The wondrous world

The Costume Department is situated at the very top of the theatre, on the fourth floor. It’s a real feast for the eyes – all the fabrics and yarns, pins and needles, and of course beautiful costumes. Everything donned by the artists has passed through the skilled hands of this department’s staff – from jackets to hats, dresses to masks, and socks to shoes. There’s a separate workroom for each element. Here you can see and read how the wonderful world of our house extends beyond the auditorium!

Tailors

Tailors

Derived from the Old French tailler, meaning cutter of cloth, the tailors of Dutch National Opera & Ballet are the individuals who make the costumes. There are separate workrooms for opera and for ballet, as well as for men and for women.  

How costumes are made

The costume coordinator and costume supervisors work closely with the costume designers. Together with the staff in the workrooms, they are responsible for bringing the costume designer's vision to life. They supervise the entire production process, which begins months before the premiere. They organise and communicate all the information. They also make sure that the staff stay true to the design and that all the workrooms receive the materials they need on time. They also create the all-important ‘costume bible’, which contains every detail of the process, from fabric weights to heel heights.

Endless variety
What distinguishes the profession of theatre costume making from ordinary tailoring or dressmaking is the variety of the work. The creation of contemporary costumes is only a small part of what can be achieved here. The department’s tailors can also create historical costumes, sometimes from materials that aren’t historical at all, and sometimes using entirely new constructions; or costumes of a couture nature that are very experimental. In principle, they can turn their hand to anything a costume designer requires.

The long road to becoming a theatre costume maker
Therefore it takes many years to become the kind of versatile costume maker that a theatre company requires. Research is constantly being carried out into new and different techniques. For historical research into clothing construction, the team studies books, visits museums and watches historical films. And if something has never been made before, they find a way to do it themselves. Kudos!

It is very special to work with highly motivated professionals who derive pleasure from making exquisite and challenging costumes. A job as a theatre costume maker is often a job for life. Making theatre costumes is not something that stops when you leave the workroom at the end of the day – almost everyone in the profession knows how it feels to continue mulling over ideas after work, and as a result sometimes also coming to a ‘eureka’ moment.

A job as a theatre costume maker is often a job for life

Challenges
The team here are the instrument of the costume designers, working diligently and skillfully to produce bespoke pieces. The craftsmanship makes it possible to achieve designers’ ideas. Regardless of the challenge, nothing stops these individuals from ensuring that artists shine on stage – from historical costumes and corsets to ultra-modern interpretations, fantasy costumes and haute couture. You never stop learning: that’s the beauty of this profession. Many designs are technically challenging, as a result of which the craftsmanship, expertise and quality are always getting the chance to develop further.

 

Milliners workroom

Milliners

Be it a hat, mask, animal head or artistic work measuring almost 1.5 metres, everything artists can wear on their heads is made here.

Milliners & Costume Workroom

This workroom is called the Milliners Workroom because making hats and headwear is the main task of the individuals who work there. In the past, milliners only made hats, but over the years, making and creating many other costume-related items – or ‘costume props’ – has become part of their job.

The team
The head of the Milliners Workroom is responsible for translating the designer's concept. Three milliners assist them. Besides making hats, the team is also responsible for making armour (chest plates and helmets), masks, jewellery and crowns, embroidery, and costume decoration. They develop and build countless costume props, such as wings, animals and so on. Whatever is required, they make it. To work in this workroom, you need to have a wide range of creative, artistic and technical skills.

Costumes

Dressers

Dressers help artists put on and take off their costumes, so that everything stays in one piece, and nothing gets damaged. They are also responsible for cleaning the costumes.

Dressers’ Department

The dressers ensure that every artist enters the stage dressed exactly as the costume designer intended. But often that’s not all; for example, dressers also support artists and help them to relax just before they go on stage. Prior to every performance, they prepare all the dressing rooms for the artists, which includes laying out or hanging all of their costumes and accessories.

In between performances, dressers are responsible for the maintenance of costumes, which includes cleaning (e.g. removing stage blood or dirt), washing and ironing.

 

Shoe

Shoemakers’ Shop

Every shoe lover’s dream, the Shoemakers’ Shop is a storeroom with literally hundreds of pairs of shoes – some altered by hand, others made entirely by hand from scratch.

Shoemakers’ Shop

Good shoemakers are a real godsend for any theatre. Often, they can provide on-the-spot relief from pain and pinching shoes. We sometimes forget how important shoes are, especially in the theatre. In an opera, which can last up to six hours, comfortable footwear is vital – especially on a sloping, smooth or steel grid stage.

Past, present, future
Based on the designs of the costume designer, the shoemakers make all types of shoes, including historical, contemporary and futuristic footwear. Shoes can also be adapted or altered by adding a different heel, a different upper, or decorations.

Dye Shop

Dye Shop

This is where the first and final step of costume making takes place. Before the pieces of fabric are processed in the Costume Workroom, they are dyed in the right colour in the Dye Shop. And once the costumes are completely finished, this is also where the final touches are added: a colour gradient, a large bloodstain, or perhaps a worn look.

Dye Shop

Dyeing fabrics and ageing costumes has become an important part of costume creation. This process takes place in the dye shop, where two dyers work. The designer decides which colours they believe are necessary to bring out the best in the design on stage. Meetings are held with the senior dyer to discuss how best to translate the concept.

All the colours of the rainbow
Not all fabrics can be purchased in any colour, but in the Dye Shop anything can be dyed as desired. The dyers start by making a number of samples for the designer to choose from. The required amount of fabric is then dyed by hand in large baths that can be heated to boiling point. The end result has to match the sample exactly. The Dye Shop is also where all ballet costumes are dyed to match skin colours.

Other processes
Fabrics can also be printed, painted or processed in other ways in the Dye Shop. For example, an embroidered look can be created using 3D paint. Shoes to match a dress, for the entire women's choir? Not a problem for the Dye Shop. The list is endless – belts, hats, socks, underwear. Everything is dyed to achieve the required colour here.

Blood!
Sometimes costumes have to be made to look dirty, for example when creating scenes in the trenches. Sweat stains can be applied and a costume can be made to look worn using a cheese grater and sandpaper. Knives also feature regularly in operas... All that blood! But does the blood have to look dry and old or perhaps fresh and wet? All of these effects are created with textile paint, so that the marks can’t be washed out.

 

Purchasing

Purchasing

The Purchasing Department is where the costume production process for every opera begins, with the buyers working in close consultation with the production’s costume designer.

Purchasing

Depending on the concept and era, the buyers search for and source everything that is needed to create the costumes for an opera locally and abroad. So, not only the fabrics, garments (new and vintage), shoes and lingerie, but also for example the haberdashery, textile paint, and materials for hats and jewellery.

“Every production is a new challenge for me to translate the designer's wishes and to find the desired fabrics, materials and costume parts”

Leone Eltink - buyer

Costume Management

Costume Management

What do costume managers do?

They support the studios, tailors and costume assistants on a daily basis. In addition to many complete productions, the costume store contains a large stock of costumes that can be used during rehearsals or from which costume designers can draw inspiration.

And that's not all...

Costume Management

  • Costume managers are responsible for arranging and checking the transportation of costumes to foreign opera houses and co-producers. The time when opera houses only produced their own operas and ballets is behind us. Collaboration is encouraged, and sets, props and costumes are exchanged. Dutch National Opera & Ballet works with many opera houses from all over the world.
  • And costume managers manage the cultural heritage of our theatre! For decades, Dutch National Opera & Ballet has presented productions of the very highest standard. This is also reflected in the costumes worn on stage. Although the theatre is not a museum, its heritage has not been forgotten and many special costumes are kept in the costume store.
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Dutch National Ballet Costume Department

The Ballet Costume Department consists of thirteen regular staff. For larger productions, they are often supplemented and assisted by a group of regular freelancers. Everything a dancer needs on stage is provided by the team, from underwear to jewellery. Among their tasks, the costume supervisors ensure that all the materials are available at the right time. In the event of new creations, the workroom is responsible for translating designs into costumes. Finally, the dressers’ team ensures that everything is clean, complete and ready for the stage each evening.

Dutch National Ballet Costume Department

Five costume makers are divided between a men’s and a women's workroom. For roughly nine months of the year, they are supported by three extra costume makers, to meet the needs of up to 80 dancers. This means that between 150 and 320 costumes have to be provided each month. Some of these are made by external workrooms. In the case of a new full-length ballet, up to 70 external costume makers may be involved in creating the costumes. The dyer from Dutch National Opera also works for Dutch National Ballet one day a week.

Extras have to be dressed too
At least three regular dressers accompany every show, to ensure that the dancers have a clean and complete costume for every performance. There is a work planner for the dressers, who works throughout the year to prepare everything needed on stage besides the costumes, such as shoes, jewellery and headwear. For large, classical ballets, we hire extra staff, who dress the extras and children in their own dressing rooms.

Organisation
The assistant to the head of department organises all the costume fittings, performs administrative tasks, and is responsible for the purchase of pointe shoes and ballet shoes for the entire company. There are also two costume assistants who take care of artistic-logistical tasks, including purchasing materials as well as assisting and coordinating the internal and external workrooms and designers.

The head of department is responsible for the planning and coordination of the workrooms. He receives a budget from Dutch National Ballet for each production and decides what will and what won’t be outsourced. He also ensures that all the designers, supervisors and workrooms maintain the same standards, so that the production in its entirety is of the same high quality by the time it goes on stage.

There is a large costume store in Amsterdam Zuidoost that houses over 10,000 costumes. The costume store manager is responsible for managing all of the incoming and outgoing costumes.

“From hidden elastic bands and buttons to the kind of stitching used, we translate designs into practical dance costumes.”

Saskia Bredero - first tailor

A look at the Ballet Costume Department

Kostuumafdeling ballet