Costuming ‘The Hours’ on the Met: Classic Wallpaper and ’90s Calvin Klein

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When the British designer Tom Pye was first introduced on to the artistic group of “The Hours,” a brand new opera by Kevin Places that had its premiere on the Met on Tuesday, it was only for the units.

However that was earlier than he realized that the opera, just like the 2002 film impressed by the identical Michael Cunningham novel, had pulled out all of the stops when it got here to filling the principal roles: three ladies strewn throughout the twentieth century whose fates appear united by a mysterious connection to Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” In Joyce DiDonato, the Met discovered its Virginia; in Kelli O’Hara, its despairing midcentury homemaker Laura Brown; and in Renée Fleming, its high-powered Manhattanite ebook editor Clarissa Vaughan.

“Once I heard the castings, I used to be like, ‘I’m doing the costumes as nicely,’” Mr. Pye stated.

Though he “beloved it when it got here out,” Mr. Pye, 54, had scrupulously prevented the movie, which acquired an Academy Award nomination for Ann Roth’s costume design.

“It may be actually distracting, in case you’re attempting to design and discover your individual picture for every thing,” he stated.

In a latest interview, he defined his imaginative and prescient for the three ladies on the coronary heart of “The Hours.”

Whereas adapting Mr. Cunningham’s sprawling, multigenerational story for the stage, one goal rapidly turned clear: to assist the viewers not lose observe of who’s doing what the place — and by which decade.

“Within the ebook, it’s very ‘one chapter, one chapter, one chapter,’” Mr. Pye stated, referring to the episodic construction of Mr. Cunningham’s novel. “Within the movie, they get to play a bit extra, and that is like 5 occasions extra.”

Understanding there would usually be a number of characters singing onstage on the identical time made Mr. Pye need to be “as easy and direct” as attainable.

“So I’ve been very, very clear — or, I’m attempting to be very, very clear — within the coloration palettes and the worlds of the costume and the units,” Mr. Pye stated, “in order that you’re in Virginia’s world, you’re in Laura’s world, in order that even when the singer doesn’t stand precisely in her world, her coloration palette follows her, and she or he could be free onstage to be a bit bit extra advanced.”

To create a coherent palette that may observe Virginia all through the efficiency, Mr. Pye regarded to the Bloomsbury group, an off-the-cuff collective of thinkers and artists, so named for the bohemian London neighborhood lots of them referred to as house.

The true-life Virginia Woolf and her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, belonged to the group, which had “a extremely particular palette,” Mr. Pye stated, pointing to the work of Bell and Duncan Grant, a fellow painter she took up with in a Sussex farmhouse referred to as Charleston. “You see these type of tertiary colours — mustards and burnt oranges and olive greens.”

If audiences are supposed to affiliate Virginia with the autumnal and the earthbound — “pure pigments that you simply consider may very well be constructed from pure merchandise,” as Mr. Pye put it — the character of Laura occupies a very completely different wedge of the colour wheel.

“There’s nothing pure happening there,” he stated.

For Laura’s palette, Mr. Pye took inspiration from Technicolor in an effort to mission postwar optimism. “They’re not regular colours,” he stated, evaluating them as an alternative to Cadillacs and Nineteen Fifties diners. “They’re all fairly man-made, manufactured — the other of Virginia.”

To outfit the character of Clarissa, an expert girl dwelling in Manhattan on the finish of the final century, Mr. Pye drew on his personal recollections of the late Nineteen Nineties, together with a few of his first jobs in New York theater. He was largely doing units then, he recalled, which on the time meant numerous glass partitions, glass containers and “reclaimed every thing.”

“All we ever did again then was minimalism,” he stated. “It was a lot of empty phases.”

“I used to be Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan, and all these nice designers that have been working then, and it’s so minimalist within the coloration palettes,” Mr. Pye added.

In accordance with Mr. Pye, the Nineteen Nineties sensibility was outlined by an intuition to pare down: “‘Let’s strip every thing again, let’s go so simple as we are able to,’” he stated. “In order that’s what I’ve executed with Clarissa.”

Carrying white and sometimes standing earlier than a plain wall, Clarissa regularly capabilities as a type of monochrome barrier between the extra colourful worlds of Virginia (stage left) and Laura (stage proper). To Mr. Pye, there was one thing satisfying in regards to the total visible impact.

“There’s a purity in that, and a modernity in it,” he stated.

The well-known first sentence of “Mrs. Dalloway,” Virginia Woolf’s landmark novel that varieties the non secular spine of “The Hours,” comprises a clue to the opera’s signature motif: “Mrs. Dalloway stated she would purchase the flowers herself.”

Clarissa additionally begins her day with a visit to a flower store, the place she buys roses (herself). Seizing on that connective thread, Mr. Pye spied a possibility to make the theme of roses “echo, and type of bounce down the many years.”

“Each Laura and Virginia are sporting rose prints, however I needed them to be exact opposite ends,” he stated. To create the sample on each Virginia’s and Laura’s clothes, he turned to wallpaper, not textiles, from their durations. For Virginia, he discovered two promising choices, each from the Nineteen Twenties, in a Smithsonian digital archive.

“I preferred the roses on one and the background on one other, so I pulled them collectively and adjusted each single coloration,” Mr. Pye stated. The result’s a custom-printed material that, whereas not classic within the conventional sense, is nonetheless “very, very ’20s” in spirit. In distinction with the “fairly tight, very Deco” florals of Virginia’s costume, Laura’s personal “very ’50s” sample was tailored from a Sanderson wallpaper and options massive, splashy roses.

The three ladies of “The Hours” are additionally distinguished by their costumes’ silhouettes — no two fairly alike, and every a mirrored image of its decade.

The dropped-waist silk costume Mr. Pye created for Virginia would have been a well-recognized type within the Nineteen Twenties, with a relaxed really feel befitting a girl dwelling and writing within the countryside. “I needed it to be comfortable and to have motion,” he stated, including, “the Bloomsbury group have been all artists, so it didn’t need to really feel too structured.”

There’s a sure postwar extravagance to Laura’s look: With wartime privations largely a reminiscence, a girl like Laura might take pleasure in a skirt that was full for fullness’s sake. “Out of the blue, it’s: ‘Let’s use 5 occasions as a lot material as we have to make a skirt, simply to benefit from the opulence of that,’” Mr. Pye stated.

The nipped-in waist and voluminous skirt of Laura’s home costume hark again to an hourglass silhouette innovated by Christian Dior: “It was that well-known Dior costume — the white jacket and the large, full skirt — that was actually radical after the ’40s, and after the warfare. Out of the blue we’re going again to one thing extra optimistic.”

For Clarissa, every element appears to speak ease and confidence — the rolled-up sleeves, the practical pockets of her skirt.

“There’s actually a little bit of that ’80s energy dressing that may’ve continued into the ’90s, significantly for a lady of her standing,” Mr. Pye stated.

In early conceptions of the character’s costume, Clarissa wore pants. However Ms. Fleming wasn’t loopy in regards to the thought, Mr. Pye stated, and it was finally dismissed as a bit too on-the-nose.

“This feels stronger,” he stated.

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