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Josephine Baker (Deborah Cox) doing the famous banana dance in Asolo Rep's Josephine.

It was curtains up last week for Asolo Rep with the world premiere of Josephine, a musical about the life of singer-dancer-actress Josephine Baker (read Kay Kipling’s review here). And as you might expect from a show that takes place in the 1930s and ‘40s, the costumes are gorgeous.

We caught up with Eduardo Sigangco, the designer who created all of the confections that Deborah Cox wears in her turn as Josephine, to find out more about his creative process, how he researched the costumes for Josephine and what inspires him.

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Tell us a little about your background.

I’m a set and costume designer, and I’ve done a lot of shows—Broadway, off-Broadway, ballet, musicals, theme parks, circus...it’s been very varied! As far as Josephine goes, I’ve worked with the Asolo before on quite a few productions and have a nice relationship with its costume shop. When they called me in December and I heard this project was about Josephine Baker, I couldn’t resist—that’s like catnip for a designer!

What was your research process like?

I started with Miss Baker herself. There are a lot of photos of her, and I read about what she was like and watched YouTube videos of the original Revue Negre and the banana dance. Then, together with the director, we decided we weren’t interested in designing clothes [based on what] she actually wore; instead, we wanted to capture her essence. It’s not a documentary, it’s a musical—I was more interested in evoking the essence of Josephine Baker and the era.

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Deborah Cox and Lynette DuPree. 

Describe the costumes.

They’re couture—made from scratch. To make them, I imagined who did her clothes—maybe Chanel, maybe Schiaparelli—and noticed a pattern. She liked feathers, she loved big, chunky jewelry, whenever she wore gowns, they were really elegant—she had great taste. The design just kind of flowed. In that way, it was an easy gig for me. And that’s rare for a costume designer.  I loved it. I have a big feather bill! [Laughs.]

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How long did it take to design and create all of the looks in the show?

I started drawing Christmas Day, and sketched for about a month and a half before we started building. I sourced fabrics in New York, went to my feather man, got tons of Swarovski crystals…there’s tons of jewelry in the show, too, and beading and embroidery and shoes. [Designing the costumes] was rather intense, in a good way. And it’s a feast for the eyes, for sure.

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What do you want people who see the show to take away from the costumes?

I want them to be dazzled. When I was 16, I happened to see the Folies Bergère in Paris, and it the visual effects and emotion of [the show] made a huge impact on me. I want the audience to have a similar reaction to Josephine.

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