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Fashion 87 : New 'Star Trek' Costumes Are Beamed Up : William Ware Theiss Charts Colors, Shapes for Current Expeditions

December 11, 1987|SUE MARTIN

The galaxy is his playground and anything goes (if he can get it done in two days).

A formal, diplomatic costume for that alien from Altair 6 and a decision on the trim for the admiral's dress kilt; these are just a few of William Ware Theiss' everyday things as costume designer/executive consultant on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (Channel 13).

It's not just the Starship Enterprise that's sleek, trim and functional on the new TV show. There are those smart new crew uniforms as well. Theiss, no stranger to the Starfleet dress code, was there from the start. He performed the same function on the original "Star Trek" show in the '60s.

The Old Days

Theiss laughed about the old days in his cluttered office at Paramount Studios during a recent interview. Bolts of cloth, boxes of trim and racks and racks of costumes surrounded him. "In the old show, we were a lot more naive. I was left more alone then. Now, there are more people looking over my shoulder.

"With the new uniform design, I decided and Gene Roddenberry (executive producer and creator of "Star Trek") allowed me to change colors too. The new hues are wine, teal and mustard with black. I don't think the colors on the old show (blue, red and gold) were the most universally becoming.

"This time around, I was much more firm in my conviction about what I wanted to do. The wine and teal are much more becoming to more people." The third color was picked for counterpoint, he said. And the areas of black on the sides of the new crew's jump suits are strategic, as black over the hips and legs tends to smooth out any number of body defects on camera.

Theiss leaned back in his chair. "The studio still doesn't like the black. They would prefer those three colors and gray. I think they think it's dull and there's not enough (body contour) showing. This is a very '40s color scheme."

And how does an intergalactic designer make his choices for the strange and exotic personalities he has to clothe each week?

"I have three main criteria: Fabrics must be easy to work with from a draping point of view, because we simply don't have the time or money to do hand hemming and such. Also, we want things that make people look as attractive as possible. Thirdly, I try to use things in such a way that the audience doesn't know what they are. I try to make either the design or the fabric be unusual. It's not easy, week after week, to find unusual fabrics and designs, so I try not to combine the two elements.

"I also tend to cannibalize elements from old costumes."

Theiss never pays attention to what a writer's idea of a costume is because "they have no design sense, so they'll go for a cliche." Normally the process is more general. "They usually come to me with an emotional concept. They want an actress to be very sexy or elegant or serene or disheveled and grungy or savage and wild. Usually you can tell from the script."

"Gene Roddenberry came up with the concept that this show should be concerned with the quality of life. I use that as a subliminal thing for everything I do."

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