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L.A. Opera throws open its costume warehouse

Shoppers flock to its sale of extra outfits and accessories, both elegant and bizarre.

October 11, 2009|Carla Hall

It's hard to miss a man with a wooden bucket hat on his head, especially if it's adorned with painted leeks. "There are very few fashion statements that haven't been made," said Guy Klender, 37, an actor, "and this is one of them." The handle of the bucket dangled under his chin.

The haberdashery (from "Falstaff") wasn't the strangest item for sale at the Los Angeles Opera's first-ever costume sale held Saturday. That distinction would go to the grotesque rubbery costume worn by bass baritone Daniel Okulitch as the title character in "The Fly," the 2008 opera directed by David Cronenberg.

Mostly, this was a visual feast of jewel-toned gowns and capes, hats and gloves, painstakingly crafted in the opera house's costume shop. Price tags ranged from a few dollars for accessories to a few thousand for the clothing of various opera divas and divos. Placido Domingo's armored breastplate and red cape from "Idomeneo" sold for $2,000.

The costume shop had run out of space, so Jenny Green, the opera's costume director, decided to put some 2,500 pieces out for sale in the parking lot of the shop's downtown warehouse.

The sale beckoned hipsters and hoarders and costume-seekers from small theaters, high schools and ballet companies. The line to get in stretched two blocks. There were devotees of Renaissance fairs and creative spirits who would rather spend their lives dressed in theatrical garb than prosaic street wear. For them, the ideal costume is a costume.

Rare was the shopper who had any trouble conjuring up an occasion for a great find.

"I'll probably end up wearing it for Halloween or Burning Man," said Eloise Nelson, her cropped hair dyed tomato red, as she looked down at the $75 purple silk dress she had donned. The 30-year-old library sciences graduate student walked off to find a mirror, the train of her skirt trailing over the asphalt.

"What do you think of this, Eloise?" asked Erich Schneider, dashingly attired in a green velvet and brocade tunic from "Romeo and Juliet."

"I like it!" Nelson said.

"It's a Montague fencer," Schneider, 37, a computer programmer, said of the outfit. "I did take fencing in college."

Quickly the parking lot took on the look of some postmodern staging of a Shakespeare play in 2009 downtown Los Angeles -- people in plumed hats talked on cellphones; men in full-length velvet gowns crossed paths with women in jeans.

Later, Schneider walked by in a 3-foot-tall wooden hat in the image of a duck head and neck. "How have these not sold yet?" he asked his friends.

"This teal hat goes with my hair," said Kendra Miller, whose vibrantly colored mane did indeed match the ruched velvet headgear -- a toque-like creation -- worn by a Montague in "Romeo and Juliet." Where would she wear it?

"Where won't I wear it?" said Miller, a burlesque performer (under the name Dizzy von Damn!) who works by day in an ad agency.

"I go to work every day with teal hair," she said. "This is so not going to impress anyone."

Many of the items were fantastical adornments. This was not a clothing sale where you check yourself out in a mirror and ask, "Does this make my butt look fat?" Some pieces were supposed to make you look corpulent.

Ava Zeichner, 12, admired herself engulfed in yellow foam pants that looked like a pair of swollen bananas held up by suspenders. "They're amazing," swooned the Oakwood School eighth grader.

Her mother, Arlene, amused, asked when she would wear them. Halloween?

"Maybe," said Ava, the $10 outfit (a body form the opera company used underneath a costume) gaping around her slender frame. "I could be a bumblebee! Or a clown!"

John Beckman, drama director of the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, stood next to a rack of costumes he had corralled for coming shows at the center's middle and high schools. "I'll use these in 'Hamlet,' " he said, fingering a number of cream-colored capes.

"Mr. Beckman, look at this coat," said A.C. Gottlieb, a junior, already designing costumes. He eagerly held up a lush aubergine coat from the 2003 production of "Nicholas and Alexandra" for the teacher's approval.

"Add it," Beckman agreed.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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