At first glance, the costumes in The Color Purple look pretty ordinary. Everyone is wearing historically accurate clothing, pieces that look like they belonged to your grandparents or great-grandparents. What if that is exactly what the costume designer, Trevor Bowen, had in mind? For some productions, it takes hard work to make costumes look like real clothes. Below, Bowen talks through his design process and bringing the vision for The Color Purple to life.
DCPA: How do you begin work on a project? What is the research process?
I begin each project by reading the script several times. This enables me to start to understand the language and rhythms of a given piece.
The research process is often tied with script analysis, so as I break down the piece, I begin to research what resonates with me , and start to solve the visual puzzle of the story.
Research can range from an image from a book in my library, a trip to the public library, a trip to a museum or department store, a google search, to people watching.
DCPA: Where do you draw inspiration?
What a great question. Anything can be inspiring from learning who is cast in a role, a piece of music, the color of the sky, finding a bit of treasure on a neighborhood walk.
DCPA: You’ve mentioned wanting the costumes for The Color Purple to look like clothes – not like costumes. What steps do you take to achieve that vision?
It first began by looking at extant garments from the periods the story traverses. Then it was looking at Southern and black communities in rural Georgia to see how clothing was worn, how fabrics draped on the body, how fit and proportion gave me a backstory to the origin of a garment, and who the wearer was.
This translated to dyeing, painting, aging, distressing fabrics. I also was curious to explore texture by not ironing some garments, while others were pressed, steamed, and starched.
DCPA: Do you have a specific color palette for each character, or a color palette for the production?
Most of the colors in the production complement each other . This was to support Timothy’s vision of the production being very communal and supportive.
DCPA: How did you source the costumes? Were they vintage, modern, handmade, or a combination?
A combination. I will let you figure out what is what in the musical.
DCPA: When is the design process finished?
The design is finished by opening night. This is when a production is “frozen,” and changes can no longer be made.
Updates and refinements are made throughout the rehearsal process, as the costume shop learns about bits of choreography and blocking to seeing a composition on stage in tech rehearsals and previews and making adjustments for clarity or cohesion.