Quickfire Interview with 42nd Street Costume Designer, Roger Kirk
Hawes & Curtis was the brand of choice for famous stars in the 1930s including Fred Astaire. During this period, Hawes & Curtis was renowned for inventing the backless waistcoat which was popular with both royalty and Hollywood dancers. The backless waistcoat was extremely comfortable and always remained in position under the tailcoat. Fred Astaire allegedly approached Hawes & Curtis to have one made, only to be regretfully refused due to high demand from the British aristocracy.
To celebrate Hawes & Curtis’ links to famous stars of the 1930s, we have partnered with the West End’s biggest show – 42nd Street. The production was made famous by the 1933 film starring Ginger Rogers. Set in 1930s New York, the show exudes the height of 1930s charm and is renowned for being the most glamorous and exuberant production on offer. We caught up with Roger Kirk who is the award winning costume designer for 42nd Street.
Q. 42nd Street is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Were your costume designs inspired by any particular icons of the era? If so, who?
A. My inspiration for designing 42 Street was the old Busby Berkeley musical films of the 1930s.
Q. The backless waistcoat was invented by Hawes & Curtis in the 1930s. Why did you decide to dress many of the actors/ dancers in backless waistcoats? What are the benefits of this particular item of clothing?
A. We use backless waistcoats in all the big show dance numbers, as they are easy for quick changes. Too add extra glitz and glamour, all the backless waistcoats in the show are bugle beaded.Q. The costumes in 42nd Street are spectacular. Was it a conscious decision to make them as bold and as bright as possible in order to contrast with the bleakness of the Depression in New York in the 1930s?
A. Yes it was a conscious decision to make the costumes bright, because the show itself is such a big, bright, happy show.
Q. How authentic to the 1930s are the costumes?
A. The costumes are all based on or inspired by original 1930s designs, but of course they have been altered to make them suitable for the dancers and to allow for quick changes.
Q. What has been the most memorable moment for you as a costume designer?
A. Winning the Tony award for best costume design, for the 1995 Broadway production of the King & I.
Q. What has been the most challenging aspect about creating and designing costumes for 42nd Street?
A. The biggest challenge in designing 42nd Street was the sheer number of costumes - around 650 in total!
Q. When did you first want to be a costume designer?
A. As a child I was taken to the theatre by my mother & grandmother who loved the theatre, so from a very young age I knew I wanted to be a theatre designer working with sets and costumes.
Q. What’s your favourite part of the job?
A. My favourite part of the job is seeing it all come together on stage for the first time.
Q. What was your breakthrough production?
A. My breakthrough show was the Australian production of The King & I which transferred to Broadway in 1995 .
Q. What advice do you have for someone wanting to become a costume designer?
A. My advice to someone starting out in this industry is to learn how to draw - this is by far your most important tool to communicate your ideas to directors, actors & costume makers.