Seven Questions For Alan Hranitelj

The designer on creating Zarkana’s costumes, his favorite colors and advice to aspiring designers

Alan Hranitelj, Shoreditch, London, June 2015. | Photo by Mike Crawford

Alan Hranitelj, Shoreditch, London, June 2015. | Photo by Mike Crawford

When you were a kid growing up in Croatia, how did you first come in contact with fashion?

I didn’t have a moment when I woke up and said, “Oh, my God, I’d like to be that.” It was so natural. I’m lucky because everything is so fluid, so normal, so not problematic. I had always loved costume design, but I did try fashion as well. I went to Milan in the early ’90s, and I was a fashion designer. Fashion is great, but for me, I needed more space. I came back from Milan, and I started in theater and that was it.

How did you become aligned with Cirque du Soleil?

I had a big exhibition of costumes in Slovenia in 1995, and I sent a catalog to Cirque du Soleil. After 10 years, they found the catalog, called me and asked if I’d like to work with them. The woman who found my book said it was on her table for two years. We started to talk about a new production, a show in Macau that never came to fruition. [When] they found my book, apparently they tried to call me for a month and I didn’t answer the phone because I didn’t recognize the number.

How closely do you work with actors, and what is it about the costumes that help build out a character?

First, we talk to all the acts, and then I start to prepare sketches. Then we change some things. When the actors actually put on the costumes and start to move, maybe they need something else, maybe the color is not right and maybe the fabric is not right. Sometimes you have to work with people who don’t like short pants or short sleeves, but the character needs that. So you have to push the character in the right place. I have to build communication so the actors feel safe with me as the costume designer and they trust me. The process actually takes about two years. It’s also not just the actors, but the creation team and all the people behind the scenes and in the shops. They are such great artists.

In terms of color, white is very difficult because you can’t just have white on the stage. I like to work with some shadows and color and details. The detail is the most important thing about the costume. Even if it’s completely plain you have to give something to the character. Sometimes in theater you have a really good actor and they need nothing. Sometimes you have a really nice person and you need to help them, you need to build them with the costume. Also I like to talk with artists because the costume is a shell of them on the stage and they have to feel at home. They have to feel really good in that costume.

Do you go out looking for new fabrics?

One of my really good friends in Slovenia owns a [fabric] shop and they travel all around the world. They know what I like, and they bring so many new things to me—[including] the really simple, classic fabrics, which actually I like the most. It depends on the show and the play—silk or tulle for the ballet and then for opera, something heavy.

What color do you love, and what would you stay away from?

Personally, my color is green, and I love blue-green. I have maybe one or two green ties. It doesn’t mean that everything must be green around me. But in Europe, in some theaters they don’t like violet onstage. You have so many opera singers or actors or ballet dancers [who] say no violet. It is bad luck. If you’re in the audience and the main character sees you in a violet T-shirt, they will take you out. But I don’t have a problem with violet.

What are you working on now?

In Slovenia, I am working on two small plays. I mostly work with three or four directors all the time. We have been a team for almost 20 years. They are open to everything in terms of costume, color and shapes. I also work with a contemporary theater company in Munich.

Do you have any advice to aspiring costume designers?

Actually, it’s so simple: Just be yourself and be open. Don’t judge anyone. Just go, just fly, be clear and have your intuition open.

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