The art of costume making

The magic of a piece of theater largely stems from the effect of its artistically crafted costumes. “Together with the scenery and the acting, a unique atmosphere is created that transforms the piece into a three-dimensional experience and takes the audience on a journey,” says costume designer Aleksandra Kica.

A theater production is a joint creation made by the director, scenery and costume department. The costume designers make sure that the costumes complement the characters, the set design and the mood of the production in question. Calculating the production and material costs, managing the costume department and monitoring the sewing process are also part and parcel of this role. Aleksandra also emphasizes the importance of the sensitivity needed when working with actors and the others who turn to her not only with their visions, but also their fears and worries. After all, good cooperation behind the stage also has an impact on how the piece is perceived on the outside.

Aleksandra Kica: The beginnings

Aleksandra began changing her appearance to express herself at an early age – be it with colorful hair, painted-on tattoos or blue eyebrows. Her father was a theater director, which is why she spent a large part of her childhood in the auditorium, soaking up the unique and exotic atmosphere of the theater. Ultimately, these experiences also influenced her choice of profession.

Aleksandra chose to study fashion design, but her passion has always been the theater and behind-the-scenes work, not fashion. She spent a number of years doing temporary jobs at the theater and worked free of charge as an assistant to gain practical experience. She has since successfully contributed to over 50 productions and is now concentrating on musicals.

The creative process

It is a long journey before the first costume is actually made. To begin with, Aleksandra reads the piece several times – sometimes ideas and images pop into her head as soon as she reads them, sometimes it takes longer. She then speaks to the director to develop a shared creative vision for the piece. In the next step, she creates mood boards, where she not only records ideas for costumes but also aims to capture the atmosphere and color palette for the whole production.

“Together with the scenery and the acting, a unique atmosphere is created that transforms the piece into a three-dimensional experience and takes the audience on a journey.”

She then sticks carefully to this color scheme for the rest of the process. By creating color-coordinated scenery, even the simplest costumes can have a poetic effect, says Aleksandra. Then it’s time to start designing the costumes – Aleksandra sketches and uses photographs of selected pieces from the theater’s catalog.

The daily routine at work

Close collaboration with the tailoring department is essential when making the costumes. At around 9 a.m., Aleksandra starts her working day there, where she has costume fittings with the actors. She then receives a list of different issues and questions from the tailors, which she then works through during a walk through of the individual departments. If she feels that her vision has been understood and can be brought to life, she is happy to give the tailors a lot of freedom when it comes to the further details. Occasionally, however, her work can come down to the tiny details, such as deciding for or against a single button. In the late afternoon, she and her colleagues prepare the costumes for the next day’s fitting. The evening rehearsal starts at 6 p.m. Aleksandra  often sits in the auditorium and gets inspired – she gets her best ideas during the rehearsals. She often gets involved herself to support the director and get to know the actors better. Afterwards, she often remains in the studio, places orders, draws and sews, or talks to the director a little more.

Extraordinary costumes

A few years ago, Aleksandra received numerous requests for pieces that were to be staged in the style of the 1930s and 1940s. She browsed second-hand shops to find original outfits from the time and used them for costumes. Authenticity is important to her and she believes that this cannot be achieved by distressing items. In the meantime, however, she is now more interested in the 60s and 70s. In contrast to earlier years, there is greater freedom and a certain courage to achieve “unaesthetics”, says Aleksandra. Shoulder pads are a must-have detail as they add a nice line to the silhouette.

The most elaborate production in her career was a coat for “The Kings Speech”. For nights, she and her colleagues sewed together large numbers of fabric panels for the first scene in the piece, which involves the king being dressed. In the end, the coat was 45 square meters and, to a soundtrack of dramatic music, was dropped down from above the stage with the help of a tow bar and wrapped around the king. However pompous some costumes may be, for Aleksandra the most important thing is that they underpin the creative vision and serve the overall production. This is the only way to create a harmonious atmosphere and enchant the audience.

Image rights (from left to right)
Image 1: © Sebastian Kreuzberger
Image 2: © Leonie Walter
Image 3: © Volker Schmidt
Image 4: © Aleksandra Kica
Image 5: © Sebastian Kreuzberger
Image 6: © Olaf Malzahn
Image 8: © Alek Sorokin