To the acrobatics, juggling, and singing that have enhanced its extravagant dinner entertainments in the past, Teatro ZinZanni now adds high fashion. This summer’s Bottega ZinZanni—All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go convinced local Luly Yang, one of the Northwest’s busiest bridal and cocktail couturiers, to design stage costumes for the first time. Yang created 13 original pieces (including a variation on the dress with sketch pictured) to clothe the story of a European fashionista (Tony winner Liliane Montevecchi) who unveils her latest collection in Seattle. Yang is no stranger to multitasking: She’s developed a brand that won her the 2007 Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year Award and last November opened a boutique in Beijing.
How did you come to design for Teatro ZinZanni? I’d been to it before and found it very entertaining and very intriguing. [ZinZanni costume designer] Louise DiLenge invited me to take a couple of my clients over prior to us agreeing to do the project. I really like that it takes me back in time a little bit—it has a period feel about it. I like what they do there, so we agreed to partner.
You’ve said, “The woman and her body are the soul of the design.” How did that idea translate into your 13 original creations for show? Well, we created couture for each one of the artists and performers. First, we read the story. Teatro creates its own stories, so as they were writing they would feed the stories to me. The characters were also developed through the stories. If we’re able to meet the artist and read their part, then we design for that particular part and that personality, just like we would for our clients.
What was the design concept behind Vita’s dress (pictured)? She doesn’t have a speaking role. I believe she’s the sexy, sultry lady in the story, so we made sure she had the most sensual piece. The dress has a cutout and sequins—it almost looks like nude sequins underneath—and chiffon outside. She’s almost like a fairy. When she moves she almost floats. We wanted to create something light and airy for her.
How about Liliane Montevecchi’s character as the fashion designer? Before I met her, we had a phone consultation. I got a feel for her personality through that conversation and also through photos of her past costumes [for ZinZanni]. We wanted to give her something Parisian-feeling, but she also very much liked the ’20s- and ’30s-inspired garments, so we put that into play as well. And then she came for fitting and, with that, the garment evolved. One of the dresses actually changed quite a bit. The red dress—it was blue before.
How does designing costumes for the theater differ from working with clients at Luly Yang Couture? We turned up the sparkle and the color a few notches. The ZinZanni tent is dimly lit and we knew the colors had to be more vibrant because it is for performances versus a cocktail party. We always consider the setting.
What challenges did you face? It’s about finessing the time. I mean, we’re still doing our regular business on top of building this costume set for the Teatro. I wish I had an extra 24 hours every day so that I could invest more time into this project and my own project. It is a challenge when you have a lot on your plate, but it’s also a blessing and an honor to have the opportunity to work with artists and performers who we appreciate so much.
How does the Northwest inspire or affect your design and fashion choices? I don’t know if it inspired me for this particular theater event but I do think Northwest women and men tend to dress with less outward “bling.” So we tone it down a little bit, not so much sequins and bells and whistles on the surface. We expect really fine construction and good detailing and really good textiles. We invest in that perfect proportion but not appliqués everywhere, for example. There’s a quiet elegance here.
Even though the Beijing boutique is very new, do you have your eye on any other locations? I do. Right now is not a good time to expand, for obvious reasons like the economy. When it picks back up, I am considering the West Coast: San Francisco is at the top of my list. And, Teatro is down there, too. Wouldn’t that be perfect? It would be wonderful to partner, and I talked to Louise about how it would be so great to do a launch down there in their tent and with their production.