With Sense & Sensibility The Musical, ESosa goes from the runway to the stage, a trajectory he really likes to travel
by Douglas Langworthy
ESosa, costume designer for Sense & Sensibility The Musical, based on Jane Austen’s much loved first novel, moves effortlessly between the fashion world and the theatre world. This rising fashion star, better known as Emilio to his Project Runway fans, is also widely admired for finishing second in Season 7 as well as in the most recent Project Runway All-Stars. Yet ESosa has supported himself for much of his career by designing costumes for more than 75 productions regionally and on Broadway.
Today he sees himself as a fashion designer first: “I’ve had a wonderful career in theatre and I’m very blessed, but when I look in the mirror, I always see a fashion designer first and a theatre designer second. I use elements of both, because my fashion informs my theatre and my theatre informs my fashion. They go hand in hand.”
So when conceiving the costumes for Sense & Sensibility, he approached it as a time-travelling fashion designer working in 1810: “I start by designing clothing, and then I worry about theatricalizing the garments later.” The Regency period of Austen’s novels, recognized most of all for the signature Empire waistline of the ladies’ dresses, provided an abundance of elements to work with: stripes which allow for the creation of chevrons and diamonds, but also florals, polka dots, brocades, lace, jewelry, chiffon. “What was big in this period was transparency. It was a very sexy period for women and men. Bosoms were big, and bosoms don’t go out of style.”
And of course color. On Project Runway ESosa became known for his bold use of color. Will any of that be on display?
“Oh yes, we’ll be playing with bolder colors. You have some characters that call for it, like Lucy. She’s more of a free spirit. For me color is an indication of personality.” The two Dashwood sisters will be dressed in blues (Elinor) and pinks (Marianne). One can only imagine the color palette he’ll come up with for Mrs. Ferrars, the boisterous and comic busybody.
How will this production differ from fastidiously researched film and TV versions of Austen’s oeuvre that periodically come to us from across the pond?
“We’re going to be true to the period,” says ESosa, “but we’re going to experiment with color and pattern and make it visually exciting.” Marcia Milgrom Dodge, director of the musical, wanted to bring his “fearless fashion sensibility” to the refined, stately Regency fashions. “The world of Jane Austen is often depicted in film and television with slavish authenticity,” she explains. “I wanted someone who would honor the period but also be bold and find modern gestures that will illuminate character and help the audience identify with them in a very immediate way. With his keen fabric choices, witty accessories and smart use of color, ESosa is exactly that designer to bring these beloved characters to vivid life.”
As far as the men are concerned, the designer says he’ll be staying very true to the period’s silhouette—tailcoats and top hats—again taking some liberties with color and fabric selections: “Where I have my freedom is in the color combinations, the details that we add, the shaping. We will tweak it a little. My goal is always to make my actors feel and look good and able to tell the story.”
Oddly enough, ESosa says he is more often recognized as a former Project Runway contestant by theatre people than by people from the fashion industry. Perhaps more theatre people watch the show than those who do fashion for a living? But the show has helped raise his profile in both worlds. He believes a series like Project Runway can do a lot of good: “It’s a great platform for American fashion, and I’m a great proponent of Made in America. I think as a country we need to support our homegrown artists, especially in fashion.”
Born in the Dominican Republic and brought to the United States at age 3, ESosa was raised in Fort Apache, a tough area of the South Bronx. His interest in art and fashion eventually took him out of the Bronx, first to Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design and then to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his early professional jobs was as a personal dresser for Judith Jameson and as an apprentice costume-maker for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
The story about how he landed his first Broadway production, Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, shows the moxie underlying ESosa’s low-key demeanor. Running into Public Theater artistic director George C. Wolfe in the streets of New York, he summoned his courage and went up to him, announcing “Mr. Wolfe, I’m the best costume designer you’ve never worked with.”
“George likes that kind of bravado,” the designer explained. “He was interested. …They brought me in and I had a great, great meeting with him.” Needless to say he got the job and even went on to design Suzan Lori Park’s wedding dress.
ESosa’s two-track career continues full steam ahead. The fashion designer recently launched his own clothing line and has shown collections in New York, Miami and Paris. The costume designer won a Lucile Lortel award for Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on Porgy and Bess. He feels that his burgeoning fashion fame will not pull him away from the theatre: “I will always have a presence in the theatre. It’s just a matter of finding the balance. It’s part of my life. It’s part of my DNA.”
This interview was published originally in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s subscriber newsletter PROLOGUE, March 2013. All rights reserved. Re-published with permission.
Sense & Sensibility The Musical
April 5 – May 26 • Stage Theatre
Producing Partners: The Anschutz Foundation, Joy S. Burns, Daniel L. Ritchie, June Travis
Sponsored by The Ritz-Carlton, Denver and U.S. Bank
Signed & Audio Described • May 19, 1:30pm