Q&A: Costume Designer, Emilio Sosa

Emilio Sosa has always had a knack for sketching, but it wasn’t until he saw someone who looked like him on the cover of GQ magazine that he knew he wanted to be a fashion designer. A Tony Award nominee for 2012’s Porgy and Bess, Emilio is well known for his appearance on Project Runway and Project Runway: All Stars. The native New Yorker has also designed costumes for Broadway’s On Your Feet!, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Motown: The Musical.

What about New York City inspires you as a fashion designer?
I grew up in the Bronx, so New York City is in my blood. What’s beautiful about New York is it has something different for everyone. I think the New York Spectacular is about finding the magic in the city. This is a walking city, and that means movement. So to have a show that’s New York-centric, matched with the Rockettes, who are about movement and precision, it’s like a happy marriage.

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What’s the difference between designing women’s ready-to-wear clothing and designing a costume for a dancer?
For me it’s like left side of the brain, right side of the brain. When I design theatrical costumes, I want them to look like clothing, but they have to perform like costumes. What you have to take into account is that a costume is worn eight times a week and you’re washing and treating it eight times a week—you have to test the fabric before you even start the design process. It also has to move with a dancer; a dancer moves differently than you and I walking down the street.

Did your designs evolve during the process?
Yes, you can never get married to a design because it’s a living, breathing thing. It has to change, because you have to make it for the person who’s going to wear it. You can have a million meetings, but when you have the design on a body is when the design process really starts. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s every little detail that makes the whole picture really shine.

How many costume fittings did you do before the first performance of the New York Spectacular?
We have to fit the Rockettes about three to four times per costume! The process is lengthy, but it’s pretty amazing to see your designs come to life.

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What has it been like working alongside Mia Michaels?
We worked together last year when she choreographed the “Welcome to New York” number, but it was brief. This time around, we have been working alongside each other and looking at the entire project as a whole. Mia’s really invested in every creative decision I make, whether it’s the size of the band on a hat or the size of the stripe on a pant leg. As the designer, that’s what you want. You want that kind of input from your director. At the end of the day, you’re trying to supplement and support her vision.

When you go to Radio City Music Hall, how does it feel to see your work on the Rockettes?
I cry tears of joy every time. One of the things I ask the ladies when I have a fitting is, “How did you become a Rockette?” Some of them say, “I wanted to be a Rockette since I was 14.” When you’re interacting with people who had those same dreams you had and they are coming together in one of the most iconic venues in the world, and you are responsible for what they look like … I can’t put that into words.