After 41 years of designing, fitting, and preserving costumes for the Cincinnati Ballet and the Cincinnati Opera, Diana Vandergriff-Adams deserves the title of Wardrobe Queen. Inside Cincinnati Ballet’s brewery-turned-wardrobe-department, she spends up to 70 hours a week spinning tulle into tutus.
We had paper dolls when I was little, but we were very poor. I figured out that if I copied the shape of the dress and made the tabbies, I could design my own. My dolls had stacks of clothes.
Sometimes choreographers think they want a flowy fabric. But then they do this thing where the girls are totally upside down, and they ask, “Well, why isn’t the dress staying up?” It’s not going to stay up, no matter what I do.
In 2006 when we made the Swan Lake tutus, we also built A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so we had 54 white tutus to build. We ended up using five miles of just tacking thread.
We built a set of the tutus for Sleeping Beauty. Another company rented the costumes [from us]. The wardrobe master called, and he was so excited—he thought he had figured out how to put a tutu in a washing machine. I said, “How many have you done?” and he said, “Eight.” I said, “Send them back.” He’d put the whole tutu in and the satin top was disintegrated. I just cried. That was around 120 hours for each of those, and every bit of them was destroyed.
I like to be done a week or two before the performance. But it’s not unusual that we end up at the amen hour going, Whew! Five o’clock and we’re finished, and it’s onstage at seven.
With the fresh-brewed coffee and Diana’s motherly demeanor, the wardrobe room makes the perfect getaway from onstage tensions. “This is the dancers’ safe place,” says Vandergriff-Adams. “They can come in here and cry if they need to.”
Take Your Time
A tutu can require anywhere from 80 to 120 hours of work.
Tale of Two Techniques
Building costumes for dancers and costumes for opera singers are two very different things. “Dancers will wear out a costume from the inside out,” she says.
Just Can’t Get Enough
“It’s not unusual for me to go home and sew to relax,” says Vandergriff-Adams. “It’s just a God-given talent that I was lucky enough to get.”
Originally published in the October 2013 issue.