In the Studio With Broadway Costume Designer William Ivey Long

Bead boxes, rhinestone tights, and Chicago chorus boys.

Photo: Wendy Goodman
Photo: Wendy Goodman

I recently caught up with William Ivey Long in his Tribeca studio, and he walked me through his garden of theatrical delights.

I’m greeted in the foyer by a mannequin wearing the lace bodysuit Anita Morris made famous in the Broadway musical Nine. It’s one of the many knockout costumes designed by William Ivey Long throughout a 30-odd-year career in which he’s won 6 Tony Awards and been nominated for 14 — and counting. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Behind the voluminous silk damask curtains on the first floor, there’s a wonder world of books, costumes, and fabrics. In the midst of all this, Long’s core team of assistants — Donald Sanders, Brian Mear, and Brittney Flanagan — burrow in their own work zones. There are doll-size mannequins throughout the space. Pictured here is a model wearing a dress designed for Renée Fleming in The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera this season. “This is the final look,” Long says, showing the details of the dress. “I did a lot of the beading myself.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
It’s a theater lover’s paradise: Here, you’ve got Cary Grant staring you down (“Who doesn’t want Cary Grant looking at you every day?” he muses) right beside a board of hunky new Chicago chorus members. “I am getting Jim Borstelmann to come back and teach the boys how to wear those flared pants,” Long explains, showing me their Fosse-style dance pants. Photo: Wendy Goodman
As we make our way farther back into the studio, I notice a spectacular gilded framed mirror that came from one of the bars Long owns, Shoolbred’s in the East Village. It’s in front of this mirror that he studies fabrics and does his color-matching by plugging in the theater lights. “The best way to pick fabric is in God’s light, really, from the sun,” he says, “but in lieu of that, at the moment, this is where it is done.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
We take the stairs one flight down into the basement. “It’s very low-tech here,” Long says, leading me into a massive space that formerly housed a strip club. He points out hundreds of storage boxes. “Chicago fabric lives here, there are all my bead boxes — and who else has a wall of diamonds? I inherited the final days of Barbara Matera’s shop, so that is where most of these jewels come from. I take them very seriously.” Long points to a massive pile of rhinestone-adorned stockings curled up in bin after bin. “I also invented the sparkle tight,” he tells me. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Who has more fun than William Ivey Long? He is like a kid in a candy shop showing a wall’s length of production boards for upcoming shows. This room is beyond the room full of storage bins, separated by a fabric wall. Photo: Wendy Goodman
It’s really a perfect design bunker, with an eight-by-ten workstation made up of joined catering tables covered in cloth and tracing paper. “I wanted a big table,” Long says gleefully. “It’s like the Mad Hatter’s tea party; the idea behind that giant table is that once the dishes are done, you move to another place. I can leave different projects out so I wander back and forth. You have to be able to look at things.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Pointing to the boards against the wall, he explains: “I’ll start with the set designer’s work — in this case, David Rockwell — and then from that I start pulling out his graphics, and I start assembling colors and fabrics.” At the moment, Long is working on six shows simultaneously. Photo: Wendy Goodman
I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with this easel. Long explains that his sister takes the swatch rings of shows, cuts them up, and weaves mats for him. “Since I don’t like technology, I put one over the flat-screen,” he says. The easel is from Restoration Hardware. “It looks like the old ones I collect.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Forget the boxes of jewels: The contacts of every Hollywood and Broadway star you can think of are right here in Long’s Rolodex. Photo: Wendy Goodman
“I feel I live here,” Long says. “My drawing and spiritual life is here.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
In the Studio With Designer William Ivey Long