The gloriously elaborate, charming, magical, and spectacularly fun costume designs of Paloma Young have us speechless.
WE CAN’T EVEN!
Our arts editor cried upon receiving an email from her, because we are HUGE fans of Paloma Young. This Tony Award–winning costume designer brings her work to life on the stage. From script inspiration, illustration and collage, to handmade garments and found-object costumes, her process is one we’ve never shared on Paper Darts before. These gorgeous designs will dazzle you and make you endlessly twirl in circles. Young was kind enough to share her process, her designs, her thoughts about aliens, and her background as a high school goth with us octoladies, and we couldn’t be more excited! The swirls, the pearls, the feathers, the velvet, the gingham, the wings—goodness, we cannot contain our joy.
Young hails from both North County, San Diego, and Peaks Islands, Maine. This complicated backstory has landed her in Brooklyn, New York, but even that’s not permanent, because she’s constantly traveling for work. For all of us theater nerds, her talent has recently been seen in Broadway shows like Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, Bandstand, and Peter and the Starcatcher. Her sixth-grade self wanted to be a witch, and this young artist spent her time reading about herbs, crystals, and spells. Sadly, the magic never worked. But nowadays, Young goes through life like a sponge, absorbing anything and everything, and stores these tidbits away in her brain for inspiration.
“I can love anything as part of a story, or the human experience. Music, food, pop music, Twitter. I just learned about how mechanical watches work, and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
What’s your earliest art memory?
“I remember drawing a landscape in preschool on a paper plate, which was the first time I had been able to draw birds that looked like Vs. Very proud. I showed it to a classmate and he took a bite out of it and ate it. (Chad Costanzo, I 100 percent remember it was you.)”
We asked Paloma to give us a peak into her process. What does it take to create an entirely new costume?
“Whew, okay . . . (I left out sooo much, including collabs with hair and makeup designers, and other designers. Lots of back and forth. Also, begging producers for money.)
1. During my first read of a script, I take one page of notes with emotional reactions, and another page of things that stand out.
2. Collect images and meet with the director to pick favorites. Also, my research and reading stage.
3. Collages for modern dress, or near past. Drawings and research of that period or fantasy.
4. Meet with makers building the costumes, and pick fabrics.
5. Meet with actors and get their input.
6. Fittings, usually about two to three.
7. Look at it all together onstage with everyone else, and make tweaks (or sometimes throw it all out and start from scratch!).
8. FREEZE the look. We’re done.
This monstrous project ends up looking so fantastic! Check out the illustrations and final products of the opera costumes from The Great Comet below.
Through this collaborative process, Young creates artwork that lives and moves onstage every night.
For Young, every day is different. She tries to limit her brain to work on only two shows at a time. All of her attention goes toward the designing, the meetings, and the massive amounts of paperwork. She admits that it’s sometimes hard. Typically, this awe-inspiring human has eight to ten shows on the horizon, each in a different stage of development.
What is the first story you remember having an impact on you?
“I was spending my dad’s sabbatical with him on a ship in the Caribbean. He would tell me bedtime stories as we went to sleep on the deck . . . One in particular, she had been captured by pirates but she was so good, they made her the captain, but when they captured a ship, she wouldn’t let them kill anyone. Instead she tied everyone into their cabins with a thick rope. They rubbed cheese on the rope, so that eventually the ship rats would chew through the ropes, but by then, the pirates would be long gone. Badass! He certainly got me started imagining myself in any story/context.”
Paloma Young harbors the dream to make her own design community—a communal studio space for designers who have just moved to New York. The space would create a welcoming home for new creatives and a community to be inspired by peers.
Collaboration is key. We asked Young what was the greatest lesson she’s learned about working with others—some truly great advice:
“Take ten minutes before sending an email when you’re angry.”
Due to her stressful schedule, Young always reminds herself:
“Nobody’s going to die. Relax.”
Do you believe in ghosts?
“Absolutely. I lived in a haunted house.”
Do you believe in aliens?
“Yes, but I don’t think they’ve visited Earth.”
Your favorite virtue?
Your main fault?
What is your idea of happiness?
“Dogs. So many dogs.”
If not yourself, who would you be?
“I sometimes dream of being an accountant (not a joke).”
A final piece of advice from Paloma Young:
“Look outside your family and peers for heroes.”
Stay inspired and enamored with Paloma Young on Instagram.