I’m always up for a good surprise, and that’s what I got when visiting The Mint Museum recently. I was going to meet a long-time online friend, Lynn Mally, who writes AmericanAgeFashion, and I hadn’t really thought too much about the exhibitions. I knew they were showing theater costumes from William Ivey Long, but since the show wasn’t “historical” I wasn’t too enthused about seeing it. I was wrong.
One of my first thoughts about this show is it is a fantastic example of just how much clothing exhibitions have changed from just a few years ago. This is not a bunch of costumes lined up to show how pretty or extraordinary they are. Instead, the visitor is treated to mood boards, sketches, fabric swatches, historical inspirations, and, yes, some pretty spectacular costumes.
Long is best known for his work on Broadway, but he also did the costumes for a famous North Carolina play, The Lost Colony. This drama has been presented during summers since 1937 at Manteo, NC, and as a youngster, Long’s family all worked on the play. In 2007 the theater’s costume shop was destroyed by fire, and William Ivey Long was called on to design new ones.
For each play featured in the exhibition, there were tables set in front of the display to show Long’s design process. One of the first steps is to establish a color palette, which Long does using watercolors.
Using historical references, and in this case, photos of the costumes that were destroyed in the fire, Long made detailed sketches for each character. Swatches of potential fabric choices were obtained, and studied until narrowed down to the ones that would be used to make the costumes.
It’s a bit jarring to see theatrical costumes so close up, as they are designed to be seen at a distance. So close one can see that Queen Elizabeth’s fine gown is not silk and gilt, but polyester and metallic trim. Her strings of pearls are obviously fake. But it is how the costume translates to the audience that counts.
This costumes are from Little Dancer, a play about artist Edgar Degas, and the girl who inspired his famous sculpture.
Here you see the material that gave further meaning to the costumes. Long’s sketch is surrounded by the material he used to develop each costume.
You can tell that these dresses are representing the 1930s, right? While these are not faithful representations of what women wore in the 1930s, to me it was obvious what period of fashion they represented. These are from On the Twentieth Century.
And here are some of the swatches Long worked with in his design process. I love how he used the plaid, but cut it on the bias.
These costumes are from an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
This costume was designed for Laverne Cox for her role in the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can only imagine how amazing this show was!
Long put thought into the smallest detail, including the accessories for Cox’s role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
In 2015, Fox presented Grease Live! with Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit in the starring roles. And while it may be hard to image Grease without Travolta, Hough was a superb Sandy. There were several of Long’s costumes on exhibit, including these from the Hand Jive sequence.
A real strength of this exhibition was the use of video to show the costumes as they were seen in the shows.
And here’s Lynn, standing proudly beside the costume we “draped”. Another strength was the hands-on activities like this one. There was also the opportunity to design a costume using a clever set of drawing templates. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get a photo of our efforts.
How do costumes help develop the character on stage? The Mint gives visitors an opportunity to think about how the costumes relate to the character.
My thanks to The Mint for such a beautifully presented exhibition. You can see William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016 in Charlotte through June 3, 2018.