Dressed for success
“One of the most important parts of my job is to be open, observant, and sensitive to the actors I work with,” says costume designer Emily Rebholz, who’s worked with everyone from Lena Dunham, Jessica Chastain, Tony Award winner Idina Menzel and Amy Adams, just to name a few. “I might have an idea that I love, but when I get into the fitting room if an actor isn’t comfortable or if the idea just doesn’t work I need to be able to throw it out and create something that they’ll feel good in.”
Rebholz, who got her M.F.A. from the prestigious Yale School of Drama, also brings her theatrical smarts and whimsical imagination to her select styling gigs for The New York Times Magazine.
This month Rebholz has two shows on in New York; If/Then on Broadway and the hilarious musical Pretty Filthy by The Civilians off-Broadway, about cast of porn characters in the San Fernando Valley. This promises to be the hottest (no pun intended) ticket in town so get yours now before it sells out.
Here the talented Rebholz invites us into her usually hidden, behind-the-scenes world.
When did you know you wanted to be a costume designer? Was there a specific show that inspired you?
I started designing costumes in high school. I had been involved in theater since I was a little girl and when started high school I realized I was less comfortable on stage but still wanted to be involved. I also loved clothes. When other girls were asking for new Barbies I wanted new outfits from Macy’s. I thought well why not put these two loves together and start putting together costumes for my high school shows.
Can you describe your process? How do you get a gig and what happens next?
There are several different ways to book a job. Most often a director contacts me or my agent and asks if I am available and interested to work on a show. I have collaborations with many directors that I repeatedly work with but sometimes a new director will see my work and reach out as well. Other times a theater that I have worked with will put me up for a job and I will interview with the director.
My process varies somewhat with each project. I always read the script several times and take notes on the characters and any specific needs the text asks for. I create a timeline and a costume plot to map out the physical needs. Then I start hunting for inspiration. If it’s a modern/contemporary show I look through magazines, street blogs, Facebook pages, and online stores. I’ll create a collage/mood board to bring to a meeting with the director so that we can start discussing the show and the characters.
Once rehearsals and fittings start I also want the actors to be involved in the creation of their “closets.” The actor brings so much to the creation of the character and you need to keep in mind what they bring to the character and the play. When I am working on an opera or a period show then I move from the research to sketches. Often these clothes are built and I need to create an entire look for the show. In that case I need a blue print and use sketches to communicate with the director, my assistant, actors and costume shops.
What’s the inspiration for your current show?
I just finished designing the costumes for Pretty Filthy a new musical by the Civilians about Pornography. The Civilians are a theater group that create work by conducting many interviews. They talked with adult entertainers in the San Fernando Valley to get a glimpse inside the world of porn. It was a really fun project and I had so much research at my fingertips! Not only is it very easy to research porn and porn stars online, the civilians had many photographs from their time in the Valley!
What are your three go-to spots in the fashion district?
My shopping in the actual fashion district is pretty much limited to 35-49 between 7 and 8. The fabric district! Everyone knows about Mood from project runway but when you are looking for really specific things I will go to every single store. The bigger stores, Mood, B&J, Elegant, and Rosen & Chadick have the largest selection but often times the tiny stores on 39th street will have a hidden gem! I also spend a lot of time in stores. My secret for being efficient is to go the malls in New Jersey. I drive over and there is an amazing outlet mall in Paramus and then a huge mall just down the highway. It’s so much easier to get a lot of shopping done quickly!
Can you describe your perfect day off in NY? What do you do and where do you go?
I have so few days off! It’s a lot of work juggling all my projects, which are in so many different stages of development. But if I had next Saturday off I would wake up and go right to the farmers market, then a morning yoga class. I live in Brooklyn so I would walk down Atlantic and do a little shopping as I made my way to meet a friend for dinner out! I love days when I get to stay in the neighborhood and visit with friends!