The Costume King

Classic Arts Features   The Costume King
Veteran designer William Ivey Long talks about his costumes for Susam Stroman's Double Feature, which returns to New York City Ballet starting June 9.

This month is your last chance to catch Susan Stroman's full-length ballet, Double Feature, before it takes a break from the repertory. Among the many pleasures of this Broadway-style romp are the costumes by William Ivey Long, a Tony Award-winning designer who here talks about the process behind all those great looks.

On creating a "black-and-white" ballet

The ballet is supposed to look like a black-and-white movie, but of course it's not a movie, it's a performance. If I had used just plain black, white, and gray in the costumes, the dancers' hair color and skin tones would have stood out and ruined the effect. I studied silver gelatin photographs, and saw that they have actual golden tones, which I used to balance the natural skin and hair tones. The effect on the eye is as if you are watching a black-and-white film.

On developing a character through costume

Maria Kowroski is great to work with because she's game for anything, so I could try interesting things with her costumes. For her lamentation scene near the start of "The Blue Necklace," I gave Maria a gray dress and hooded cape for a romantic, French Lieutenant's Woman look. In the next scene, when she's a big star, she has a glamour version of that sad look‹the same silhouette, but in "glimmer shimmer" fabrics. And then at the ball, we give all the girls Romantic-style tutus, but of course Maria's is the most glamorous.

On incorporating a traditional ballet look

In "Makin' Whoopee!," we gave the bride-to-be, Alexandra Ansanelli, a simple little dress that we then accessorized to show the passing of the seasons. To me, the winter look was very successful, with the pom-pom sweater and the skater hat‹very Les Patineurs. When Alexandra comes back at the end as the bride, she gets a "plate"‹a classic stiff tutu, the only one in the whole ballet. I love this tutu, especially because the costume shop ladies pulled out old Karinska lace to make the plate and the bodice, and that was so exciting for me.

On designing dozens of wedding dresses

I love to talk about the wedding dresses! We needed so many, so I made a whole lineup of choices. I had my staff dress up in the gowns to see which were convincing for men and which for women. We really tried to have a lot of variety, so that the overall effect was a crazy mishmash of looks. I have to say, at the first performance, I was pleased. The dancers really bought into the energy of the scene, and we couldn't stop laughing. It was joyous, cacophonous madness.

Double Feature will be performed June 9th through 12th.

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