Behind the seams of Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza

 

Jason Brass is a self-declared “complete vagabond”.

As Head of Wardrobe for Cirque du Soleil’s latest production, Kooza, he travels the world, living out of just four suitcases.

“We have a rule at Cirque du Soleil; one piece in, one piece out,” he explained, adding that it’s not always easy.

I joked he should definitely throw something out in order to keep the shiny red Urbbana shoes he was wearing.

Jason’s role to keep the show on the road–at least in a costume sense–and that means doing anything from throwing on a load of washing to driving a forklift and ensuring that no one mixes up bleach and washing liquid when shopping in foreign countries.

“That has happened; thankfully it was on someone’s personal clothes, not on the costumes,” he laughed.

On Wednesday night I was invited to try Kooza’s VIP Rouge menu and as well as being dazzled by the stunning creations of Caxton Street Catering, I was able to grab 10 minutes for a Q&A with Jason where he let me in on some ‘Behind the Seams’ secrets from inside the Big Top.

And let’s face it, I’m much more interested in fashion than I am food.

Kooza-Head-of-Wardrobe-Jason-Brass
Jason Brass, Head of Wardrobe for Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza was dressed by Brisbane’s Urbbana.

Tell me a little about the costumes for Kooza?
A lot of people think as Head of Wardrobe I design the costumes, but the costumes are actually designed by Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt and the makeup by Florance Cornet in Montreal. The overall theme for Kooza is a bit of a treasure box, so there’s some military, a bit of rock and roll and even some Mad Max influence.

How many costumes are featured in Kooza? 
There are 175 costumes and 160 hats in the show–about 3500 pieces in total, with about 1200 of them seen per performance.

The costumes are all such unique colours and patterns, where do you source the fabrics? 
All of our costumes are custom-made. We order a lot of fabrics in white and then treat and dye them in-house to the create kaleidoscopic of colour palettes that Cirque du Soleil has become known for.

How are the costumes made?
The costumes are made in Montreal and are then shipped to us on tour to do the final fittings, alterations and repairs. Depending on a performer’s role within the show, we can take up to 300 measurements, so it’s very detailed. We’ve really started to push the boundaries of how costumes are made with Kooza and now 3D print a lot of pieces as it makes them more durable, it’s also much quicker.

Are the costumes custom designed for each performer?
They are. We now do a digital body scan of each artist so the design team in Montreal can make pieces to perfectly fit their body. Even the hats are custom-made with precise measurements taken by a portable scanner and our milliners then use 3D printers to build the hats, whereas they used to be made by taking a plaster cast of each performer’s head which was pretty time-consuming!

What is something most people don’t realise about the costumes?
We need them to be functional for our performers, so while something may look like a normal button, it’s usually a fake button made of silicon, and our contortionists have costumes with gold chains on them, but really they chain is made of little pieces of elastic glued together.

Do you have a favourite costume from the show?
I have three favourites. The Trickster, the primary character, because of the technical detail involved in his outfit; the stripes on the collar of his shirt match to the stripes on the jacket, which match up with the stripes on his pants and his shoes. It’s like one continuous stripe and that detail is fantastic.

There’s also the Crooner who has a Day of the Dead style mask and whose embroidered jacket features 1988 rhinestones, so it is very Liberace. The costumes for the high wire act are also very regal with a Spanish element.

What’s your greatest challenge?
I’m the designer’s eyes on the road so for me, one of the challenges is making sure we have all the supplies we need and the costumes and keeping up with the ordering, but the greatest challenge for my team is maintenance; we’re asking fabrics to do things that they should.

It’s also a challenge moving the show to different countries; there are a lot of feathers in Kooza so it took me about a year to do all the paperwork to bring them in to Australia.

How many staff do you have?
There are three of us in the wardrobe team that travel full-time; there’s one girl on costumes, one on shoes and crafts and myself as Head of Wardrobe. We also hire four locals per city to do things like sewing and to iron and steam the costumes. It takes six to eight hours a day to get the costumes ready for a performance and we do 28 loads of laundry during set up.

What does backstage look like for you?
We design and make things to last so most of the costumes are machine washable and we have eight washers and five dryers that travel with us. Our wardrobe is a fully functioning shop from industrial sewing machines, shoe making equipment to make up supplies. People from the theatre often come to do backstage tours and they’re blown away by the amount we have.

KOOZA by Cirque du Soleil is in Brisbane from November 24 to January 8. For tickets, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/kooza or phone 1800 036 685.

 

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