Hip Hop Style and Natural Drag

by Angela M. Vesco, Costume Designer for When January Feels Like Summer

The world premiere of Cori Thomas’s When January Feels Like Summer is in the midst of previews, with the playwright, director, dramaturg, actors, designers, and crew all still hard at work refining the look and run of the show. Despite that, Ange Vesco took some time to let us know about some of the unique challenges of designing the costumes for this show. (Ange is also City Theatre’s Costume Shop Manager.)

I become obsessed with something new in every show I design. For example, with The Seafarer it was how distressed to make Richard’s suit and in Mother Teresa is Dead what kind of accessories an Indian man might wear. I have two obsessions with this show. The first is the hip hop style of matching your clothes to the color of your sneakers. Joshua Reese, Carter Redwood, and I worked very closely to determine their clothing changes. In creating the closet of clothes for Josh (Devaun), he kept steering me toward red-and-black shirts and making comments about how well they matched his red-and-black Nikes. It didn’t sink in and I kept trying colors which were not working. Finally a light bulb went on and I realized he was saying a person would buy their clothes to match their shoe color. Now, Carter’s (Jeron) colors are all in the same family of blues and greens (I futilely tried to sneak an orange T in there) but to differentiate between their characters, he doesn’t match exactly. I have since found out that guys will wear obscure sports team gear just because it might match the particular blue or orange of their shoes. The legendary Chuck D (of Public Enemy or P.E. as they are sometimes called) sported Pirates gear because of that capital “P” logo. I think it’s a sharp look. I am so fascinated by it I even found myself picking out a shirt to match the color of my shoelaces.

Carter Redwood (left) and Joshue Reese (right) ride the subway in style, thanks to their matching shirts and shoes, in WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER.

My other obsession, and biggest challenge, was how to transform Debargo Sanyal (Ishan/Indira) from a man to a woman in a natural, non-drag way. This experience is a first for both of us and we have been working closely together. We spent a good part of his first fitting talking about how women sit, how they stand, how to put on tights, and girly nervous gestures. We tried on a multitude of dresses, blouses, leggings, and skirts, including some of my clothes, to find the four outfits you will see on stage. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that he is often wearing a v-neck of some kind. We found this was flattering as it helps to visually draw the eye away from his broad male shoulders. Debargo was less than thrilled when I told him that meant he would have to shave his chest. It did give him a new appreciation for what women go through in the course of their everyday routine, though.

Debargo has a typical male forehead and square jaw and we needed to mitigate that as much as we could. In a separate fitting, we placed the wig on his head and my stylist gave him a haircut which frames his face and moves really naturally. When he wears the wig we found that if it sits lower than normal and we sweep some hair across the forehead, we can get a soft, pretty, feminine style. I used bracelets to make his wrists look more femme as well as a giving him a sparkly ring and necklace. Debargo has someone to assist him with his make-up, which includes two different kinds of mascara. I did teach him to do a few things for himself because he has to put on make-up on stage. His character has probably been wearing make-up for years in secret so it’s important that he look as practiced and comfortable as possible. I was positively giddy waiting for him to make his first entrance as a woman during tech. Luckily, for both of us, it went smoothly and we only had minor adjustments to do.

Debargo Sanyal begins the transformation from Ishan to Indira in WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER. You'll have to see the show to see the full transformation.

This show has the most costume pieces of any show I’ve ever designed and has turned out to be one of my prouder moments. I fell in love with this beautiful play during Momentum o8 [City Theatre’s new play festival] and I’m so excited that we finally get to share it with the rest of the world. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do. And maybe you’ll find that you, too, just can’t help matching your shirt to your shoes.

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