By Sofia Supervielle.
In the costume workshop of the Solís Theater there are several pastel-colored dresses hanging on a rack, a half-dyed gold leather jacket, and a dozen shoes and hats on a very long table. There is a sewing machine, mannequins and more than 10 pieces of paper pasted on one wall. They have handmade drawings, scraps of cloth, and annotations. Is he mood board final that Ángel Fernández, better known as Ángel Amor, made to start designing and making the costumes for the opera Dido and Aeneaswhich on Thursday the 19th opens the lyrical season at the Teatro Solís, under the stage direction of Igor Yebra and the musical direction of Cristina García Banegas.
The Spanish fashion and costume designer, who shared courses at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Central Saint Martins in London, with Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, explains that this mood board It is the end result of years of work. “The most important stage of the creative process is the documentation stage, in order to then be able to give shape to all the ideas,” he points out. “It’s about looking for references, researching different periods and styles. (…) Once one knows the different styles, he can play with them”.
Sitting on a prop chair and surrounded by tools to create accessories, such as wires, clips and feathers, Ángel Amor talked with Gallery about his experience on the locker room team at maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015) and The favourite (2018), and about the process of creating costumes for movies and theater.
Born in the town of Erandio, 8 kilometers from Bilbao, he was invited by his friend Igor Yebra to design the costumes for the opera that will have performances on Thursday 19, Saturday 21 and Monday 23.
The three-act play is a love story drawn from the Aeneid of Virgil, about the queen of Carthage, North Africa, named Dido, and the Trojan refugee Aeneas. Making his debut as an opera costume designer, Amor played with the Greco-Roman style and mixed it with contemporary designs. Thus, garments that look old could also be seen on the street today. “What I try with my work is to convey the essence and the magic that Igor wants to be achieved in each character,” said the designer.
How was your passion for fashion born?
My mom and sister sewed and knitted since I was a child. At the age of 14, I helped cut clothes and knew how to sew. I was always very good at drawing, so my whole family thought I was going to study Fine Arts. But at the age of 16 I was very clear that I wanted to study fashion. My brand, Ángel Amor, was born in 2003 as a hat brand. That’s my specialty. Several years after founding it they began to call me to work in film.
How important is the hat in styling?
For film and stage costumes it is indispensable. The portrait is always what occupies the screen the most. In Cinderella, the screen is occupied by the protagonist, Cate Blanchett, with my hats. In that film I was in charge of headgear, a department that almost always also works with corsets, necklaces, jewelry and other accessories. I dedicate myself a lot to brides and the same thing happens, what you see most in the photos of their day is the hat, not so much the shoes or the train of the dress. Since the 1970s, the hat ceased to be fashionable, but before it was the fashion of the street, it was a symbol of distinction. It protects from the sun, from the cold, it has its function. Today we are prejudiced against hats because they are not fashion, it is an accessory that has remained a little over time. But if we go to any period or fantasy movie, hats are key. The same thing happened with high-heeled shoes, now they use trainers. It is something sociological. I hope, and I notice it, that the hat will be used again in the same way that a bag or good shoes are used today; they are for all a sign of distinction.
How is the creative process of a wardrobe?
It’s always long. The project of Dido and Aeneas I have been working with Igor since September 2020. The pandemic delayed the process and gave us more time to choose the designs, colors and materials. The team has been buying fabrics for two months and making a video call with me from Europe while they make. I went to bed late at night because we were five hours apart (laughs). Now I’m here, and I’m going to work in the workshop for 20 days. The most important stage of the creative process is that of documentation, in order to later be able to give shape to all the ideas. It is about looking for references, researching different periods and styles. I always tell my students that things have been done a thousand times and that it is good to look at what others have done so as not to repeat and also enrich themselves. The outfits are defined little by little as they are assembled mood boards, with the panels of each character and the references that inspire you to dress them. In the case of Cinderella, all the costumes were inspired by the style of the seventeenth century, with the exception of the stepmother. This one was completely inspired by the Hollywood divas of the 50’s. Once you know the different styles, you can play around with them.
How is the case Dido and Aeneas?
What I try with my work is to convey the essence and the magic that Igor wants to be achieved in each character. Dido and Aeneas It is a story that has been represented in all ways. In contemporary style, from the 18th century, also in the Trojan style, and several more. In my case, I gave it a bit of a Greco-Roman style, mixed with contemporary. If we look at the dresses, which we dye by hand and make, they give off a Tunisian and Moroccan air, but at the same time they could be worn for the beach on any given day. They are totally contemporary. Same thing with Aeneas’s jacket. It could seem from the Roman era but rock at the same time.
How does the design process for cinema differ from that for theater?
The biggest difference is the budget. The one of the films of great productions is around 250 million dollars. The times are also different, the film production is done in five months and the theater in weeks. The creative process is the same. Everything is handmade, it is worked by hand. In the theater I have to take into account the distance of the audience from the stage, but something similar happens in the cinema. The only thing that looks good is what is in the foreground. In the last movie I worked on, death on the nile (2022), I spent a whole month, with three other people, making the costumes of some nuns that you see for a second and, if I don’t tell you they’re there, you don’t see them. They walk behind the protagonist, and the scene is in black and white. With what it cost to make those eight nuns, we make five theater performances like this one (laughs). The same thing happens in the final scene, we did a super meticulous job for the hats of the Belgian soldiers, but they are in the background and out of focus (laughs). In maleficent They spent a fortune and hours on the shoes. Angelina wore Vivienne Westwood’s 500 pound boots but they are never seen.
How would you describe your design style?
I would define it as gothic-romantic. I am very romantic but I really like the dark side, it is something that has to do with fetishism, with the idea of preserving beauty after death. I think that’s why, for example, I like feathers.
What do you do with the costumes once the movie is shot or the play is over?
They go to the archives of the theater or the production company. Most of what is in the archives can be reused, rented, or sold. They gave me access to, for example, the production materials of Snow White (2012) and Beauty and the Beast (2017) to recycle whatever you want. In the Hollywood films that I have worked on, Walt Disney keeps some things for his archives and travels around the world with the rest, accompanying the release of the films. Tents are made and the costumes are displayed. There are also costume collectors all over the world. These, before the film is filmed, ask that a replica of a certain garment be made, so that they can keep it. I’ve had to make several replicas for that issue. Angelina Jolie’s wardrobe in maleficent, to give an example, costs millions. All the costumes are very expensive and the added value, once the film has been shot, is very high.
During your career, which creation was the most challenging?
Everything is incredibly challenging. I would highlight, as an icon in cinema, Cate Blanchett’s big hat in the scene when she gets off the float. Sandy Powell, director of costume design, came to see me and said that it was the director’s request that the hat in that scene be the biggest hat in movie history and semi-transparent. Those were the guidelines. I almost had a panic attack (laughs). It was difficult because it had to be transparent enough that it was translucent, that she could see through it and that the viewer could see her face on the other side of her. It also had to work with the lights and the cameras. Angelina’s layers, in the case of maleficentThey were very complicated too. She got to have a moment of fury because we tried many layers, we reached 10, until we found the right one. The velvet cape pattern she wears throughout the movie is the same pattern I’m wearing for Dido in Dido and Aeneas.
What was your job in maleficent?
The central designer was Anna Sheppard and she had 10 people working for her, who in turn had their own teams. I was in one of those, I worked the capes and the collars. In total we were 52 people in costumes. It was hard and very exciting at the same time.
How was that experience?
As it was the first major film production I worked on and my first contact with Walt Disney, it was fascinating to me. I have been out of myself. Everywhere you work hard and discipline is key. But in these film productions the contract is for 12 hours per day. The experience in maleficent It was a dream but it wasn’t for everyone, it was very hard work and also in these productions there are very big crown fights, it’s a very competitive environment. They are such big productions that they want to have the best of everything, so there is envy and tension between the creatives. If you are the best at making high heels and you live in Canada, for example, you will be attracted from Canada, regardless of the cost or anything. Angelina Jolie left me a letter on the table, which may one day solve my retirement (laughs), which says “thank you very much for your work, keep it up”. That phrase sums up what needs to be done: don’t lower the bar. Of the big productions that I participated in, Cinderella It was the one with the best atmosphere. There was good energy, camaraderie and we felt cared for. There are productions in which you don’t even eat.
He lived 12 years in London. In what way do you think that city influenced her work?
Totally. When I studied at Central Saint Martins, from the ages of 26 to 28, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen were in my class. Our teachers were Stephen Jones, a highly respected milliner in the fashion world, and John Galeano, a designer who was at the helm of Givenchy, Dior and Maison Margiela. I also did internships with Vivienne Westwood, it was all amazing. I always say this: I learned a lot about fashion at Saint Martins but also a lot about life. Studying there changed me.
He is a teacher in several places. What do you like about that job?
My great passion is education, more than fashion. I transmit my knowledge for love, I love it. Keeping everything I know and what I continue to learn would only be sad for myself. Everything I learn I have to transmit, it is a law of life.