We recently had the chance to sit down with the costume designer of the amazing live show, Odysseo. Michele Hamel is the woman behind the beautiful costumes in this latest Cavalia performance. We thank her greatly for taking the time to talk with us and offer some insight on the show, her designs, and what makes her tick! The show is currently in Burbank, CA and has been extended due to the overwhelming demand of sold out nights. You can see Odysseo until April 14th and purchase your tickets through the website: http://www.cavalia.net/en/odysseo
Horse & Style: What got you interested in costume design?
Michele Hamel: I started as a fashion designer before designing for movies, musical shows, and the theater. I had the chance to work on many period costume” films. These are projects that require extensive research, as they take place in different historical times. It’s a real treat for a designer.
H&S: What is the hardest part of designing for Odysseo?
MH: The show itself is a fantastic journey with great evocative power. We had to keep a line and focus, while trying to highlight the spirit of each and every act. The costumes were as much a part of the visual impact as the lighting and the background.
H&S: What’s your favorite act and why?
MH: I will surprise you by not saying all of them! The act “Nomads” is spectacular and the “Great Cavalia” always takes my breath away when the riders and horses appear for the first time.
H&S: Do you ride?
MH: Unfortunately no.
H&S: What unique challenges arise with costumes for riders and horses?
MH: The challenge in the conception of the costume for riders is to create something that will be original and lasting even when noble fabrics are used. The durability of the fabrics, with regard to frequency of use and strength of movement, was a constant concern. The costumes will be on tour for a long time.
H&S: What impact does the water scene have on your costumes?
MH: We had to find a fabric that looked like silk, but was resistant to water, with nice colors and not too stiff. And since the entire crew is on the stage at the end, they have to change rapidly. It was one of our big concerns.
H&S: Have new sports fabrics helped your profession? Which stretch fabrics do you like best?
MH: We did not use specific fabrics, as Georges and myself like to work with linen, silk, brocade and chiffon. But for this show we used stretch linen and faux fur. Georges, who unfortunately passed away, was a brilliant Canadian designer and a great friend.
H&S: Are there any amusing wardrobe mishaps with the show you can tell us about?
MH: Every costume was first tested before going on production, and the first time we tried one of the costumes for the female riders in “Nomads,” the horse was scared by the fluffy sleeves of the corsage until he came near and smelled it and probably discovered it was not a living animal.
H&S: Would you like to design a fashion line? If so, what specialty?
MH: I’m more interested in women’s fashion. More specifically women in their 50s and 60s. It’s very hard to find creative clothing for women of this age group.
H&S: What consideration do you give to riding foot-gear? How sturdy does it have to be? Has faux leather been incorporated?
MH: This part of the costume was difficult because of the water. Yes, we used leather, faux leather and made various gaiters to match the costumes. We used sports shoes and did some patina. The look had to be primitive.
H&S: I’m sure you’ve studied classic riding and horse attire. Do you have favorites? Since you specialize in the exotic, are there any ethic or tribal costumes that you have discovered?
MH: For the horses’ coolers and rugs, the props department was in charge. They made sure it fit with the costumes. When we did our research for the nomads, we really liked the look of different tribes of Mongolia; we looked at ancient plates and did our own interpretation. It is not a specific tribe but an imaginary tribe.
H&S: Who is your favorite current fashion designer and why? Past or historic designer?
MH: I still like the Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo for their constant research of shapes. I have an interest too in Hussein Chalayan, a conceptual fashion designer. I like Marc Jacobs, also. For past or historic designers, Charles James.
H&S: Do you have a favorite Broadway musical? One that you think has extraordinary costumes?
MH: Living in Canada, it’s not as easy to see Broadway musicals, but I saw A Chorus Line and really liked it.
H&S: What trends do you forsee in fashion? In film, tv, or entertainment?
MH: I think that Mad Men has influenced fashion in the past years, and I think Downton Abbey will be one of the future trends. The fashion of the early 1900s was very elegant for both men and women.
H&S: What was the inspiration for the African American gymnast’s costumes?
MH: The gymnasts had a several costumes changes during the show: one is a free interpretation of African pants, some of the trousers were inspired by Asian and Chinese tribes. And of course we wanted colors. The costumes had to be very comfortable and not slippery because the gymnasts do lots of very tricky moves. The gymnasts are originally from Guinea, Africa.
To learn more about Cavalia and Odysseo, visit http://www.cavalia.net/en/odysseo
-By Winter Hoffman