When Blue Man Group burst onto the stage in 1991, its fusion of music, comedy, art, technology and the spectacle of its blue men set new standards for what theatre could be. Still running Off-Broadway, Blue Man Group is about to get its first makeover in 27 years courtesy of Project Runway all-star Helen Castillo. The designer, who’s worked on red carpet looks for Madonna and as a designer for Zac Posen, has created a new piece for the Blue Man wardrobe, which will also debut during her Fashion Week show September 9.
Here, the FIT graduate and atelier reveals the inspiration behind her design and why she jumped at the chance to work with Blue Man.
What made you want to expand your design repertoire to theatre?
Helen Castillo: I've always been a really big fan of Broadway and performances growing up and after having seen Blue Man Group I thought it would be an awesome partnership. Seeing their performance, it was kind of just like a light bulb moment like, “Oh I can make a garment for that but also take my aesthetic in a different direction with ready-to-wear.” So making the coverall jumpsuit for this amazing partnership just made me realize that there is potential to work with theatre, it's an outlet that I've had so much passion and admiration for so long and never once thought like hey let me do that.
The look of Blue Man Group has been established for decades and since the visual emphasis is on the blue makeup the costumes have generally been understated. What intrigued you about working for Blue Man specifically?
I recently became a New Yorker this past November and I feel like living in New York City has made me feel more confident about my brand. Now that I am so close to the Garment District as well as other New York opportunities, [I am] able to partner with something that's so iconic like Blue Man Group—[which is] so New York. Working with Blue Man Group felt more authentic to me rather than with my collection stuff where there's an inspiration that's so literal and I'm creating very high end pieces that are for a very specific occasion. With Blue Man Group I feel more inspired to be more like myself and in touch letting my guard down.
How did you tackle the challenge of an understated look that still has a concept and a story to tell?
I wear a lot of black and more often than not people are like, “We love your fashion, we love your style” and I'm like “Do you love the fashion that I'm creating or do you love the style of the way I dress?” I'm not designing clothing for myself to wear and I think after having said that out loud when being approached to do this project I was like I’m a real person and there's hundreds of thousands of real people out there that admire either the way I dress or look that wouldn't mind knowing where I got my stuff so why not create something that could take an inspiration like Blue Man Group and the whole gritty vibe of it and make something that even I could see myself in?
What about your design says “the 90s”?
This whole 90s revival in fashion is so massive right now and everything is all about color blocking and graphics. There is also this oversized element—all about comfort—that a lot of influencers are pushing right now and even big big designers. I thought, “Why not design something that kind of harmonizes all of that?” I knew I wanted to create something that's not only unisex but also comfortable and can potentially be iconic. I did get my inspiration for the coverall jumper from the Blue Man Group scene where the Blue Men pick an audience member, place them in a jumpsuit covered in paint and throw the person against a canvas. There’s an artistic element to it so I also wanted the jumper to have an artist smock vibe but still be wearable and iconic.
Can you point out some key features of the jumpsuit and explain why you chose each?
Well the overall silhouette is definitely oversized and baggy. It was more about accommodating the garment to be unisex, I'm all about comfort, I don't even wear skinny jeans anymore because for one, I just think that they’re kind of on their way out as far as trends are concerned, but my biggest concern for this piece was comfort. This utilitarian aspect of clothing and how to make it more fashion forward but also not to fashion forward where it got to a point where it wasn’t wearable and made too much of a statement.
When you are wearing clothing it should represent you, but it shouldn’t be pushing it to a point where you look like you are trying too hard. With coveralls you know it's just one piece and it should do the talking for you so I wanted to have some element of the iconic Blue from the show and color blocking is super trendy right now and the best part about color blocking is it doesn't really go out of style. As for the tuxedo stripe, when I thought to use something reflective, I came across this reflective trim that also had the iconic blue. There is something about the stage and all these elements that were very industrial and I thought let me take something that's kind of obscure, like I never would think twice to put reflective trim on a gown—how would that really translate to being couture inspired. But when I look at trims and zippers I step back and think how can this be interpreted by a lay person vs someone in the industry—where is their mind going to go to when they think “What was she inspired to use that piece for that portion of the design?” This may sound too metaphoric, but everything is almost so mysterious and enticing about Blue Man Group where you are watching and you don’t know what to expect so I thought a really cool part about using a reflective trim is that depending on where the lights coming from or how you take photos of it its always going to change – so unexpected.
You can buy your own Blue Man Group coverall jumper here, for a limited time.