FASCINATING PEOPLE…Meet Cirque du Soleil Costume Designer Liz Vandal
I‘d bet there aren’t too many fashionistas around who haven’t seen a performance of Cirque du Soleil, either live or on TV. The first one I saw was in the mid 80’s. It took place in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica, CA. I’d been to the circus before, but I was completely unprepared for the amazing event I was about to experience.
Not only were the performers and the music beyond anything I’d seen before, but what brought the story to life for me was the costumes and make-up. I’m continually amazed at the designs and execution. The costumes in every show are imaginative, and perfect to the last detail. Take, for example, OVO.
OVO is about bugs. It’s about a wonderful, colorful, playful, energetic, eco-system. The performers in this show dance, crawl, flutter, play, and fight, emulating the actual movements of the various insects they’re inter-acting with. Their costumes need be designed to be character specific, fun and unique, yet, constructed to allow for that flexibility of movement.
Liz Vandal, the costume designer for OVO, has a special affinity for the world of the insects. “I’ve always had passion for them,” she says.” When I was just a kid I put rocks down around the yard near the fruit trees and I lifted them regularly to watch the insects who had taken up residence underneath them. I petted caterpillars and let butterflies into the house. So when I learned that OVO was inspired by insects, I immediately knew that I was in a perfect position to pay tribute to this majestic world with my costumes.”
When I saw this quote on the Cirque Du Soleil website, I knew I wanted to know more about this incredibly talented designer. Fortunately she was willing to tell us about herself.
Liz began her career as a fashion designer in 1988, inspired by futuristic superheroes and medieval armor. Her creations came to life utilizing materials such as plastic and vinyl. Into the early 1990s, she began working closely
with the Montreal dance company, La La Human Steps, designing costumes for their shows as well as the Opera de Paris among others, Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, the Washington Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, the Mannheim Theater, and the Stuttgart Ballet (in Germany).
Liz became known for her ability to combine costumes and body movement. In 1992, she founded her own company, Vandal Costumes, with her partner Yveline Bonjean. She creates costumes for fashion, films, theater, and musical events, including ”The Backstreet Boys Black n’ Blue” tour.
What path led you to design for Cirque du Soleil?
“I am self taught. My first dream was to dance, but I was often sick, so my parents preferred me to learn music. When I was 9, I remember at lunch time, taking a paper doll and drawing my first fashion design. I knew at that moment it would be my life. When it was time to choose a college, I wanted to go into fashion design. My parents were pragmatic and didn’t believe I could make a living at it. They encouraged me to go into the sciences. Fortunately, I was a good student, but I wasn’t happy. I decided I’d go into computers, so I could get out of school as fast as possible and start my own business. I also worked as a model and bar maid to make money.”
“I started a line of vinyl clothing, 60’s styling. I’d make a skirt, sell it, and take the money to buy more fabric, make 2 skirts, etc. I didn’t know how to sew well, but I learned on my mom’s old sewing machine. When I was finally able
to buy an industrial machine, it got easier. I finally sold a whole line to a very hip boutique called Mousseline, here in Montreal. I was finally able to move on. I realized many years later that these years of study made me a very efficient entrepreneur.”
“Some years later, after working on many other shows, I was contacted by Cirque du Soleil, and asked if I would be interested in doing OVO. It was perfect for me. There were 5 other designers competing. They asked me to draw a certain insect with focus on the EVOCATION not imitation. The drawings were submitted to the artistic designer who was also the choreographer. I believe it is my understanding of the body, how to flatter it and also respect the movement, that got me the job”.
How many characters are in the show and how many costumes do they require?
“There are 15 different insects, sometimes many duplicates of the same kind. 10 crickets, 6 ants, 12 scarabeans, 2 butterflies, 6 fleas, 2 wood insects, 3 spiders, 1 mosquito, one dragonfly, one ladybug, one fly, one multi-colored scarabean, one male spider. Each acrobat has about 3 or 4 costumes of the same kind. They perform two shows per day, using one clean costume each time. They are washed by machine, but dried by fans”.
TO BE CONTINUED…Look for Part 2 of this interview tomorrow!
“All insects are beautiful and perfect; it is what they evoke for each of us that changes our perception of them.”
— Liz Vandal, costume designer
OVO is running in Chicago until August 21st, and will open in Calgary, Alberta, September 17th, and Mexico City October 30th.
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Article by Liz Riley for Phoenix Fashion Week
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