The fall runways were rife with Nineties fashion influences, from the ubiquitous parkas (see Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra) to plaid prints and grunge stylings. Turns out department stores aren’t the only place you’ll find these sartorial references: with the Off-Broadway revival of “Rent” at New World Stages, opening tonight, Nineties clothes are alive and well on the floorboards, too.
And just as designers didn’t simply rehash looks verbatim from that decade, the show’s costume designer, Angela Wendt, who worked on the original Off-Broadway production in 1995 and its 12-year run on Broadway beginning in 1996, was set on making changes to her original creations.
“I was really interested in giving it a new look, looking at it fresh from a distance,” she explains. “It was a little difficult because it was very successful and a lot of the looks were iconic, if I dare use that word. And then I felt you have to disregard that. It’s good I designed it the first time around because it gives me to the right to also ignore it.”
The most notable departures were a product of the New World Stages’ small 499-seat space that allowed Wendt to rethink how the audience perceived her designs.
“It felt it would be good to go a little more gritty and closer up on the detail. When I did it the first time, I consciously stayed away from costuming it too much. We did it more as if you have people go on stage for a concert,” she explains, adding, “I’m always influenced by contemporary fashion. I don’t feel like you have to be slavishly bound to an exact period—you can approach it with new pieces and make it look like they are from the [requisite] time period.”
Here, Wendt gives us a peek at her inspiration boards and photos from a dress rehearsal, narrating her thinking behind outfitting some of the show’s iconic characters:
“These were all the silhouettes and textures I looked at that I found interesting and then we kept simplifying and simplifying until instead of a thousand bows I had one huge bow. We had silver jeans, but then we dyed into them to make them a darker silver, we sprayed into them and then we applied in places clear sequins that you can iron on with little images like a candy cane and a Santa Claus—you can’t even see them from far away.
The director Michael Greif and I talked about Angel being more of a club kid personality and more of a boy, so it’s all a little less pretty drag and more in a boy direction. In the original production, he was in zebra tights and a little Santa dress.”
“The whole concept behind the original costume was he took a shower curtain and added a collage behind it that he made. And so I went, okay, this time around what could he have made? I came across Paco Rabanne and thought he could have just used cool objects that he found. So we came across the smiley faces, just Plexiglas findings from Canal Street, and then drilled holes in and made chain links—my wardrobe supervisor was drilling for days making our own little Angel version of a Paco Rabanne dress. We gave him a gold jumpsuit [inspired by the character from the James Bond film].
Trash & Vaudeville still has all the classic shoes from the late Eighties and early Nineties and we also went online a lot, starting with Zappos and also websites for drag shoes like Pleaser.com.”
“The dress in Act 2 was a total variation on what she used to wear—it used to be lavender and now it’s more of a deep berry and we recut the dress slightly. It just works very well and once in a while you have to say, You know what? It’s a good idea and I’m not coming up with a better one.
For the outfit when she sings ‘Out Tonight’ I have to credit Greif because he said ‘Let’s honor the lyrics’ and she says ‘I want to put on a tight skirt and flight with danger.’ So we played with the idea of the tube top becoming a skirt at that moment and that was very helpful in getting away from the bright blue sparkly pants we had before which so many people loved.
We made the leggings for ‘Out Tonight’ and I started looking at a lot of punk leggings again, ripped hose and interesting holes and then I abstracted that for ‘Out Tonight’ with really high-waisted leggings and then I put mesh into cut-out places. The coat is actually a vintage tapestry coat from the first production.”