The secrets behind Maria Björnson’s intricate designs, how they have evolved over the last 30 years, and why the iconic Phantom mask covers only half his face.
When it comes to wardrobe, The Phantom of the Opera is the most aesthetically elaborate and lush production on Broadway. With over 230 costumes, designer Maria Björnson (who also designed the set) created the look for the musical theatre telling of the Phantom, his obsession with opera ingénue Christine Daaé, a sweeping romance, and one of the most passionate tales told on Broadway. Her Tony-winning designs capture the largess of the emotion in the piece and the lavishness of the world of Paris opera in the 1850s. “If she brought these sketches in today to a producer, the show would never have ended up onstage because nobody would spend the money,” says associate costume designer Sam Fleming. Now, the extravagant styleof Phantom is as iconic as the production itself.
Björnson spent much of her career designing for opera and ballet, coming to musicals later in life. She passed away in 2002 and Fleming, having joined the production in 1989, has been the definitive voice in the room when it comes to costumes ever since—from building new costumes for new cast members to arranging repairs for the mountains of hand-sewn beading.
“They always turn out slightly different,” says Fleming of Phantom’s costumes. “You’re always making them for different body types, different heights.” But Björnson believed in evolution.
“She was interested in developing the show,” says Fleming. “Over time, we have done five different new sculpts for the Phantom mask itself because she kept wanting it to be more interesting. I’m sure if Maria were still alive today she’d still be improving the show because she was just that kind of person.”
Despite variations and evolutions, every costume piece worn in Phantom originated in Björnson’s design. Here, Fleming shares the details of the designs, fabrics, and more that create the onstage grandeur.
Flip Through 21 of the Original Costume Sketches for The Phantom of the Opera
In his second outing working on a giant television musical event, Tony-winning costume designer William Ivey Long does the time warp again, this time trading ’50s greasers for ’70s fettish and glam rock.