know I'm not you're an intellectual oh nothing but uh well I want to be everything later cuz I didn't have a playbill you know something so I found out that you and designed the scenery in costumes and props so you're the exact reason I wanted to do this for a living this crazy thing we do oh so there it's your fault it's my fault and I did that's the best thing I've done Oh William you're such an addition to our trade our craft of whatever it is we do it's a trade it's a crazy yeah no no it's an art it's an art form I always wanted to be an artist so don't worry don't tell me I'm a trades person you know I never studied design no no I didn't know what existed I was an artist and I was going to be an artist and I've got a job without my portfolio at the may company in LA and within two weeks I was doing their full-page ads I was just a mad success you know and making all this money and well I thought so I think was $45 a week and then paramount killed Perriman offered me $75 a week oh my goodness and I said no I'm I'm doing what I want to do and then of telling this man sitting behind me at a debate company and he said you have to take it because not many designers get that offer so I went and then I thought what am I doing here on you know this is what I want to do while hanging around soundstages doing nothing and it's all a big factory and I'm unhappy and so this woman the saintly woman walked by me and she saw me loitering because I didn't know what I was doing there I was just hanging around Paramount and she asked me to do some color samples for her for these sketches and it was karissa then she was the front officer that said I want that girl to be my assistant but I realized who she was it wasn't just meeting designers you know how hundred designers are not that great elite Donna's an artist you think Animus trades people or something no no but through her I met all these wonderful artists that she knew who were the some of the artists that you you met with Madame karinski bull roll pen Duvall he brought her to parallel oh I see to do his movie lady in the dark Frenchman's Creek so I would go visit him at MGM and wait for him and he'd be busy or something with and then he'd come up and he said to me you know who you were sitting next to it I said no he said Marlene Dietrich I said I'm sitting nested III the whole time I did he would look at her if I didn't look at her I didn't recognize her and so funny nurse Balanchine I'm sitting right next him which is Raul well natural back here right next to karinski to recognize it that's rose my friend oh I tell you it was an an extraordinary education if I wanted to be a designer I couldn't have picked the two most important people in in costumes and sets then Kiska and Ropin du Bois and where does Ballentine fit into this well he was married to an actress so he was a staged or Johnny or was he choreographing the movie he was a stage dojo he had an eye for girls these are ballets that I did and you know who he is Baryshnikov he was the most beautiful dancer where should I put the Oh No down the hall on the hall okay it's fun to look at all these paints I've never seen you do this oh look on the other side this is a ballet this is the bottom of a tutu oh you know that wears the uniform yeah somebody is something it wasn't worth doing that better that's other B's that be worth something you're involved in dance from the very beginning you see the choreographer talks about an idea then he or she is working on expressing that idea in movement and you're involved from that moment on and trying to create the idea in through dance and so your I think your involvement it's deeper plays of course I can do that too but they're pretty much well so was dance done for an audience but you're not aware of that as much your ear involved with the idea of what the dance is about I remember doing a play and having a fitting with two women and they had been talking about me and how little I you know she knows and they were really terribly superior and and I'm God you know what am I going to do so I went in and a friend of mine came up at the fitting and she said oh did you read what Jonathan Miller wrote about you in the New York Times and I said no I haven't had a chance to so I found it it was a wonderful article and those two bitches who were in the play naturally saw it because he was a their director as well as mine and so I know I didn't have to defend myself I was in print it's always that early in your life you remember those things because you're so raw and emotional about what you're doing because you're so vulnerable when you're a young designer you know you don't know you're so lucky to get the job and then to not and not to shortchange the director or whoever it is it is terrible you just you never get over that they have to go through it and harden themselves it prepares you for your next director your next show and it toughens you but also you learn from these things you you I always say three things when you're starting out you're a puppy dog you're a golden retriever you are licking with your tongue you're so excited you're jumping up knocking people over then the second moment in life Shakespeare had seven ages man I have three the second one is knowledge you learn you understand you have knowledge you make discerning choices and you're professional the third and final stage is wisdom and wisdom has the effect of you sit in your comfortable chair you have your single malt scotch right at your hand and you go you know maybe we just don't do that I just hope wisdom doesn't take over you

20 Replies to “Working In The Theatre: Costumes”

  1. Had him as teacher many years ago in stage design. Such great memories…… still something I think about today. William is a great story teller

  2. Love William Ivey Long! My 17 year old designed her schools musical, Cinderella this spring and the highlight was when she was nominated by her teacher to attend a gala in his honor. She also got to attend a tour of an exhibit of his work that he led. He was so kind to her and her assistant designer and talked with them about designing Cinderella for Broadway. It is a wonderful thing to see those who are at the top of their field taking time to share their love of the craft!

  3. This was well done and informative, particularly about W.I.L.'s process…but it does rather make it look like he sews the costumes himself. (What the heck was he doing repairing beads on an old "Girls in Pearls" chorus girl costume from THE PRODUCERS movie??) Still, it's a lovely overview of how different costume designers find inspiration, translate research, and work with actors.

  4. I'm going to the Shakespeare Competition with my school this year, and I'm doing costuming. I'm terrified, but this video helped me figure out what all I should work on as far as my skills go. Thank you guys!

  5. I've just been watching Project Runway season 7, and recognised Emilio Sosa on the show because of this video!

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