From corsets designed down to the very last details of original practice to recreating looks first seen on screen in the 1930s and evoking murderous tendencies in the dark underworld of Victorian London, this year’s group of Olivier Award nominated costume designers perfectly demonstrates the range and variety of talents needed to reach the top of the theatre designing field.
To celebrate the incredible, intricate and visually spectacular work apparent across this year’s category, three nominees provided us with their equally stunning original sketches and ideas, and told us the inspiration behind their designs; from Anthony Ward’s colourful drawings to Jenny Tiramani’s unique processes and Jon Morrell’s intricate sketches.
Anthony Ward, nominated for Sweeney Todd, on his love of Sondheim.
“I have always had an unhealthy love of Stephen Sondheim’s great masterpiece Sweeney Todd; when Jonathan Kent asked me to design the show I was beside myself with excitement. Having been so close to the work for so many years, my instincts were to create a world where the murderous duo, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett’s, grizzly actions would be closer to our time and understanding. By setting the piece in the last century, the 1930s,it had the effect of stripping away Victorian furbelows, intensifying the focus on the characters and evoking comparison to modern day murderers.”
Jenny Tiramani, nominated for Twelfth Night, explains how she created new clothes for an old tale.
“When designing a production such as Twelfth Night, where real clothes are required rather than costumes with a fantasy ‘twist’ on them, I don’t do conventional costume drawings. My design process is one that takes place over a long period, not just on the drawing board in my studio before rehearsals begin. Instead of a drawing, I give the maker patterns of surviving garments and patterns drawn by tailors in the period that have the shapes I want them to achieve. Portraits are also useful, but only for a general look. You have to know how the clothes worn in them were constructed in order to make new ones, so we go to museums to study original examples.
The search for suitable fabrics is an important part of the process – I try to find ones similar to those available when the play was first performed in 1602 – silk, wool, linen and leather. Fabrics with the right kind of pattern design are particularly difficult to source. For Olivia’s gown I designed and commissioned a length of cut and uncut black silk velvet with a ‘strapwork’ design fashionable in the early 17th century. It was hand-woven by Guiseppe Gaggioli in Genoa, Italy. Underneath this gown Mark Rylance (as Olivia) wore a white linen smock, a pair of boned silk bodies, a Spanish farthingale, a silk petticoat, stockings, garters and shoes. The gown was accessorised in various scenes by a coronet, a jewelled head-tire, a set of starched linen and lace neck ruff and cuffs, a rebato, a girdle and purse, a forepart, sleeve cheats, lace hat, black veil, silk velvet cloak, muff and gloves. Each of these items was designed and made by using the fabrics, pattern shapes, hand-stitched construction and appropriate social context for the character as if in the contemporary dress of 1602; new clothes for an old tale.”
Top Hat’s Jon Morrell on finding inspiration from the silver screen.
“One of the iconic images from the film was the feather dress worn by Ginger Rogers in Cheek To Cheek. My design for this was inspired by this rather than being a direct copy. I needed to create something that would have the greatest visual impact on a stage full of elegant evening gowns, a dress that would appear to float and move with the lightness of a feather. The dress is made with an over layer of chiffon to help this effect. The addition of the feathers to this layer is the final process of the construction. As happens famously in the film the feathers fly during the routine so consequently the dress needs constant maintenance to keep it looking good.
The cool colour palette and the stylish 1930s architecture of Hildegard Bechtler’s sets were the catalyst for many of my choices throughout, illustrated well by the designs above for the Chorus Girls. They are very graphic and sculptural in shimmering metallic fabrics like Art Deco statuettes that have come to life.”
1 & 2: Sweeny Todd design sketches by Anthony Ward
3: Guiseppe Gaggioli weaving Olivia’s silk velvet
3. The scale pattern of a pair of bodies used as a reference for Olivia © Janet Arnold
4. Creating the female silhouette with Olivia’s undergarments
5. Designs for Dale’s feathered dress worn for Cheek To Cheek
6. A sketch of the Chorus Girls’ outfits for What Is Love?.