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Exclusive: Olivier nominated costume designs

Published 31 March 2016

From sky high platforms and Union Flag corsets to velvet robes and ornate buttons, the costumes that earned Gregg Barnes, Hugh Durrant, Jonathan Fensom and Katrina Lindsay their Olivier Award nominations in the Best Costume Design category couldn’t be more different, perfectly encapsulating the eclectic, varied offerings of the London stage over the past 12 months.

To celebrate the incredible talent of stage costume designers, the talented quartet shared their original sketches, designs and fabric cuttings with us for this exclusive gallery. Take a look at the gallery above and read on for an insight into the inspiration behind the designs.

Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots

Two worlds that never should meet trip over each other and collide: a conservative community of factory workers and a troupe of fabulous drag queens. My job as Costume Designer was to get those kinky boots right. The real challenge, however, was supporting the actors and giving them a wardrobe that helps them tell this story. It can be a daunting task balancing the visual so that the conservative folks don’t get swallowed up in the glitter. Jerry Mitchell made my job easy, however, by casting the most perfect ensemble of actors.

A marriage of drab and fab!

Hugh Durrant, Nell Gwynn

Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn is not a documentary: it uses the story to make as many points about modern as Restoration life. Therefore it was important that the costumes and wigs were a modern take on the period; in fact I avoided historical accuracy (although the research was fascinating) instead using modern seaming and construction to suggest a convincing suggestion of 17th century silhouettes.

To distinguish between the worlds of theatre and Court I chose shapes from the beginning of Charles II’s reign for the stage costumes, using warm golds and copper colours, while the Court is dressed in fashions from the later years of his reign, in stiffer jewel coloured fabrics.

Nell bridges the two worlds in lightweight materials reflecting her free spirit. She frees the King from his restrictive outfits until by the end he is in a loose gown and cap. Throughout, the colours of her costumes make reference to her orange-seller beginnings.

I hope this fantasy presents a convincing riff on Restoration clothing.

Jonathan Fensom, Farinelli And The King

Designing costumes to work in candlelight gives fabrics that have a natural iridescence (such as duchess satins, silk velvets or metallic damasks) an advantage over ones that are matt or light absorbent. By using such materials it becomes possible to see the form and shape of the body, folds of fabric and details such as cuffs and buttons. These types of cloth helped hugely in giving the stage picture depth and clarity.

The choice of colour is also important, as some tones work better in the orange glow of candlelight than others. Pinks, sea greens and blues work better than reds and purples. Jewels that sparkle also play a crucial role in giving definition to costume, on a stomacher, cravat or as a hair piece.

The bold shapes of the early 18th century were also useful in defining each character and I made sure that each actor had a different shaped silhouette, whether a square cut coat or long travelling robe.

Katrina Lindsay, Bend It Like Beckham

Bend It like Beckham celebrates multi-cultural Britain as it follows the story of Jess, a young Sikh girl and her dreams of becoming a footballer in contrast to the traditions of her family life.

It is these contrasts within the piece that made it so interesting to design. On the surface, clothes like sarees, salwar kameez and turbans have a beautiful simplicity of silhouette and structure. Yet there is a lot of hidden knowledge and history that goes into the look and the making of them so they are correct.

There are many draping styles in wearing a sari depending on origin and occasion. Sikh women’s salwar kameez have bust darts to create a particular silhouette and there is a huge difference between a Kenyan turban and an Indian one. One of the key scenes in the story of Jess is her sister’s Sikh wedding in all its finery, montaged alongside an important football match for her team. On stage in that moment we wanted to celebrate the collision of these two communities. By keeping the palate restricted, by building in the knowledge of the traditions within the clothes, by quick changing sarees for the rigour of the movement, the hope was that the designs’ character and story managed to come together to celebrate this fusion of multi-cultural Britain in all its splendour.

The winners of the Olivier Awards 2016 with MasterCard will be announced in a ceremony at the Royal Opera House on 3 April. You can be part of celebration at our Covent Garden Piazza event that will feature live performances and a live stream of the ceremony. You can also watch extended highlights of the show on ITV at 22:15.

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