CSU students design, sew costumes for Colorado Ballet Academy’s ‘Giselle’

Those who attend the Colorado Ballet Academy’s May 25 production of Giselle will see children’s costumes that were both designed and sewn by apparel and merchandising students at Colorado State University.

Student cutting clothLast fall, students in CSU instructor Kevin Kissell’s fashion illustration course developed a host of authentic designs for the opera’s setting in the German Rhineland of the Middle Ages. The students produced fashion illustrations that included the suggested fabrics, sourcing and construction details necessary to make garments that would survive being used multiple times by various dancers between the ages of 4 and 14.

A panel that included the costume designer and wardrobe manager for Colorado Ballet Academy selected two of the CSU students’ final designs: one outfit for boys and one for girls. The two students who designed the winning outfits then got to be part of the next step: actually creating the garments in an apparel production class led by Kissell this spring.

Student at sewing machineOn deadline

On May 6, the class was finishing the project in teams, each group charged with sewing a different component of the costumes to optimize efficiency and speed. After all, a fitting for the children was scheduled in Denver two days later, and the class needed 28 of the girls’ costumes and 14 of the boys’ outfits finished by then.

“This is my first experience with the industry,” said Claire Wang, a junior from China who designed the boys outfit. “To know somebody will be wearing them onstage is so exciting.”

Wang said she designed the costume to accommodate the moving arms and legs of child dancers.

“The clothes must be adjustable for different kids,” she explained. “The armholes and the pants need to move freely, so when I designed them I accounted for that.”

When asked if she was devoting special attention to the outfits since they’d be seen on stage, Wang replied, “I always do my best work.”

Sketch of costume

Sketch of costume

Sketch of costume

Change of pace

Elise Hadjis, a sophomore from Denver who created the winning girls design, said illustrating and producing the costumes was definitely a new challenge.

Claire Wang
Claire Wang

“Usually the stuff we create is for our own use; I design a lot of outdoor wear for myself,” said Hadjis, who is double-majoring in biochemical engineering and pursuing a career creating high-performance outdoor apparel from sustainable sources. “Doing something for an actual production is so different. It’s a really great experience that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”

Julie Roth, a fourth-year student from Fort Collins, agreed.

“Everything I’ve made so far is sitting in my closet, so it’s nice to be doing something that’s going somewhere,” she said. “It’s a new experience, and a lot of fun.”

Kyle Paus, a fourth-year student from Rockford, Illinois, said producing youth clothing is a little easier than adult apparel because it’s smaller, and he said it’s a nice change-up from the women’s wear that was the focus of his draping course. “It’s kind of cool to make stuff that’s going to be worn by the dancers,” he said. “And it’s pretty cool that CSU students designed them.”

Student sewingCSU/Colorado Ballet partnership

The effort was part of a partnership between CSU and the Colorado Ballet that began about a year ago, according to Tiana Nelson, CSU director of public relations and outreach. The two organizations have identified mutually beneficial projects for collaboration, she said.

“This is an example of CSU creating partnerships to give our students opportunities they might not otherwise have,” Nelson said. “We realized this was a good chance for our students to get real-life experience, and it would benefit the Ballet.”

Adam Sexton, managing director of advancement for the Colorado Ballet, added they have been pleased between the partnership between the Colorado Ballet and CSU. “ We feel that both institutions have benefitted greatly from working together and look forward to continuing to grow this partnership in the future,” he said.

The Department of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.