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Designer Spotlight

Costumer Constance Hoffman Tailors 'Faust' Wardrobe to Fit the Role

September 10, 1993

For a costume designer putting together the wardrobe for "Faust," there must be a temptation to try to make the clothes the star: an ostentatious robe for the calculating scholar or a jolting straitjacket for his maddened victim.

But Constance Hoffman, 29, doesn't see her job as casting the light on the wardrobe. As the costume designer for Opera Pacific's "Faust," which premieres Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, Hoffman says her role has been to be part of an evening of theater. "I give the actors a tool to express and explore their characters," she says.

Since it's Charles Gounod's romantic opera, adapted in 1859 from poet Goethe's drama, Hoffman has tailored the costumes to exploit the sensual side of the age-old story of Faust--the mystical scholar who makes a pact with the devil to be young again, and who lures a beautiful maiden, Marguerite, to be his lover.

"Gounod's opera is the highest expression of the spirit of the Romantic Movement," Hoffman says. "And Marguerite is the fantasy of a 19th-Century heroine/victim, so I made her costumes a bit of fantasy."

Marguerite changes from a carefree young woman in a pinafore to a distraught woman hiding her pregnancy in a loose gown to a crazed murderer bound in a charcoal straitjacket.

The robe worn by Faust before his transformation into a handsome young man is made of printed pages and scrolls to represent the scholar who spent his life consumed by books in a vain search for the source of all knowledge.

Will the subtle details of the robe be lost on the people sitting in the back seats?

"The pages will be seen, but not necessarily the alchemical formulas or words printed on them. Details come through even on a large stage, however, especially texture because it reads from a distance," says the eight-year design veteran.

Hoffman received her master's in fine arts in costume design from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and has recently worked for productions in New York, New Jersey and Florence, Italy. She lives in New York.

She sees the devil Mephistopheles as a 19th-Century dandy with a black leather greatcoat and top hat--and one exposed cloven hoof.

For the demons who sold their souls to the devil for unlimited wealth and power, Hoffman found rich fabrics of varying red hues, then bruised and bullied them to look as if they had "descended to some other plane," she says. Cheese-graters roughed up the velvets and black paint muddied up the silks to make the costumes, like the demons themselves, "wasted finery." One of the demon costumes will be on display at the Chanel Boutique in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, through Saturday.

Since she began sketching her designs in February, Hoffman has created a dozen costumes specifically for this new production, using fabrics that are true to the period. Although the performers may pay the price for authenticity (some of the wool jackets log in at beginning bench press weight), she says she hasn't heard any complaints during the hour-long wardrobe fittings. "The performers know it's a woolly show."

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