How Michael Krass Used Fashion to Make Hadestown’s Players Into Singular Characters

Interview   How Michael Krass Used Fashion to Make Hadestown’s Players Into Singular Characters
 
The costume designer considered infinite options to create Hadestown’s underworld.
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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

For more than four years, Michael Krass has been clipping images from his library, pinning photographs to walls, and poring over color palettes and fabrics to create his piece of Hadestown. As the costume designer for the 14-time Tony-nominated Broadway musical, Krass has been on board since the lead-up to the show’s Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop and, through his wardrobe designs, helped create a new interpretation of characters who have lived since the ancient Greeks.

“It’s important to understand that this fantastic show could have been anything, set anywhere, at any time,” he stresses. “We began by speaking of periods of conservativism in America, so we looked at the Depression, at the ’50s, at the ’80s, and all of those are still reflect in parts of the design.” But Krass built his closet around the world writer-composer-lyricist Anaïs Mitchell wrote, that director Rachel Chavkin envisioned, and the minute specifics he noticed in each actor’s performance.

Rachel Hauck, Bradley King, Jessica Paz, Nevin Steinberg, and Michael Krass
Rachel Hauck, Bradley King, Jessica Paz, Nevin Steinberg, and Michael Krass Joseph Marzullo/WENN

“We began with no restrictions of time, place, color, age, shine, texture within the text. All of what you see now —and ‘New Orleans’ or ‘Depression-era’, as it's now so often described—were only a few of our thoughts,” Krass explains. “And many, many specifics are not at all derived from those realms, but were developed organically.

“The effort was to imagine a world that no one has seen before, but which resonated deeply with an iconic American ethos. What is mythic clothing? How can an actor become an individual within it?” In other words: Underworld, but make it fashion.

In his words, “What now appears inevitable and even iconic was a full invention of a small group of creators responding with emotion to every musical and performative impulse around us.”

Eurydice

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

“I think our director Rachel Chavkin won’t mind me saying that, as Hadesetown has developed, she has most particularly related to Eurydice, and so her input here was especially strong and wonderfully personal, even recalling clothing she herself wore or wished to wear as a young woman. And the fact is, I knew Rachel as my student at NYU when she was 18, so we had a communal past to draw from.

“Eurydice is an outsider, maybe a runaway. Someone new to this world, this bar. So her overcoat and bag and scarf are to hide her and protect her, to give her a shell that can be removed as she warms to the world she enters, and to Orpheus. I showed Rachel the Amy Arbus photo of a young Madonna early on [in our process], and we have clung to it. Eurydice’s textured and worn coat and other clothing—a slip and vest—try to tell the story of an inventive impoverished girl with style and humor, perhaps a dumpster-diver. Her boots are bulky and practical and worn and strong. I’m hoping that she’s recognizable to us from our own travels. Ashe wears a small worn white feather in her hair. Feathers are a motif throughout the show—a thought that came from our writer Anaïs—Eurydice’s is the most simple, pure, prosaic.”


Hades

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

“Hades is a god, a capitalist, an industrialist, a powerful thug we must recognize iconically. After many others, we looked most specifically at a photo of the Depression-era politician Huey Long, who wore pinstripes. There was implied power to the look. Black has great power on our stage, and a fabric emerged that had silver thread in its striping. There are several methods of using various fabrics and additions like paint, foil, layering, to provide a glow, a silver luster to the god figures throughout Hadestown. Then I thought of the particularly American swagger of cowboy boots, of the snake references to his character both in mythology and in Anaïs’ lyrics, and the boots became snakeskin, along with the sleeve garters which Patrick Page thought might help him tell the story of a working class man who’d made good. The tattoo of bricks was Patrick’s idea, as well, revealed only in the second act as we begin to know Hades more intimately.”

Hermes

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

“Hermes as narrator is a character very much interwoven with the performer. Each iteration, even as the role developed, has been a response to the performer, and so when André De Shields came to us in the London production, it became clear in the first days of rehearsal that this Hermes would be precise, sharp, quick. Move like a dancer. Have edge and wit. I watched him, got images in my head, spoke to both him and Rachel, and formulated this look. It’s a pure collaboration, and I can no longer separate the role from André from this suit. We wanted a gesture toward feathered wings on him, and as I watched the way André’s hands dance, I thought that the wittiest and most evident place might be emerging from his jacket sleeve vents. I set them myself—we had feathers foiled in silver—then I laid them out in a curving fan shape and they were sewn on by my gentle staff.”

Orpheus

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

“Orpheus is, too, something of an outsider. The artist, the dreamer, uncaring about the temporal. We searched—and tried so many ideas—to find a look for him that had history and charm and ease. Reeve Carney has great personal style and was absolutely key in identifying what Orpheus might wear. His suspenders match ones that Reeve wears. The idea of vintage pants, even hand-me-downs from Hermes, who raised him, was from Reeve. I brought 20 pairs of vintage pants from my own collection, and when we chose one, we had them copied so that we could have two pairs, one heavily aged and nearly ruined to reflect Orpheus’ viciously difficult trip to Hadestown. A fantastic craftsman, Hochi Asiatico, was our painter/ager for the show. He has a studio full of tools and paints to make his work, and it’s full of truth.”

Persephone

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

“In every iteration of this costume, Persephone (always Amber Gray) has been in this shade of green. She is spring and summer as we begin, and brings life and energy and hope to the world and to those we meet in the bar. But the dress has changed as we developed the world of Hadestown. There was a point in Canada where we tried a Grecian gown of sorts, with a metallic corset of vines worn on the outside. Then, in previews, Rachel sidled up to me and said “Um, I think she’s Dolly Parton,” and our world cracked open to allow the fun and even trashy energy of Persephone to enter. That idea gave birth to the idea of a bar, of Hades as a thug. Amber reveled in that instant change and the dress became the oddest combination of a ’40s band singer and Dolly in the ’80s and maybe today’s Real Housewives. It’s about repression and explosion—again taken from Amber as she developed her performance—and those mad asymmetrical sleeves shot out of my pencil as I drew her.”

The Workers Chorus

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

I felt that the workers ‘down below’ needed to be ungendered, but still sexual. There’s a lot of soft bondage imagery in the show—that oppressive bondage within class and industry—and the leather overalls, which have existed in history, tell a great story. The bandagey bandeaux they wear around their chests happened because female breasts and male chests can be deeply erogenous and so obviously human, and I wanted to deny the workers that freedom and individuality, push them toward imposed anonymity. It’s the reason their hair is covered with skullcaps, as well.

The Fates

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Michael Krass / Matthew Murphy

“The fates are described as ‘three old women all dressed the same’, but are played by fantastically sexual younger actresses. That dichotomy was great fun to explore. Their color pallet—gray, silver, black—relates them to Hermes and Hades both. Their fabrics let them move as the wind they sing about. I used a version of Depression-era shapes, carefully designed for and fitted to each actress, made them weirdly asymmetrical, each in differently patterned and dyed silk chiffon, with a lustrous silver slip below. Then each was lightly foiled and painted to catch light as they moved. The turbans were Rachel’s thought, and I loved that they both dehumanize but also heighten their looks. Their shoes have weight but also delicacy and detail. They fuss. They care. They’re shoppers. And they wear a harness with feathers, again a bondage motif to tell a story of their position in this world of gods.”

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