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The Fashions of ‘LADY DAY’ – The Billie Holiday Musical: An Interview with Costume Designer Patricia A. Hibbert

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The curtain will rise for preview performances for the new Billie Holiday musical Lady Day starring Tony and multiple Grammy Award-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater on Thursday, September 19th (7PM) at the Little Shubert Theatre (422 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues).  Written and directed by Stephen Stahl, the musical will make its New York debut having been produced at the Theatre de Boulogne-Billancourt and Theatre du Gymnase Marie Bell in Paris as well as The Donmar Warehouse and The Piccadilly Theatre in London, where it received critical praise and garnered an Olivier “Best Actress in a Musical” Award nomination for Ms. Bridgewater. Produced by Misty Road Productions (Thomas Gentile) the show is slated to open on Thursday, October 3rd (6:30PM).

We had a chance for an exclusive interview with costume designer of ‘LADY DAY’ Patricia A. Hibbert.  She gave us the scoop on the looks of the legendary character of Billie Holiday for this production.

PATRICIA A. HIBBERT’s Profile: Patty’s affiliation with Stephen Stahl began with Philly’s Beat and continued with the Philadelphia and San Francisco productions of Lady Day. She has designed costumes for ballets, musicals and children’s theatre. Additionally, she has designed over 40 operas at leading companies: Florida Grand, Glimmerglass, El Paso, Syracuse, Shreveport, Arizona and over 30 operas at McCarter Theatre with Opera New Jersey. Favorite designs include Tosca, Carmen, Rigoletto, Sweeney Todd, Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, Faust, La Traviata, The Magic Flute, Eugene Onegin, A Wonderful Life, La Bohème, Don Pasquale, Charlotte’s Web and her award-winning design for Turandot.

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Patricia, are the costumes for ‘LADY DAY’ all exact copies, authentic ones? 

It’s very hard to duplicate exact copies. All of the men are in replicated suits and has been built by a wonderful tailor. The costumes are duplicates of clothing worn in the 50’s.

What would you like the costumes to say about Billie Holiday in this production? 

Billie Holiday wore beautiful clothing. She loved her furs and she loved to look good. She wanted to be praised and be a well dressed woman.

What is your typical process for creating costumes in theater, especially larger than life characters such as Billie Holiday?

A lot of research of course. One of the things we chose to do for this production, was to use a monochromatic scheme in black, whites, grays, ivories and pops of color. The reason for this is because all of the photos that could be found of Billie Holiday are black and white photographs. We thought that the monochromatic scheme added to the time period for the look of the show.

Did you look at a lot of footage?

I looked at film footage,  photographs and websites with still pictures and everything I could possibly find. I also did this show in Philadelphia and San Francisco in the late 80’s with Stephen Stahl and was very well acquainted with it.

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What would you say was Billie Holiday’s greatest fashion moment and will we see that in ‘LADY DAY?’

She loved glamour and will appear in a very heavily beaded white gown that symbolizes ‘help.’  Her voice was her instrument and she influenced music so deeply in her time until now.  She will go on to influence music long after we are gone.

Billie Holiday is a fashion icon often reflected in the history of the Harlem renaissance though she was not originally from there? Why is that?

Billie Holiday was born in Philadelphia and raised in Baltimore.  Truthfully, I feel that as a Black Singer from that time period, she had to fight against the world to be able to perform and all of the discrimination that she had to go through.  She had to prove herself to be the woman that she truly was and I think that she realized that the more she put into her look, the more she could compete against the race issues. I think she truly understood that during that time period she had to fight as hard as she could and use everything in her power in gaining notoriety for her own survival.

Is there anything that inspired you about this production during your process for the costumes coming from your strong background in children’s theater, ballet and opera costume designs?

Not really because I think each time I’ve done the show, I look at it as new each time.

Did Billie Holiday have her own sense of style that she incorporated into her image or did she just love fashion?

She just loved fashion and I think she knew what made her look best.  I think she understood style, and her look was very elegant and classic.  She understood what she needed to do for herself.

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Will we be seeing a lot of jewels and furs in this production like Billie wore during her heyday?

Oh yes, there will be, there will be.

Would you say Billie Holiday was masking her psychological pain and turmoil through fashion or did she really like to dress up because fashion can really turn you into a new character?

I think there was a little bit of both and that she knew she had to be fashionable because of being a performer as a Black Woman in a White World.  During her time, there was competition and she had to play the role and show that she was in the know. Fashion is one way of showing that you do understand what’s going on with the world and that you do understand the concept of elegance.

What are some key looks in this production you’re excited for Billie Holiday fans to see in ‘LADY DAY?’

I’m excited for theater goers to see that she was an elegant woman and someone to be respected. She was looking for respect for her art and she had so much to give and that is what she did every time she sang.

Did you have a very big input in your thinking and in the design of the clothes while working with director Stephen Stahl?

Stephen had a lot of input into what he wanted and it was a collaboration between the two of us in a very respectful way.

Photos credit: Carol Rosegg

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