When your favorite time period just happens to be the mid-to-late 1930s, getting to design for on a show like “On the 20th Century” is more fun than it is work. Longtime Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long is up for his seventh Tony Award Sunday night for his designs in hit musical “On the 20th Century.” FN caught up with the designer to talk about the musical.
What was your inspiration point?
“On the 20th Century I had designed for the mid-1930s, my absolutely favorite period. I pushed it a little further on from the 1932 in the lyric because the shoes are so gorgeous. It is the apogee of shoe design in my humble opinion.
When you look at black and white photos from that time, the colors are gunmetal and platinum white, so your eye isn’t seeing crisp black and white, so finding those shades that make you think of Jean Harlow and others in the period was important.”
How did you dress Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher?
“Kristen Chenoweth is silver screen glamor in the show. I decided to dress her in various off whites—like the inside of the oyster shell and her shoes match. Some of the shoes are custom made and some what I call bought-and-altered. For the custom shoes, I love the stamped alligator texture with the opalescent colored leathers.
One of the appealing parts of the story line, they are on the luxury liner train and everyone taking the train are super chic and rich and elegant and care about all of the above. I had a ball with the men’s shoes because doing the two-to-three tones and cap-toe and wingtips.”
You said you love the mid-to-late 1930s for shoe design. Why?
“Oh my goodness I‘ll tell you exactly. It was the coming into the curved tall court heel and it’s my favorite. The angle is so beautiful. It’s taking the 1920s and streamlining the shoes and making it more elegant. It’s the golden age of ladies shoe design when it comes to constructed shoes you could dance in.”
What was your favorite footwear moment from the show?
“I think it’s the traveling shoe Kristen Chenoweth wears. It’s the first time you see her as the star. The thing when you design for the stage, unlike film or television, you at all times see the entire body. The shoes are as important as anything because you build the image on them.”
What was your biggest shoe challenge in the show?
“The biggest challenge is always finding the shoemakers to make them. It’s not a very sexy or glamorous one. I try to divide my shoe assignments up between the remaining cobblers.”
How many shoes are in the show?
“A hundred, though it’s probably more but not less. A hundred sounds nice and crisp.”
Do you know what you’re wearing to the Tony’s yet?
“I have two actually I alternate between. The Phineas Cole is my nice slim one from last year. The year before, I bought a lovely slim one from Brooks Brothers from ‘The Great Gatsby’ collection my friend and colleague Catherine Martin designed. So whenever I wear it, I wear in homage to her.
I think I’m purchasing shoes just for this. I have dress shoes with a navy blue suit or something but I think it’s time for a splurge and time for a proper black tuxedo shoes.”