Interview: Janus Stefanowicz, Costume Designer
Get a sneak peek at the stunning costumes you’ll see onstage in Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Shaw is quite particular in his stage directions about what his characters look like and wear. How do you balance the playwright’s prescriptions with your own inspirations and aesthetics?
As with the discussion about the designing the set, director Kathryn (“KC”) MacMillan and I worked on what was important to the characters. But in a lot of the cases we followed [Shaw’s] descriptions.
What are you most excited about in your design for this show? What’s the biggest challenge?
I am really excited about Mrs. Warren’s hats. You don’t get an opportunity very often to do big hats with veiling, feathers, flowers, and bows.
Of course, the challenge is that we need to see Mrs. Warren’s face. So we will be turning up brims and making sure we have light on her face.
I love this time period. We set it in 1900–1910. I wanted to have Mrs. Warren’s clothes be more sensual. Later in this decade, the neckline opens up, instead of the high collar of the last century and the beginning of the decade.
What’s your design process like? How much research is involved?
I really enjoy doing research. I usually start with a Pinterest page. As much as I do like to look at the period upfront, I also kept in mind that I wanted Mrs. Warren in a more open neckline. So, I started looking at research that was closer to 1908–1910 instead of 1902. I like to also keep in mind the bodies; we want to look good and feel good about their clothes, so that is a big consideration too. I did choose fabrics that were softer and more feminine for Mrs. Warren and more cotton and structured for Vivie. The men mostly wear shirts, vests, suits and ties. It’s very common in this time period, even though it’s summer in England.
Can you talk about a couple of specific designs, and how they evolved?
KC and I both like stripes and patterns, so with that in mind I found a piece of research of a blue and white striped skirt. Since it’s summer, we thought it would be perfect for Vivie in Acts 1 and 2. I knew we would never find something like that in our stock collections, so I was really lucky to find a lovely fabric at Mood online. It’s voile, a sheer cotton, which is a typical period fabric of the time. I like to try when possible to use fabrics of the time period. But not to make her too busy, Vivie is wearing a white blouse and a leather belt at her waist. Shaw asks that she wear a chatelaine on her belt — a piece of jewelry that has a watch, a pen, and a few other pieces hanging from chains. Luckily, Flora Vassar, our props master, is helping with making the chatelaine; Costumes just has to provide the belt and help attach it.
Can you talk a bit about bringing the design from a sketch to a garment? What, if anything, changes for you when the clothes are on a person rather than a dress form?
One of the most important parts of design is proportion. Both of our actresses are under 5’5”, I believe, so I am always aware of the shoes — heels and what heights — to help elongate the ladies’ bodies. Then it’s important where the waistline cuts across the body; Mrs. Warren’s clothes have over-skirts that are somewhere between the knee and the middle of the calf. We will decide that in our fittings.
Sometimes we can’t always find what we sketched, but I usually don’t worry too much about that. I always find something I didn’t ever imagine and it suits the world of the play and the character so much better. There is a lot of greenery on the set, so I had originally wanted to give Frank a green suit for Act 4, which is set in the office in London when the greenery is no longer on the set. But while shopping on eBay, I found this amazing suit with a few different plaid colors. When I saw it, I knew it would be perfect.
To see Janus’ beautiful costumes on stage, join us at Lantern Theater Company for Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Update: The show has been extended through October 16, 2016; visit our website for tickets and information.
This interview has been edited and condensed.