Ana Kuzmanic, costume designer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” is originally from Croatia. She received a master’s degree in costume and scenery design from Northwestern University, where she now teaches. We met at Mix on the Plaza in Ashland.
EH: How did you find yourself in costume design?
AK: I was first fascinated by the representation of the human body in art. If you look at the voluptuous ideal of beauty from 100 years ago, the ideal of beauty today is opposite.
EH: In what period of fashion did the “Count of Monte Cristo” take place?
AK: The novel starts in 1815 and ends in 1833. Those two periods are incredibly different. In women’s wear in 1815, there is a kind of girly, high-waist, empire style of clothes that makes women look very youthful and fresh. In the 1830s, the look changed dramatically, while the waists are very small and tightly corseted, the sleeves of the dresses are almost as wide as the hems of the skirts. It is a very voluminous and extravagant period, a very different silhouette.
Men’s waists were small, and the barrel chest was very popular. It wasn’t unusual for men to have their vests padded to enhance that feature. Their calves were exposed. It wasn’t unusual for men to pad their calves because nice muscular calves were fashionable.
EH: How do you go about designing a production?
AK: I always like to read the first source material that inspired the play. It gives me more information about the world and the characters. I study the script. However, as I’m reading, I like to do some quick sketches. It’s this intuitive step in my process, little instinctive doodles. If the character has certain sharp characteristics, I’d draw something that probably would influence the shapes or perhaps the way the fabric moves for that character.
I do first-hand research: look at the vintage garments, go to the museums, consult fashion history. But at the same time, it’s really important to me to mix that kind of research with my intuitive research.
Then I go into drawing. There are meetings with the director all through the process to make sure that the design is moving in the right direction. Drawing is one of my favorite parts because that’s when imagination kicks in and anything is possible. I like to surround myself with all of the research I’ve done and close myself in my studio and just draw for hours. I go through a variety sketches for each character. I like to think about the key moments, what those moments mean for the play and how the character looks at that exact moment.
Once my designs are done on paper, the real process begins. I need make choices on every single fabric, trim, button, anything that goes on those costumes. Sometimes those things have to be fabricated. That’s where close collaboration begins with fabric painters, dyers, drapers, stitchers and craft artisans. When we put all of that on the actor, the process is still moving forward because then everything I’ve designed, I need to adjust to that particular person. The process doesn’t end until the opening night, until everything’s on stage, under the lights, in relationship to the scenery, and in movement.
EH: Is historical design you main interest?
AK: I love to design in period when the period is then turned around to express the world of the play.