This summer, I had the opportunity to tour a big-time Broadway costume manufacture. It was incredible!
I was invited to a special 'One Day Tech Workshop' put on by BROADWAY TEACHERS WORKSHOP, an organization that works with amateur musical theater personnel and show choir directors (recommended to me by “choreographer extraordinaire” Michael Weaver of Chicago. I spent 2 hours at Parsons-Meares Ltd. (a renowned costume manufacturer in the New York City's theater district). Designer and founder, Sally Ann Parsons shared all about creating Broadway Show costumes.
Tour their website at www.parsons-meares.com
I have always been intrigued and have loved to investigate and tour costume and fashion manufacturers and suppliers. To me, when we have a better understanding about how fabric or trims are made, we are better able to work with them. When we see how other companies create, we may be able to pull a useful thought or technique, or at least an insight into our businesses.
What have I seen? I’ve been to Mood Fabrics a couple of times, the location for the contestants on ‘Project Runway’, along with most of the fabric and trim wholesale/retail shops in New York’s garment district, and also many in Los Angeles’ garment district. It gives me an insight into what the ‘Project Runway’ contestants are up against, in choosing fabrics, trims and notions for their weekly challenges.
My biggest ‘coup’ was when I was able to tour Sequins International in Queens NY, before they shipped their antique (it seemed) embroidery machines (for full widths of fabric) to Korea. I also toured a similar factory in New Jersey, where they still create sequined fabrics. At Sequins International, I witnessed how sequins are made, from the dye-cutting of circles out of metallic materials to the creation of the sequined trim, to the embroidering of the fabrics on 15-yard long embroidery machines which were taller than me. Decades ago, I was able to send them my fabric to custom embroider for our custom show choir and dance clients.
This summer I was thrilled to be able to speak with a seasoned Broadway costume designer and tour her factory in mid-town Manhattan, on the edge of the garment district, near Broadway.
Parsons-Meares is maybe 50% larger than my Satin Stitches
showroom/production facility, here in the Twin Cities. There were many similarities: An office area, a front showroom area with posters and pictures highlighting past work, patternmaking, draping, cutting, sewing and embellishing work stations, racks of partially completed and historic costumes to use as reference for new projects, many dress forms and rolls of left-over fabrics and trims and such.
There were also things that are NOT similar! Parsons-Meares has a fabric dying/painting area, we don’t. Parsons-Meares is walking distance from many of their notable clients. We are not.
Something that Satin Stitches has, that Parsons-Meares does not have, is our own digital illustration program, along with our computerized patternmaking and cutting software and hardware. Would Parsons-Meares be able to take advantage of computerization? Absolutely, but creative draping is not something easily replicated by computers, although there are 3-D programs out there that try to replicate actual draping of fabrics on dress forms. I think the ‘old fashion’ way works very well for creating incredible musical theater costumes.
Both of our companies work with creative performance groups. A big difference is that Parsons-Meares works with huge companies that produce national and regional theater costuming and have costume designers to create their initial design thoughts. We work with groups where non-fashion/costume designers provide the initial design thoughts for the work that we then create and manufacture. But with our clients and our design staff, we also do an incredible job!
I also attend as many creatively costumed, Broadway shows as possible, along with historical costume exhibits at museums, to inspire me in my profession as a costume designer.
Anyone in the creative arts of dance and costume design etc. is sure to be inspired by touring companies and performances that cater to these endeavors, so if you get the opportunity to expand your knowledge and exposure by touring, you won’t regret it!