wide red belt

8. An article of clothing you didn’t think you can pull off.

I am of the firm opinion that if you put something on your body you are already pulling it off, so this is just an article of clothing that is kind of difficult to work into my wardrobe–the sheer yellow skirt.  I really need some leggings to wear under it.  (All the things I describe as “leggings” are actually long underwear, so they’re not really suitable for the summer.)

Also this outfit is making me a little sad because I was planning a really similar one with my beloved, mostly dead sneakers.  (I may be able to patch ‘em up enough for some gentle non-athletic, fashion-only wearing, but I’m not sure.)

[Image description: one full-body photo of a young woman (me) with bobbed light purple hair.  I’m standing in front of a blue wall and holding a metallic pink cane in my left hand.  I’m wearing a black velvet slip dress that goes to about mid-thigh.  Over it, I have on a pleated sheer yellow skirt, which I am in fact wearing as a skirt.  The dress and skirt are belted with a wide red belt.  I have on a black snapback hat that says “I got dressed today” in rainbow letters across the front; the letters are surrounded my lavender stars.  I’m wearing sheer black socks with yellow roses on them.  I have on black-and-grey sneakers with white soles.  I’m wearing a few colors of eyeshadow smudged around my eyes, and bright red lipstick (on my lips).  As always, I have on my round black glasses.]

Paris is Paris Again: Costuming the 2015 “Gigi” Revival

Welcome back, everyone! I was planning to take a break from some of my usuals, but I had a request to add Gigi to the rotation, and I am always trying my best to do so. Prepare for some truly sumptuous costuming in another beautiful Catherine Zuber-dressed production. Bringing the best of Broadway back to the Great White Way was a wonderful way in which to celebrate the 2015-2016 theatrical season, and I cannot wait to get started with this review.

This was, in fact, one of two sets of Zuber designs on Broadway that season, with Ms Zuber’s Tony Award-winning costumes for The King and I debuting at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre just a few days after these costumes were first seen at the Neil Simon Theatre. As is the hallmark of Catherine Zuber costumes, these are absolutely stunning in terms of both their fabrics and their colors, and they are a great update of one of the Broadway classics.

Gigi is a musical set in one of my all-time favorite eras and locations of history, belle époque (or turn of the century) Paris, and follows a teenaged girl as she’s raised into young womanhood and ultimately–through a series of dramatic turns–ends up marrying a man she loves instead of becoming a, ahem, courtesan in the tradition of her family. For the revival, the main role was played by singer and television actress Vanessa Hudgens (in her Broadway musical debut), with her suitor played by Corey Cott; in the role of Gigi’s grandmother was Victoria Clark, who picked up a Tony nomination for her performance.

With Ms Zuber already nominated for Best Costume Design in a Musical in The King and I, I’ not surprised these designs didn’t score a Tony nod; they did, however, win the Drama Desk Award for Best Costumes, and when we look at the designs themselves, hopefully the reason will become apparent. They bring classic Parisian looks into the modern age in a beautiful way. Let’s take a look:

I’ll start here with one of Gigi’s best-known costumes. The character of Gilberte (Gigi’s proper name) is supposed to be a young, somewhat innocent figure in the early part of the musical at least, and her costumes reflect that to an extent. This costume in particular puts me in mind of a school uniform (confession: I grew up watching Madeline!) with the way it is simple, does not reveal too much of the wearer’s figure, and has a bow-like jabot at the neck. The shade is a beautiful sky blue that is consistent from head to toe, with some simple white satin ribbon about six inches above the hem. The top of the dress has a bit of creasing to give it some design elements, but they are cut from the same cloth and simply stitched.

The accessories for this outfit are rather simple. There is the aforementioned bow/jabot at Ms Hudgens’ neck, which is made of a material that is almost corduroy but is a little lighter and without the same piling. This allows it to have some body without being too heavy, and the color is beautiful against the blue of the dress and the white of the collar. It is matched well with the belt, in a similar fabric to the bow, with a somewhat oversized blue clasp. The overall effect of these accessories is to contribute to the seriousness of the costume. There is a demure nature to her that comes across well: for now, she is the picture of the waifish ingenue.

Over time, however, our main character changes quite a bit; she is being groomed, after all, to be the mistress of Paris’ upper crust, or so the story goes. Catherine Zuber’s designs for Gigi’s transformation into an object of sensual and even sexual desire. Take a look how that transformation takes place through the use, first off, of color (a color which ties in with another character–more on that later):

From sky blue to rose pink, this dress retains some of the gentility of the blue dress but because of the shift in color and the change in overall design, there is something more flirtatious about it. The color is a rich, soft pink in a sateen fabric that flows and drapes a bit more freely than the heavier blue fabric used in the first costume. She’s beginning to slowly accept her role–a future courtesan/mistress–and embracing the freedom, if not the love, that comes along with it.

We see that this dress as a subtle hat-tip to the blue dress through the striping on the cuffs of the sleeves, which bring to mind the satin ribboning around the bottom of that costume. The design elements here are a little bit more revealing while remaining in the realm of propriety for 1900 Paris. The collar this time has a slightly plunging neckline that is disguised with a single ruffle of the same fabric and color as the main body of the dress. The adornment comes in the form of a wide, red belt around Ms Hudgens’ waist.

Notice that despite the length, this costume is much more form-fitting than the first. Sensible, given the number where it appears (”The Night They Invented Champagne”) is a light and airy number as Gigi moves further down the road to being Gaston’s (Corey Cott’s) mistress. Having a tight belt to hug the figure would have been a sign of overtness for the era, and Ms Zuber has clearly done her homework with this production as with many of her others.

The character of Gigi has two more costumes that I feel are of particular note before I touch briefly on the other characters. Here, we see the dress used for the cover of the Playbill and many of the promotional stills:

I don’t rightly know the term for this style of dress, but I know it’s a hallmark of early couture. There is the traditional bell shape to add volume, but a panel is removed from the front to reveal not only the white lining of the underskirt, but an entirely separate black layer that clings to the wearer’s legs much more closely. It gives an overall elegant effect that I think is interesting, because I see it so rarely, even in productions that borrow from couture in their costuming.

Because the dress’ cut is so visually interesting, it’s unsurprising that there is very little in the way of adornment or detail work elsewhere. The silk and satin of the dress are allowed to speak for themselves, though there is a belt at Ms Hudgens’ waist; it is in the same color black (and as I’ve said before, black is not just one color!) and again has a bit of an oversized clasp. The only other accessories are Gigi’s opera gloves (a must in the era) and a beautiful geometric emerald necklace. Using square-cut gems here is the right choice, in my opinion, because it balances nicely with the cut of the fabric below without being too distracting.

The black dress is balanced by one of the most beautiful of Ms Zuber’s designs for this production, a white number that makes an appearance in the climax of the musical, as Gigi finds love with Gaston at long last, rather than simple physical desire. And in that sense, I love that Ms Zuber reverts to a color that screams purity, but in a fashion that reveals Gigi’s complete awakening as a woman rather than a girl (as at the start of the musical). Prepare for something visually stunning:

This is a sleek, classic, beautiful Parisian number in white satin with black accents, and a massive feather boa/stole that adds some whimsy and couture elements to the overall effect. The gown flows all the way to the floor, but this time leaves swaths of Ms Hudgens’ chest exposed, with her bust covered by black lace that is almost assuredly intended to be reminiscent of that other Parisian innovation, lingerie.

The boa serves a triple purpose. First, it adds volume to the dress itself, which would otherwise be a lengthened version of an A-line. But second, it allows the actress (and thus character) to have more control over how the costume looks to the audience. Some of this will be decided through stage direction and directorial notes, but there is still a little discretion for how the actress moves when on stage. Third, it helps the dress to catch more of the light, allowing more interplay of light and shadow on the blank canvas of the white satin.

For an idea of how the boa adds volume, consider this shot of the last pre-finale scene, where Gigi and Gaston are dancing the night away:

What was previously a relatively simple dress has been made more visually stunning and given greater stage presence through the drapery of the boa. Hanging off Ms Hudgens’ shoulder, it offers a textural contrast to the smoothness of the satin in the dress itself, and also adds to the amount of space she occupies despite a slender figure.

This lighting is also one of the reasons I find a snow-white dress and boa to be so compelling despite their simplicity. The blankness allows the stage lighting to do some remarkable things; the blue light turns into shades of blue, green, aqua, and teal as it hits various parts of the dress, giving an otherworldly and ethereal feel to an otherwise simple design. Yet again, we have an example of a costume where the designer had to work incredibly closely with other members of the creative team to make sure that everyone’s vision for the production came together.

Gigi herself, of course, is not the only character who is costumed beautifully in this production. Earlier, I noted that Gigi’s red dress seemed a nod to another character, her grandmother Mamita (played by Victoria Clark in this production). Take a look at the coloring of Mamita’s costume and notice how the red makes one think of Gigi’s pink-red dress from earlier:

The style is, naturally, much different and a little more old-fashioned, but still steeped in belle époque styling. The stripes combine a rose pink with a deeper red, and yet a third shade is used for the cummerbund element at Ms Clark’s waist. The bust is covered with a ruffle and a bit of pink and red lacework, while the dress is completed with two tail-like elements that hang down in a kind of salmon-pink silk.

I talk on occasion about millinery, which is to say hat making, and this is a place where I do want to mention the hat. The straw base in a red to complement the dress is absolutely covered in roses, giving the effect that Mamita has an almost literal bouquet of flowers on her head. Little surprise, given that of the older characters, she is by far the most fun and flirty of them, indulging her granddaughter and reminiscing about her own glory days as a courtesan. Her costume gives off that fun feeling, and I think it really works well as a design.

But now consider it in contrast to the other female character, Gigi’s great Aunt Alicia, played in this production by Dee Hoty:

While still styled like an aging courtesan, Alicia’s dress (left) is more sophisticated than that of her sister Mamita. It’s a cream shade decorated heavily with ruffles, and she has more in the way of jewelry (note the lengthy necklace hanging down). The cummerbund is a softer, more lush pink silk, and the dress itself is lightly patterned with an almost cloud-like design.

The contrast in these two costumes is pretty neat, because the personalities of each character are brought to the fore. Mamita is the showy one, while Alicia is the more practical one; her art of seduction must have been far more subtle, which is an interesting thing to consider in the altogether risqué theme of the musical (though, I would note, the musical never strays from being classy into the vulgar).

Ms Hoty actually gets to wear my favorite costume in this production, from the finale itself. Take a look at this visually impressive Catherine Zuber design in violet and purple, with Ms Hoty looking like a million dollars:

There is just something so Parisian about this design. Close-fitting, with beadwork cuffs and embroidery on the bust, some floral design elements in the upturned hem of the dress, and with lacework to cover the chest, this is one of the costumes that just feels so utterly belle époque. The purple is an absolutely darling shade regardless of the lighting, and the hat is dramatic and adds a little bit of flair to the Aunt Alicia character. You can get a little bit more of an idea what the hat looks like here, during the final bows from opening night of the production:

That is a hat designed to impress and leave the audience wowed, even with the other characters on stage. It adds height and volume, and the feathers are straight out of the designers’ handbook for how to wow a viewer. There are bows on the top portion of the hat, and what originally looked like just a circular brim is revealed to have a slight bend, which causes the whole piece to arc a little. It’s definitely a form over function piece–this would do very little to keep the sun out of Alicia’s eyes–but it’s a beautiful entry into Ms Zuber’s body of work.

To wrap up this review, I want to include the lineup from the final bows, because Alicia’s costume once again stands out:

Every single one of these costumes is beautiful in its own way, but the lavender of the dress Ms Hoty wears just pops in a way I have rarely seen even in other Catherine Zuber productions. Simply seeing it is enough to bring a smile to my face–and that’s one of the things costuming is all about in a production that is fun and lighthearted like Gigi.

Overall, I am once again awed by Catherine Zuber’s designs and work on this production, and it makes me feel privileged to have had the chance to review and analyze them. Each costume helps to tell the story not only of the musical, but of the characters themselves, even those (like Mamita or Aunt Alicia) who may not have much stage time because they are in a supporting role. No expense was spared, no detail left unchecked, and no character given short shrift. It’s really a masterful production, and I highly recommend it!


That wraps up my review of Gigi and another week of (despite the technical glitch early on) reviews. I’ll be taking a look at my queue this weekend and deciding what to bring up next; if you have requests or suggestions, please drop me an Ask or send me a Message!

Until then, dear readers, stay tuned!

This outfit came together just by chance.  I knew I was going to wear my black leotard again, but this time with my pink tights.  I thought putting a cute skirt on top would look nice, but I didn’t have one.  So I went to wash my leotard with some other dark clothes and when I pulled them out of the dryer I realized… I had this skirt I’d just pulled out of a free pile!

[Image description: one full-body photo of a young woman (me) with dark red hair that is braided back and pinned up.  I am holding a metallic pink cane in my left hand.  I’m wearing what looks like a black tank top (but it’s actually a leotard) tucked into a black skirt that has white polka dots on it.  The skirt is fairly straight, without much flare, and goes a few inches below my knees.  It’s belted at the waist with a wide red belt that has fancy designs cut into it.  Under the skirt, I have on pink-and-white mottled tights.  Over it all, I’m wearing a sheer, pink-white robe with short, flared sleeves and a hem that ends just above my knees.  I also have on my black, lace-up oxford shoes.  My gold eyeshadow is showing pretty clearly, and I’m wearing bright red lipstick.  As always, I’m wearing my round silver glasses.]