This month, the frilly fashion conceived by Everyman Theatre costume designer David Burdick will make its stage debut in Intimate Apparel, one of four plays at the theater to feature his work this season. Burdick, a seven-year company member, began researching, designing and fabric-shopping back in July. Here, he shares some of the process with STYLE.
Tell us about the projects you’ve been working on. Intimate Apparel is the story of Esther, a young black woman at the turn of the 20th century who moved to New York City and started a business, and her talent is making beautiful lingerie for high-society Fifth Avenue women. She also has a friend who is a prostitute and she makes clothes for her, too. This play is a designer’s dream: Esther has three looks, for example—there are probably 14 looks for the play—but each look has different pieces, like a corset, a camisole and a dressing gown. As many as five designers can be making costumes. It’s a lot of costumes. That’s one of the fun things about this play. The second project is Revolutionists, a historical play about four women from the 18th century who would never be in a room together, but the playwright invented this scenario. So we use some period stuff with high fashion. It’s more of a mixture, so there’s a bit more fantasy to it.
You mentioned that you’ve been a fan of Intimate Apparel for a while. Esther is a great character. She perseveres and is so inspiring. She is a woman of color in 1906, making it on her own and starting her own business. Lynn Nottage is the playwright and I’ve done several of her plays. I like her work a lot.
Why costumes? I love the theater and grew up in a school system in suburban Philadelphia that had a pretty strong theater program. I love clothes and fashion as well, but the interesting thing about costumes is that I’m helping to tell the story by creating a look for a character. I love working with actors, and the greatest compliment I can get in a fitting is when an actor says, “I didn’t really know my character until I put these clothes on.” My job is really to make them more comfortable. I love the fabrics and get inspired by them, too. I also get to shop with other people’s money.
Are there certain plays you’ve dreamt of designing for? Intimate Apparel is definitely one. I love Noel Coward, too, because his work is often about really stylish people. They aren’t necessarily always very nice, but they are always well-dressed.
What does a costume designer wear to work? It depends on the person. I’ve sort of over the years adopted a uniform: a classic white shirt with jeans or khakis. On big fitting days, which is your super hardcore work time, I like to keep myself as neutral as possible so we can focus on the actor and the clothes. But I do have a scarf thing.