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Join us for behind-the-scenes glimpses into the inspirations for Tartuffe‘s design. This week, Costume Designer Sonya Berlovitz shares her design inspirations and the challenges in bringing the show to life.
Our version of the play sprang from a very contemporary adaptation that laid the groundwork for a historically eclectic design vision. This is reflected in the costumes as a layering of 17th century details in some of the silhouettes, lines, and textures combined with modern elements and in some cases contemporary clothing.
We were inspired by a previous iteration of this play from 1999. In this version, in which almost all of the costumes were redesigned, the colors were adjusted to further emphasize the contrasts inherent in the piece. Tartuffe and his henchmen were dressed in light colors to blend in with the walls of the household so they could slither about undetected. It also created a nice tension between their pastel appearance and their dark, devious actions. In Act III one of the most important moments in the play, when Elmire first meets with Tartuffe, we decided to dress her in a vivid blue to give her a cooler, more reticent air as she teasingly toys with Tartuffe.
The 17th century inspirations required certain elements such as corsets, petticoats and covered buttons. In an era of fashion with copious amounts of layers and fabric, an equivalent amount of work is needed to achieve the structured extravagance of that century that became an enormous challenge due to its size and the number of pieces that were built from scratch.
Seemingly straightforward, the suit for the young lover, Valere, used traditional tailoring to assemble the look. Going through the typical stages of patterns, sewing, linings and finishing touches, the suit needed a little more detail work. The trickiness with the suit lay within the floral fabric. To help accent the floral print, the costume shop appliquéd flower clusters from another fabric onto the suit, creating the illusion of larger flowers.
On the other end of the spectrum, the biggest challenge of Tartuffe was Elmire’s blue dress. It required around 80 hours of work with 60 of those hours spent on the skirt alone. The shop began with muslin mock-ups used in rehearsal to make sure the design was functional. Following its testing stages, blue silk taffeta—measuring at 10 yards around the skirt—was then bonded onto a knit fabric to create a sturdy layer. Then, two days were dedicated to hand-stitching cartridge pleating around the length five times to achieve the desired look.
The skirt was then sewn as a “bubble,” meaning the bottom hem was tucked back and sewn under the skirt. To finish it off, 30 yards of blue netting is worn underneath it with a hoop petticoat to give it a structured shape. Hidden from the audience, a zipper was included underneath to allow the wardrobe crew the ability to lay it out and press it for each performance.