Conversation with ‘Titanic’ Costume Designer

By Clare Lockhart, Student Marketing Assistant

 

Titanic opens next Thursday, April 20! We wanted to give you an inside look into the creative teams behind this amazing musical. We interviewed Costume Designer A.W. Nadine Grant about life in 1912, fashion history, and the passengers aboard the infamous Titanic.

Nadine
Emerson Stage/Dept. of Performing Arts Costume Designer, A.W. Nadine Grant

As a person who doesn’t know much about fashion before the 1920s flapper era, what was the fashion like in 1912 when the Titanic sank?

1912 was actually a really interesting time period….it’s before the Great War (WWI) so austerity measures weren’t being taken yet. And it was after the La Belle Epoque (the Beautiful Era), which is the 1900s – which was a beautiful and glorious age, with very exaggerated silhouettes. For instance, Anne of Green Gables, her fashion is very 1890s with all of the puff sleeves.

Costumes 1

Then things get a little more pared down in the 1900s. One of the things that was really starting to propel fashion at that time was orientalism. There was a World Fair, and one of the pavilions was an exhibit dedicated to Japan. This rekindled the love affair of Europeans wanting to imitate the East, while the East was trying to keep out all Western influences. So the people from the West felt like they were getting a glimpse into this foreign world. Things like kimono shapes and fabrics and motifs started trickling into fashion that was being seen in 1910s England. I think one of the most distinctive markers of the 1910s is that everything gets sleeker and becomes slender. The hobble skirt, for instance: supposedly there was a woman who wanted to fly on an airplane and didn’t want her skirt to fly up, so she took a belt and sort of wrapped it around her knees to keep her skirt down. And so we have these very narrow skirts that started coming up during this times. It was a very small period of time during which they were popular, because although they were gorgeous and made you look good, they were really not conducive to walking. It was not an active skirt.

Costumes 2The corsets of the time were also not about being curvy, they were about being very straight. Around the shop we have been using the word ‘columnal’ – these very sleek silhouettes with gigantic hats. Right after all this, World War I started and all fashion sort of flew out the window because now women needed to work and do the jobs men had been doing. Looking good was supplanted by necessity.

 

I know that different actors are playing different characters in Titanic and I was wondering how you are showing the difference in their costumes?

A couple of things that we’re keeping in mind, especially because we’re on the Majestic Stage – which is pretty big – is differentiating the silhouettes. So while we have the first class women in long, lean slender shapes, the second and third class women have a earlier fashion silhouettes. They aren’t as current with their fashion, so they are more curvy and have a little bit more flair to what they’re wearing. The hats are the same – I’ve been going off the saying ‘the bigger the hat, the closer to god’ – so if a female characters has a big hat, then that designates her as a first class passenger.

CL: And is this distinction the same with the male passengers?Costumes 3

NG: Menswear wasn’t doing anything super radical at this point in time. Queen Victoria had just passed away, so Prince Edward was just coming into power. And Prince Edward was a bit of a dandy, so he was sort of the vanguard of fashion for men at the time. He was introducing all of these new looks for men. In the late 1800s there were a lot of men wearing double-breasted frock coats, and then right around the 1900s they started wearing morning coats. Those have a swallow tail effect to them. Then there were older generations who were wearing fashion from their youth – what they enjoyed wearing when they were younger. Motor cars were also very up and coming at the time so many people were wearing outfits suitable for driving.

 

CL: I’m also very interested in the colors of certain characters. For instance, I’m noticing the first class women seem to be more saturated.

NG: Yes, there is a definite color story there. There are super-saturated jewel tones for the first class women. Then, when they go into their evening wear, it’s a pastel hue of what they had on before.

There’s also just so many people in this story, and I really wanted to use color to help show who people are so that the audience can track them. It’s been so fun painting and creating costumes for this show.

Costumes 5 Costumes 4

We also wanted to show you from page to stage, but in the costumes shop! Here are some of the designs as they are now. We have so enjoyed taking this fashion history lesson with the amazingly talented A.W. Nadine Grant. We hope you come and see Titanic at the Cutler Majestic Theater from April 20-22!

Costumes 8Costumes 7

 

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