Sunday, June 10, 2012

Symphony of Shadows, A Morbid Fantasia

dixon place

symphony of shadows
I had the supreme pleasure of attending the first performance of this sexy and macabre show.  The production is an extravaganza of ballet, aerialists, musicians, surreal costumes, acrobats, burlesque and dancers telling a dark, but beautiful story.

Nightmares plague the central heroine every night and her corporate day job is a bigger horror still.  The heroine is haunted by everything from a sequin tossing demon, trapeze black widow, menacing hunky rats, shimmering snake contortionist, flaming fan dancer, lingerie-clad ghosts to name a few.  The eerie violin concerto is a sensuous score to this seamless, elaborate production.

Creator Rachel Klein started with a concept of the horrors of sleep paralysis.  She worked with co-story writer Sean Gill on how to portray the different nightmares.  Visual inspirations included silent films and the paintings of Henry Fusili.  Performers from her own theater company, as well as dancers from Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey and circus performers from House of Yes, Circus Warehouse, Muse and Skybox collaborated with  her to create the character movements of the horrors.  Composer Sean Hagerty produced the eerie music that set the mood.

If you are in NYC the next few weeks, definitely make the time to enjoy this show!

Thursdays - Saturdays,
June 7 – 23 at 7:30pm
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, (between Rivington & Delancey)
Photos by Mariana Leung & Michael Blase

Friday, June 1, 2012

Macabre Exclusive! Interview with Costume Designer Colleen Atwood


As a designer and fan of Gothic fashion, one of my all time heroines is Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood.  She is the creative force behind some of my favorite Tim Burton film looks like Sweeney Todd , The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Alice in Wonderland (among many others!).

Her most impressive work yet is the epic Snow White & the Huntsman film out today.  In the movie, the gorgeous costumes have dramatic silhouettes.  The intricate details are constructed with everything from papier mache, beetle wings, shredded chiffon to bird skulls. 

If you are looking to wear some looks inspired by the film, Colleen designed a small collection with HSN loosely based on the peasant Snow White styles.

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Ms. Atwood before the movie premiere, and she tells all about her design process and the deal with Tim Burton's stripes:

Mariana Leung:          OK. You’ve done some of the most iconic pieces in films, between Memoirs of a Geisha, Silence of the Lambs, and many of the Tim Burton movies. What finally got you inspired to actually do a clothing line?

Colleen Atwood:         Well the people from HSN came to the set and they were doing a collaboration with- so what is a kind of media kind of style thing, and they asked me if I wanted to do something, and I was- I’d never really been approached so directly by somebody to do it, so I was like “Sure, why not, give it a try” And you know, it’s been fun.

ML:          For some of your period pieces like Chicago or Sweeney Todd, it’s not directly period.  Do you reference vintage pieces or do you just kind of sketch from scratch, or do you reference designers of that period?

CA:         I think all of the above.  I mean when you’re designing a film like Chicago or Geisha or whatever film you’re doing, you look at thousands of images and you look at, you know, you take your ideas from all those and kind of mix it up and make it your own.  So it can come from old cinema, it can come from paintings, and you know, in pre-photography periods it can come from photographs and, you know, like for Chicago I used some matinee photographs and a lot of Brassai’s photographs from  Paris. So you just use different influences to kind of get a texture and then you kind of spin out from there with your own work.

ML:             Is there one movie you’re particularly proud of creatively, artistically?

CA:        Well, I think that one of the great things about doing costumes for film is that you’re always changing. And so I think that the whole body of work is more interesting than any one part of it. So, for me, you know, I’ve been incredibly lucky with the directors I’ve worked with so I’ve gotten to do some amazing work. But, you know, at the same time it’s like there’s not just one thing that’s like I feel more proud of than another. It’s sort of like a family of work, you know?

ML:           Was there any film that was particularly challenging more so than others, technically or the functions the costumes had to provide?

CA:         Well, Snow White and the Huntsman was a pretty huge film, it was a lot of clothes, a lot of action clothes too. I mean over 2000 costumes were manufactured. You know, creating a world, just like making up a whole world, was one kind of challenge.   Alice in Wonderland was another kind of challenge where you’re just like taking another iconic thing and figuring out how to make that into, you know, an experience.  Memoirs of a Geisha was a huge intimidating challenge, like entering that world, not part of it, not knowing very much about it, trying to honor it without insulting it. You know, there are so many levels of every job; they all have their own special challenges.

ML:            As far as your own personal style, do you have fashion designers that you’re inspired by, or personally enjoy wearing?

CA:          Well, I love clothes. So, so many of the fashion designers- I mean, I’ve always admired and would love to wear some of them more than I can afford to, but, you know, I love Azzedine Alaia and  Alexander McQueen whom I think was a genius. I think, you know, over the years I’ve admired , you know, Yohji Yamamoto,  you know, I’ve elements, pieces of all those people that I’ve kept for years and years and years, and, you know, that I still really treasure. So, you know, I think there are all different kinds of designers for different things.

ML:           Those are very tailored and constructed designers you mentioned, also like with Yamamoto and McQueen, they’re kind of like darker edge and you work on someone like kind of darker looks, especially for the evil queen hair with like the bird skulls and the beetles and feathers. Are you inspired by darker kind of edgier inspirations, or is it really for the film?

CA:        It was really for the film. My personal clothing- I mean I lived in new York for a long time, so I’m a big fan of black, of course, I have to go “OK, you can’t buy one more black jacket right now,” so now I’ve switched to navy blue. But now I’m like “OK, I gotta stop with the navy blue.” So, you know, I go through phases and stuff that I do think I like I guess what you’re saying, I do like the idea of clothing as sculpture in a kind of way that works from an architectural point of view which probably has something to do, you know, with the people I gravitate to. Or other people do different things sometimes, and, you know, I’m like- I really like it.  But I do appreciate a beautiful cut jacket, that’s just like, you know, really fine and goes together really well.

ML:           Do you ever work on pieces for yourself? Or do you just not have the time?

CA:         You know, I’m always thinking “Oh yeah, I’m gonna make that.” But I barely have time to alter my own clothes, much less make them.

ML:            I totally understand. One question one of my readers from my gothic blog asked about Tim Burton’s stripes.  We noticed that there are a lot of stripes in a lot of the costuming you’ve done over the years in Tim Burton films.  I didn’t know if that was a Tim Burton thing or if it was you who just happened to like stripes.

CA:        I think- well, Tim likes stripes, sure.  But so do I, so it’s kind of our thing that, you know, that does go in there as an element and it’s very, you know, I mean Tim comes from animation, it’s a very kind of graphic thing, a stripe, and it can, you know, it can be a wobbly, a hand-painted stripe, or it can be a really thin stripe, and I think that there’s always kind of a texture that it can give something whether it’s in corduroy or whether it’s actually applied to something that I really like. So I think we both like it.

ML:            Did you come from a fine arts background?

CA:        I studied painting in school; I wanted to be a painter. So, you know, but I never really did.

ML:             Your design process, do you start from sketches first, or do you like really like working with the fabrics or materials?

CA:          I start with a combination. I mean sometimes I will see a piece of fabric and I go “Oh, I can make that dress I’ve always thought of.” or I see like an image of it. But- and then sometimes I come up with a design and go “Oh, I need fabric.” So I think it goes back and forth. I think that, as a designer, you’re kind of always looking, you know, for an idea.  So it comes from all different kinds of places.

ML:             OK, one last question. Do you have some favorite pieces in your own closet that you absolutely love, whether it’s sentiment or just pure design?

CA:          I do have things that I’ve kept for a long time. I have a couple dresses that were my grandmothers that were very beautiful 50’s dresses. You know, a few things of my own, a couple of jackets that I’ve kept forever, and – but I’m a very big believer in not accumulating too much stuff, because at work I’m so surrounded by it that a lot of times I get, you know, I keep it fresh. I move it around so I’m not a big collector of anything per say, like some people are.

ML:             Thank you so much.  It has been an honor to speak to you about your work!

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