By Laura Medina
From LA Opera Costume Intern to an English Duchess, Power of Hair & Makeup.
What appears to be a penitentiary on the outside, it guards the atelier of the world-class caliber of the Los Angeles Opera Costume Department.
It's not a mere "department" like most costume departments where it's a huge workshop nestled in a maze of an office building, among the other departments and offices.
Nope. It's a stand-alone fortress guarding the city's best tailors, seamstresses, artisans, milliner/jewelry designer, and fashion historians employing the exact same leather and silk and finishing treatments, directly from the Paris and Milan runways.
For this impending All Hallow's Eve, the Los Angeles Opera Costume Department; and it's equally highly guarded and coveted warehouse of haute couture. If you keep your eyes peeled, during a blue or blood moon, the Los Angeles Opera will hold a Costume Warehouse sale for dead productions while making room for new, upcoming productions. Word to the wise.
Taking a very rare and intimate tour of the atelier, the head costume director, the English, Jenny Green, is a fashion historian and couturier which is necessary in dressing period-piece opera productions where historical accuracy is a must.For starters, Ms. Green started the tour by discussing that today's outerwear was yesterday's underwear. She stated that today, it is totally acceptable to wear a corset or a camisole with a pair of denim or an hoop-skirt or an under-pinning or a pannier, a woven-hip basket that holds up the draping of the outer skirt. Before the convenience of the modern toilet and plumping, women stood up to eliminate. That's why women back then wore hoop skirts.
The tour effortlessly moved onto the true atelier work stations, dotted with mood boards with European catwalk photos pinned all over them. This is where the true magic begins. This is where cutting-edge contemporary haute couture meets historical costuming.
For the women opera characters, set in period productions, they are more restrained to a corset, a bustle, and an hoop-skirt.
For the men, they're luckier. They can afford to be more present-day in regarding to overcoats, jackets, and boots and shoes. The same surface treatments they use to coat a leather overcoat is exactly the same they do for a menswear collection during Italian Menswear Week, the worn-out but cool patina. This tip should come in handy for the next time the Los Angeles Opera is holding warehouse sale.
The Los Angeles Opera Costume Department isn't above warehouse sales. To make it easier on their staff, they, too, shop warehouse sales from other cities' opera warehouse sales or even major studios' warehouses, which are great for contemporary pieces.
If "silly" is your middle name and you have a really good sense of humor, unleash your inner kid but a creature.
The Creature Work Shop is the Los Angeles Opera Costume Department's most fun and most difficult costumes to wear.
According to Jenny Green, just wearing layers upon layers of heavily woven silk brocade upon very constrictive but shapely corsets and panniers are heavy and hot enough for the divas running short on breathe.
But imagine if you're one of the newbie background actors in a huge and heavy headmask with mesh screens for eyeholes and you're stuffed in foam. Then again, kids during the holidays love these creatures.
Jenny Green said being an opera singer is a lot like being a rugby player but with a lot less air. In that, there's a lot of huffing and puffing in heavy period outfits but they're gorgeous to wear.
One cannot forget the trans formative magic of hair and makeup. Los Angeles Opera's head makeup and wig artist, Darren Jinks, took the office/warehouse intern, from being everyday scruffy to an English Duchess who was lifted directly from the set of "Downton Abbey."
One can't be a duchess until she has the right crown or fascinator, mini but elaborate headpieces made hip by Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge... or the right headband, crown, amulet, belt, and jewelry, all handcrafted in Los Angeles Opera Costume Department's very own millinery shop. If any of these pieces ever fall under the warehouse sale, they'll make great historical, vintage accessories that will stand the test of time.
Period costumes don't have to be cumbersome and awkward. Whereas opera singers have to stand and stomp and sweat while belting out an aria, their lithe ballet dancer counterparts have an easier in the costume department-pun intended.
Because these are dancers, first and foremost, the basis is always tights and an unitard or a leotard, in breathable Lycra. Far better and best to focus on pointe, leaping, jumping, and catching...and tossing.
For Halloween, you can't go wrong being a demonic, anoxeric "Black Swan" or the male equivalent.
Alright, if wearing tights is too much bare to bear, go the Los Angeles Opera route and being like an Italian police officer wearing a sharp wool gray jacket studded with patch pockets that can wear well with contemporary jeans and boots and a scarf.
Keep your eyes out for the warehouse sales!