Behind-the-Seams: A Peek into the World of William Ivey Long
By Lauren Van Hemert
Last summer I had the privilege of visiting William Ivey Long at his Tribeca studio in New York. From the minute you enter the modest building, it is clear that Long is a collector of people and things. His typewriter, which he favors using over a computer, sits on top of a desk given to him by former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. And the drapes that hang in the entryway of the studio, which he says “keep the cold air in or the hot air in, whichever you need,” formerly hung in the North Carolina Executive Mansion near Downtown Raleigh.
The narrow corridors are crowded with bins and boxes, stacked floor to ceiling, filled with accessories and fabrics, all categorized by production. All of these containers are but a hint of a prosperous Tony-Award winning career.
Downstairs foam insulation boards line the walls pinned with drawings, newspaper clippings, and research for upcoming projects. It’s all part of a process Long calls “design osmosis” that helps him tune into the time period and overall style of the show.
Long is very old school. He hand paints his own prints on canvas and uses collage and weaving techniques to layer pieces to create his own fabrics. There is no evidence of computers in the studio, just an artist’s toolbox complete with paints, pastels, and pencils.
And then, of course, there are the costumes, each a one-of-a-kind couture piece. Among his favorites is the costume he designed for Anita Morris for the original 1982 production of the musical Nine. This was Long’s second Broadway musical but his first breakout hit, and it earned him his first Tony Award. The costume pictured below is one of the few on display in the studio.
Long designed the costumes for two of this season’s most anticipated Broadway shows Beetlejuice and Tootsie, both of which open this March. He is also working on the highly anticipated show Diana, which premieres next month at The La Jolla Playhouse.
For more information on Long, check out Bobbi Owen’s book The Designs of William Ivey Long. Owen is a Professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and spent two years working on this monograph, which chronicles all 350 productions (and counting) for which Long has designed.
Also check out the book, William Ivey Long: Costume Designs from 2007-2016 from The Mint Museum Exhibition in Charlotte.