Roger Leong, Curator, International Fashion & Textiles, talks to fashion designer Akira Isogawa, who collaborated with choreographer Graeme Murphy to design costumes for The Australian Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet last year.
RL: Firstly, can you tell us how you and Graeme Murphy worked together on Romeo & Juliet?
AI: Graeme was interested in taking Romeo & Juliet into a different light, rather than expressing the classic element only. This meant we could tweak it in a way that was more relevant to modern day. So that’s how it started and we worked in this way.
I was visiting Melbourne quite frequently because I felt it was best for me to actually be at the wardrobe department rather than working in Sydney. The Australian Ballet has an amazing facility and wardrobe team so it was crazy not to use this. Graeme was working with the dancers upstairs in a rehearsal room and I was in the wardrobe department downstairs. So I remember going back and forth showing him what we had done.
RL: You would kind of cross fertilize?
AI: Yes, it gave me great direction. I had a better understanding of what sort of movement was involved, and an understanding of the feeling in the scene and the sort of emotion that the character was expressing. And then sure, we worked vice-versa. Especially in the mornings before he started working with the dancers, Graeme came to see what we had done. It was great to hear from him from time to time. He would say, “Oh I feel very inspired by seeing all this”. It was also great to see that he also incorporated costume into the movement he created.
RL: So your designs were actually inspiring him?
AI: Some parts of it, yes. There is one scene for example where Romeo & Juliet get married in the temple and there was a particular dress that we provided. Graeme worked on the movement with dancers utilising the shape of the dress. It’s very fluid.
RL: One of the costumes that we have in the National Gallery of Victoria’s Ballet & Fashion exhibition is for the character of Lady Capulet from the Ice Palace scene. I love the costume. There are four layers in the skirt and they’re all quite different. Of course it’s very difficult for the exhibition visitor to see all those layers but when you look at the footage you see how it all works, it works beautifully. In terms of those layers, how did you know how it was all going to work with the dance?
AI: I saw the movement of Lady Capulet’s character and I thought it was important to show off the under layers of her dress. It appeared when she danced with Lord Capulet. She was turning around and the movement was quite strong and so I thought I might add something a little bit unexpected. That’s why I used metallic fabric and I think it showed off quite nicely.
RL: Was there anything from your experience on working with Romeo & Juliet that you brought into your own collections afterwards?
AI: Yes, I was so absorbed by Romeo & Juliet for 12 months so when I was designing my own collection I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had applied a particular colour palette to both families, Capulet and Montague. One was cold, one was hot and I used a similar concept for my own collection. But not necessarily shape or the way it was made. It was just the concept of the colour. The colour palette and my own collection were very in sync.