The making of Cirque du Soleil’s elaborate yet functional costumes

Running over two months, Cirque du Soleil’s BAZZAR marked the entertainment company’s first time in India. A recreation of an Indian marketplace, Bazzar’s protagonist is a maestro who dreams of putting together a larger-than-life theatrical production. A lot like Cirque du Soleil co-founders Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix first did in 1984. The production was widely attended and Indian audiences, spell-bound; before we knew it, the circus packed up and left town. 

Their India run was a stunning showcase of everything we’d heard about Cirque productions, including the costume design. We spoke to James Lavoie, the costume director of BAZZAR, to understand what goes into making breath-taking costumes that also allow unrestricted movement. Here are excerpts from the conversation: 

ELLE: What is the starting point when designing for Cirque du Soleil? Could you take us through your process?

James Lavoie: As a designer, I think you are invited every day to keep your eyes wide open, to look for inspiration in everything, always. So whether that’s walking down the street and seeing the way the light reflects off the side of the building or seeing the work of historical or contemporary artists in a gallery one night, or just sitting in a cafe scrolling through Instagram, I keep myself open to finding inspiration in just about anything.

Much like the show itself, the creation process was intuitive and organic, and not fixed at any point in time. BAZZAR presented an invitation to design by instinct, to be inspired by everyday life, and to trust my gut. However, throughout the process, the set design came to be a heavy influence and the themes of construction, destruction and time, are expressed through various garments.

ELLE: What are some of the things that influence the character’s costumes for a production like this?

JL: As the history of Cirque du Soleil is rooted in street performance, my inspiration for Cirque du Soleil BAZZAR’s costumes came from the works of contemporary 20th century artists, conceptual architectural clothing and street style.

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ELLE: What goes into the making of the Cirque Du Soleil performances and wardrobes?

JL: Cirque du Soleil’s state-of the-art costumes are part of its DNA and have been a show trademark worldwide. Along with its stunning human performances, captivating live music and astonishing staging, BAZZAR introduces the essence of what Cirque du Soleil is by providing a complete and powerful theatrical experience.

Costumes and props needed for the various Cirque du Soleil shows are created in Montreal, in the costume workshops. The workshop, the only one of its kind in North America, employs specialists in shoemaking, textile design, lace-making, wig-making, pattern-making, costume-making and millinery.

For BAZZAR, I used digital printing techniques and silk-screening with various foils or silicon to add an element of experimentation. Vibrant colours, shiny golds, patent leather, crisp blacks and whites, eye-catching prints, delightful textures, innovative materials, and avant-garde silhouettes collide in celebration and visual cohesion.

ELLE: Is there a particular costume that is your favourite?

JL: I would find it hard to pick just one and call it my favourite. However, the Maestro’s hat is one costume item worth mentioning, not only because it is part of the storyline, but because of the function worked into its design.

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How did India impact the fabrics and techniques?

India has a great taste for fashion and a long-standing tradition of producing beautiful fabrics. Plus, Indians have an open mind to art and creativity. I feel the vibrant colours, shiny gold, delightful textures and the use of different printing techniques to create BAZZAR costumes is no stranger to India’s savoir-faire.

James Lavoie CirqueDuSoleil BAZZAR

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