Opera and fashion design have long had an ongoing love affair, with big names like Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, and Gianni Versace all trying their hand as costumers for epic productions.
Now the Vancouver Opera Festival has brought in one of Canada’s fastest-rising design stars to outfit its new staging of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
Sid Neigum, a grad of New York City’s highly regarded FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology, to those outside the industry), is already well-accustomed to the infamous pressures of the business. He’s taken Toronto Fashion Week by storm (nabbing awards like the Swarovski for emerging talent); he’s landed his sculptural line in Hudson’s Bay’s chic boutique the Room across the country; and, more recently, he earned what Vogue called a “warm reception” at London Fashion Week last September. But even within that milieu, the affable designer admits creating costumes for an opera is, well, a task of operatic proportions.
“It was 100 garments and two of each because there are two performers for each role, so it was a huge undertaking for sure,” says the Alberta-born Neigum over the phone from his Toronto headquarters. “It was just as big a job—if not bigger!—than a collection, where I would do two in a year.”
When Vancouver Opera approached him last summer for the venture, Neigum jumped at the chance—not just because he is a Mozart fan, but because he was looking to extend his reach. (Among other gigs, he’s also recently partnered with Pfaff Auto on exclusive luxury-car interiors.) But he also knew his aesthetic could resonate well in the operatic world: “I think there are a lot of theatrical pieces in my collection—I’ve always tried to verge on the theatrical or magical, so it’s been nice to dive into a project like this.”
Neigum’s approach, working with director Rachel Peake and VO costume head Parvin Mirhady, has been to modernize The Marriage of Figaro while still playing with the farcical comedy’s key themes of mistaken identity and class conflict.
“I watched it and tried to get in the mind of each character,” he explains. “What’s so different from fashion is you’re not necessarily trying to make everybody look great. In fashion you want to make everybody feel comfortable and amazing. But with this, you may want to make something ill-fitting intentionally, or show someone trying to make themselves look too young for their age.”
Known for his all-black attire, Neigum says he probably relates to the title character the most, whom he’s dressed in the same simple hue—also a symbol of the fact that, within the story, he’s a modern guy.
On the other end of the spectrum is the opera’s showpiece, a voluminous, origamilike white wedding dress. “It’s made of double-bonded nylon, so it’s super structured,” Neigum enthuses. “It’s definitely the most epic piece in the show and probably uses the most fabric, with a lot of volume on the top and bottom.”
Throughout, the designer has decided to colour-code the characters—not just to help you keep track of them as they disguise themselves, but to emphasize the class divisions that come so much into play in the piece. “The upper class wears jewel tones like red, deep jade-ish greens, a really rich black, and a darker purple, whereas the lower class is in more of a faded, subdued palette of greys and tans,” he explains.
Momentous as it’s been trying to design costumes for an opera taking place on the other side of the country, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable task for Neigum. And he definitely sees that his work here can benefit his fashion career as well—something everyone from Lagerfeld to Versace must have known, too. “A lot of opera fans are my perfect customer, as far as age and demographic,” he admits. And so the love affair continues.
The Marriage of Figaro is at the Vancouver Playhouse from Sunday (April 30) to May 18, as part of the Vancouver Opera Festival.