Black, Queer, and Designing Costumes for Broadway

Photo:

Courtesy of Gioncarlo Valentine for Joe's Pub

There’s something magical about getting dressed up, rushing to beat curtain call, and slipping into a red velvet chair holding a Playbill as the lights go down, the frigid air cloaked with anticipation. In a matter of moments, all your senses melt away into the world of characters; you’ve arrived at the theater. You’re not sure what’s in store, but like all art forms, it takes you to another world where the combined ingenuity of plot, characters, and costumes leave you on the edge of your seat. But what exactly goes into these productions—specifically, what goes into creating the many iconic costumes for them—can be as elusive as what you’re getting into when the curtain lifts.

To shed some light on this essential backstage component of professional theater, we reached out to costume designer Jérôme Lamaar, who is currently working on As Much As I Can at Joe's Pub. This was the first time Lamaar, a fashion designer who has been at the helm of his own line as well as designed custom pieces for Beyoncé, has branched into costume design. Ahead, he will be sharing what exactly goes into creating costumes for a show and why fashion isn’t limited to the runway, but in many ways plays a critical supporting role in other art forms. But first, a bit about the play…

Photo:

Giancarlo Valentine for Joe's Pub

Did you know that if infection rates don't change by 2020, one out of two black men who have sex with men will contract HIV in their lifetime? Not many do, which is why director and writer of the play As Much As I Can, Sarah Hall, wanted to bring this conversation to the forefront through experiential theater. Throughout the play, which runs at Joe's Pub from September 12 to 16, you follow the lives of four black gay men to not only explore the relationships they have to all aspects of their life but to destigmatize the taboos around treatment and HIV itself.

Photo:

Courtesy of Gioncarlo Valentine for Joe's Pub.

For those who don’t know, what does being a costume designer for a show entail? What makes it different from designing a clothing line? 

I did all of the looks. What's awesome about it was using color to express the energy of each situation and how it floats in space. It's so important to highlight how significant each storyline is for the community, so why not apply color into the mix to stimulate the senses?

You’ve designed your own collection, worked with brands like Baby Phat, curated pop-ups, and have even created pieces for Beyoncé. What initially attracted you to creating costumes for a play?

It made perfect sense to gracefully transition into costume design after so many years of telling stories through my brand. The timing of the play and the topic simply resonated with me as a creative. 

Photo:

Courtesy of Gioncarlo Valentine for Joe's Pub

What goes into creating costumes for a play? How is it different from how you currently go about your creative process?

For me, it was understanding the backstory and complexity of each character. I actually prefer to work this way. I think everyone should look past the surface when creating.

What is one of the biggest challenges of creating costumes for a play that most people wouldn’t expect?

The biggest challenge is really understanding how a character is moving within each scene. I discovered that some ideas that look good in theory simply don't work in reality when the actor is in character. 

Photo:

Gioncarlo Valentine for Joe's Pub. 

Which character was the most challenging to create costumes for? Why? 

Ms. Hope Chest (above), for she has multiple looks in a specific color that needs to elevate his nuance of being one's self in public and private. She is larger than life, and I wanted to make sure you felt the magic in each scene.

What are you hoping your costumes add to the production? 

I simply hope my perspective on the costume will highlight the many flavors of being a gay male of color. We are complex, lovable and creative. Everything we wear should be a reflection of ourselves. While fashion plays a huge role for us, we do take pride in our health, education, success, and families. That's what I hope will it will add to the production.

As a black designer, and now a costume designer, who occupies predominantly white spaces, what do you want your art to say to the world? 

I am not just a "black designer." I am A DESIGNER. Once the world stops labeling and putting everyone into a box, we can all move into a more enlightened state of existence.

What can we expect from you after this?

Well, maybe you will see my return to fashion design. Or maybe I will produce a capsule. Or maybe I will publish a book covering the last 18 years of my fashion career and life lessons. You just have to stay tuned…

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