Criminals in their lingerieThe stage musical “Chicago,” now playing at the National Theater of Korea in Seoul, begins in shockingly sexy fashion.
A tall, perfectly proportioned platinum blonde, vaguely reminiscent of Cameron Diaz, stands naked ― except for a black leather bra, underwear and, of course, high heels.
Her sinewy body is outlined in fine black silhouette, and as the lights play over her curves, her black fishnet body stocking is revealed.
She is saying something ― this is a play, after all ― but no one seems to be listening. The audience, throughout the entire show, is simply transfixed.
The dress code at this Chicago jail must be something like “scandalously sexy attire ― black only, please.” Every inmate is wearing the tightest, slinkiest, raciest, er, thing.
“I imagined that criminals were arrested in their sexy underwear,” laughs the musical’s chief costume designer, William Ivey Long. “So you can see corsets, G-strings, teddies...”
The New York-based designer had created original costumes for the Broadway musical “Chicago” in 1996; in 1997, he made another for the London cast of “Chicago.” Mr. Long is credited with designing costumes for four currently running Broadway musicals in New York: “Chicago,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray” and “Cabaret.”
His concept for “Chicago” London was to make the wardrobe “contemporary, yet referring to the 1920’s fashion in Chicago as well as the 1973 original ‘Chicago’ costume designer Patricia Zipprodt.” For each cast, he revises the design in an “impressionistic way,” making slight variations according to body type and proportion.
“I used a lot of stretchy materials, such as Lycra and French stretchy lace, so that the costume can cling closely to the body,” he says.
According to Mr. Long, the see-through striped shirt on male cast members is actually a deconstructed version of the classic pinstriped suit. “I also used vests and suspenders to revive the gangster moll look, but of course underneath they wear nothing!” he says cheerfully.
Using wardrobe, he contrasts the characters of the two female leads: Roxy Hart (played by Emma Clifford) and Velma Kelly (played by Lisa Donmall). Because Roxy is more feminine than Velma, he had Roxy change her clothes more often, from stretchy dress to chiffon cape to lacy teddy. “Velma’s severe, hard-edged attitude is expressed through the simple slip,” he explains.
Mary Sunshine (played by Morgan Crowley) wears a long sequined tunic. “His role is a man disguised as a woman. The mandarin collar hides his Adam’s apple, the loose-fitting tunic his midriff.”
The designer gave a black lace bra to Mama Morton (played by Debra Michaels), who wears a pinstriped pant suit, so that she wears nothing but the bra underneath the jacket for a sexy “peek-a-boo” effect.
The most stunning fashion of all is in the final dance act by Roxy and Velma in classic smoking jackets, reminiscent of the ’70s Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo. Wearing a micro-mini skirt and a teddy inside, they look as if they are wearing nothing underneath.
“I was inspired by the ’40s musical star Eleanor Powell’s look. The secret of that perfect curvy shape is in the fabric. I used the eight-ply wool crepe, which was steamed to give a three-dimensional round fit in the hip. You see, fashion and musicals have symbiotic relations ― we steal ideas from each other.”
Now the real fashion tip: what about those great pairs of legs? “I call it the ‘Kiss of Black’ look. The extra-fine black stocking can look great even on thin legs. My favorites are Donna Karan and Wolford.”
It seems that Mr. Long’s superbly fashionable work is in high demand, as he has signed to work on three more Broadway productions. For those of us who aren’t musical stars, it may be worthwhile to wait for a William Ivey Long fashion boutique in New York City.
by Ines Cho