“When starting to design the show, it felt very important that SIX had its own aesthetic,” says SIX: The Musical’s Gabriella Slade, the winner of Best Costume Design of a Musical at this year’s 75th Annual Tony Awards. “That when you go to see SIX, you see those costumes and you are completely immersed in that world.”
Slade began the process of creating the Tudor pop musical’s costumes by sitting down with creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss to do a script analysis and discuss each queen. “It was clear that each had a specific personality, so I learned a lot about them researching their stories and looking at portraiture. Then, there’s the contemporary pop artists as well, so like the Catherine of Aragon and Beyoncé link, and Adele and Jane Seymour.” Slade next had to find a way of balancing historical references with contemporary theatre sensibilities. “We went with more historic-based necklines, doublets, and sleeves, and then used contemporary fabric to create a fusion style with Tudor details in contemporary color and finishes.”
Balancing time periods wasn’t the only challenge facing Slade. SIX tells the stories of the six women who married King Henry VIII of England in an ensemble show that gives each queen an equal space on the stage. For Slade, she had to give each character a look that lets her stand out while keeping the whole group cohesive. “Initially, I thought it was very important that each queen had a very defining, empowering silhouette. So, you look at the six queens, and you can identify Catherine of Aragon as being Catherine of Aragon with her back facing the audience,” Slade explains.
Slade turned again to the portraits to develop each queen’s specific look. “With Catherine of Aragon, there is a very definite square neckline that she had, and there was a lot of gold and black,” she says. “That’s really informed her costume design, and with Anna of Cleves, there’s a very famous portrait of her where there’s lots of very wide chevron stripes as part of her gown, so I really wanted to incorporate that into it. And of course, another would be Boleyn’s necklace.” Each queen was also given a specific color. “Having their own colors helps keep it very inidividualized, but by using the same materials and trim across the whole of the design, they read as a pop group.”
Connecting the looks was the use of the same studded trim across all of the queens. “It’s a note to the kind of embellishments that royal personnel had. If you look at the paintings of the queens, they all have amazing, intricate jewelry, and things like that on their clothes. But, it also gave it a very kind of fresh and tough aesthetic,” the designer shares. “By mixing black with color, and kind of meshes, you have the nod towards some of the architecture of the time like stained glass windows.” Another of the Slade’s favorite details is the cutout back form. “It’s the black, slightly 3D fabric that you see across all the costumes that we’ve kind of cut out the pattern within that,” she says. “And that then is made on top of the holographic foil, creating this amazing Tudor-inspired pattern work which feels very luxe.”
Slade and her team’s fabric choices and manipulation put a modern spin on the looks, though the materials also challenged the design team. “We use very unconventional fabric… unconventional materials [to] work with. We do have to use a lot of internal structures so that we can achieve those very small pleats with the peplum skirts and dresses, with the shoulders and the sleeves. With a skirt, there’s a lot of internal work that goes into them to make sure we get that very definite shape,” Slade explains. “To achieve the smooth, sculptural shape, a lot of hours and a lot of work has been done not only by myself and my team, but the costume makers. There’s a lot of thought process, a lot of research and development that has gone into [the costumes].”
The reason behind Slade’s decision to embrace these costumes’ complexity comes down to capturing the right look and energy to visually explode onstage. “The sequins, holographic foils, PVC, leathers, and pleathers, they all have a really rich surface detail already. On the stage under the lighting, which is done by Tim Deiling, it really has this amazing energy.” The result? A regal look for the latest royalty to rule the stage."