Each time she steps onto a red carpet, Lupita Nyong’o looks flawless. So when costume designer Clint Ramos learned that he would be giving the star a major make-under for her Broadway debut in Eclipsed, he knew he had to get it right.
“When I first found out that Lupita would be in the play, I was really anxious because she’s such a style icon,” Ramos told InStyle on Tuesday, just days after winning the Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play. “She’s become a very decorated young actress in a very short amount of time, and I had only heard really great things about her—but I didn’t know how far we could push her in the theater.”
But as soon as he began working with Nyong’o—who portrays "The Girl," one of five women brought together while fighting to survive the Second Liberian Civil War—Ramos’s apprehension quickly subsided. “Once we started talking about the costumes, she just asked all the right questions,” he said. “It was a very photographed war, so I was able to pull images while researching the wardrobe. As we sifted through the photos together, I’d study Lupita’s reaction to see what really resonated with her.”
Nyong'o was on board to do whatever it took to look the part. Still, Ramos “didn’t want to lose the idea of Lupita,” he said. “I wanted her to look convincing without distracting people by making her look unrecognizable, because she really has this inner light. When you look at her, there’s an unbelievable luminosity that just pours out of her skin. So while we celebrated the extreme of her character’s look, I didn’t want to overwork the idea and lose sight of who she is.”
Even so, the wardrobe had to accurately reflect the plight of the characters at the play’s core. “I didn’t want to make the costumes prettier than they should be just because it’s on Broadway,” he said. “I wanted to capture these characters by being honest and truthful, because the subject is unflinching and we’re forced to watch their painful story.”
While the hard-hitting play wraps its limited run on June 19, it’s already made history as the first-ever show with an all-female cast—and the cast and crew couldn't be happier. “It’s really profound that a play like Eclipsed, which deals with the darker and grittier aspects of humanity, is so successful,” said Ramos. “And the fact that it means a lot to so many people is wonderful.” Scroll down to see the costumes from the play and get the scoop from Ramos himself.
1. Lupita's Look
“At the beginning, Lupita’s character—known just as “The Girl”—has been in the jungle for weeks,” said Ramos. “She’s really dirty and very bedraggled. But Lupita was game for all of it—we even talked about the bodily fluids that we were going to stain her costume with.
The inspiration for the Rugrats T-shirt was the fact that many of these young girls wear graphic T-shirts from America. In further research, I found out that a lot of American goods actually end up there through religious missionary transfer. So it becomes somewhat of a dumping ground for what we don’t want anymore."
2. A Powerful T-Shirt
"When I found this Rugrats T-shirt, I said, “Let me just try this on her,” said Ramos. "And the moment she put it on, she just gasped—and so did I. It just galvanized this idea that the innocence was pure, not in a traditional way where she’s in white, but it was more a playful thing. It represented innocence in this distressed, ravaged state, which is heartbreaking. And, to me, it made that girl familiar to us. It needed to hit home. And I think that T-shirt just encapsulated that.”
3. Not So Innocent
“The Rugrats shirt unlocked a piece of the costume for the play where I said to myself, ‘We just need to find the right T-shirt for everybody,’” said Ramos. “So the first time Lupita’s character holds a gun, she wears a Tweety Bird shirt. We even put little stickers of Hello Kitty on her gun. She’s a young girl being forced to become a soldier, a victim of war. So it unfolded with that one shirt, and then we layered African-print skirts with it. We find vintage skirts from the '70s with it.”
4. A Logical Mix
“When I was doing research, there was something about the way the clothing was juxtaposed between what seemed to be a Western piece and a traditional African cloth,” said Ramos. “I tried to assign something that would help the actors formulate a history for their characters and their taste level, and I think it just contributes to their performance. They’re wearing something that’s so specific and thought out. It may look random when you first see the show, but I’m hoping that when the audience really looks at it in further detail, it all in a weird way makes sense.”
5. Prime Patterns
“Those African skirts had so many prints and colors in them,” said Ramos. “To me, it was studying who was in that particular scene and figuring out how to balance these colors and still appear to be real. And then for the graphics of the T-shirt, I really just wanted to calibrate which particular costume I wanted to have a little comment on, or which one needed to be plain. We went through so many options of fabric skirts paired with vintage T-shirts.”
6. Not-Quite Couture
“Maima, the rebel soldier [played by Zainab Jah], wears this knock-off Chanel shirt,” said Ramos. “She thinks she’s a big deal and so powerful now that she finally escaped being a sex slave. In looking at the research, part of my thought process was that these women, these rebel soldiers, were actually highly sexualized. They wear midriff-baring shirts, and body-hugging jeans. So I wanted to sort of juxtapose what they were wearing with what their character was, and see the tension with it.”
7. Peace-Filled Wardrobe
“Rita [played by Akosua Busia] always wears a white headscarf, because it goes with the peace movement," said Ramos. "The all-white outfit is a traditional sort of African lace called a swiss. It’s fascinating, because this was a war, and the peace was won by women. They decided to have a peaceful protest—and other than the location and time to show up, the only instruction was to wear white. There was a sea of women in white who just did these peaceful sit-ins and protests.
So we did that in an African lace wrap-skirt and blouse, which is the first outfit we see Rita in when she’s visiting the compound. I don’t think this particular character has an idea of what she’s getting herself into. She used to be a rich lady who owned stores, and she’s a little overdressed. If you see the show, she actually puts a handkerchief on the ground before she sits on it. And then eventually, she sort of deconstructs and ends up in T-shirts and wrap skirts by the end.”
8. On-Set Accessories Expert
“Wife #1 is Helena [played by Saycon Sengbloh], the oldest of the wives, and she becomes this sort of matriarchal figure,” said Ramos. “We never see her hair—she goes through five or so distinct head wraps. They’re all West African fabrics, and we really needed to make sure that these prints could exist in the western part of Africa. Saycon is actually an expert at tying head wraps—her family was Liberian, and she sort of organically came up with different ways to wrap them. It was a lot of trial and error in terms of pattern on pattern, print on print, to find pieces that didn’t clash. Thankfully, the girls were all so patient with me.”
9. Shoes That Make a Statement
“I was inspired by a photo of a girl wearing a colorful outfit with white and pink Birkenstocks,” said Ramos. “She looks all normal and wonderful, but then she’s carrying this huge, gigantic grenade launcher. And she’s in slides. It gave me the idea to put #1 in that for the show. The clothing that these women actually get are things that the soldiers have taken off of dead bodies—and a lot of it is unisex. I thought, what if we put Helena in men’s slides, something that would sort of echo that picture I saw but give it a different layer and have it be like a man’s slipper? And it was really interesting, because she does kind of wear the pants in the compound.”
10. Setting an Example
“When Lupita’s character is settling into the compound and is taken under Wife #1’s wing, I decided that she should be fashioned the way that #1 would do it herself," said Ramos. "She basically taught her how to wrap her head, and up until she runs away, she’s always in a head wrap—except for the first scene, when she’s found.”