How Dior, Modern Art & Post-War Paris Shaped the Costumes & Sets of the Musical An American in Paris
In honor of the 69th Annual Tony Awards (Sunday, June 7th on CBS), we're taking a look at some of the productions that feature spectacular costumes this season.
With over 12 Tony nominations (yes, you read correctly: a dozen), the Broadway musical An American in Paris, based on the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, is having a well-deserved moment in the sun. Two of those nominations were for the magical sets and splendid costumes--both of which are the work of Bob Crowley. He took a few moments this week to chat with InStyle from his London studio.
It seems unusual that one person would be behind both sets and costumes.
It’s unusual in America, but not in Europe. I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like having a hand in both.
The play is a love story set in Paris at the end of World War II, and I understand the costumes were all actually designed and made in Paris. How did that come about?
The original production was in Paris, at the Théâtre du Châtelet. The theater has its own ateliers with Parisian tailors and dressmakers, so I was suddenly in the amazing position of having couture designs to work with. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Having a show about post-war Paris when fashion was about to come alive again, with the production’s clothing being made in Paris—it was very moving. The dressmakers are so talented, fashion is in their DNA. The clothing never looked overworked, or belabored. It had a sort of effortlessness, which is what we aimed for.
There is one scene that takes place in the Galeries Lafayette department store that’s so spectacular to behold, especially from a fashion standpoint. The dancers are dressed in what looks like Dior’s New Look—full skirts and fitted short jackets.
Yes! That’s a fantasy sequence where the main character, Jerry, goes there to express his love for Lise, who works in the perfume department. There was, of course, no perfume to sell at that point after the war, there was so little. So this is a look at what is about to happen. And one of those things is Dior’s New Look. He brought the female form back again, and he truly loved women. We also used Morris columns as a design element, those big pillars that you often see in Paris that hold advertising posters. As soon as Jerry starts to sing, color appears, light appears. Young love is blossoming and it is a moment to forget the horrors of war. Hope is born out of two people finding one another. That scene is all about hope.
So many of the costumes look as though they’ve been influenced by the modern art of that era.
There was such an explosion of art post-war, and Paris is always associated with art and artists. The costumes that we created for the American in Paris ballet scene in the show reference [20th-century artist] Mondrian. We wanted a contemporary audience today to feel the excitement of what a Parisian would have felt at that time to see something so new. We didn’t want to do a pastiche, or to have it feel dated in any way. The initial idea, the initial sketch for the costumes in that particular dance only took an hour, like all good things! They either take two years or two hours. You know when it feels right.
Find tickets for An American in Paris at ticketmaster.com.