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From Stitches to Stage

By Brittany Aubain

What was once known as Modell’s Sporting Goods is now an extensive, 20,000-square foot exhibit featuring hundreds of the most iconic costumes and accessories from Broadway shows, cruise line productions, and major motion pictures.

Showstoppers: Spectacular Costumes From Stage and Screen in Times Square, the heart of the Theatre District, gives fans the ultimate backstage experience. They are treated to in-person designers and multimedia elements that take them throughout the costume-making process, from stitches to stage.

One of the most unique experiences is having costume designers on-hand, doing what they do best. A costume designer pitches and creates the pieces worn by the characters on-stage or on camera. Many don’t realize the wide variety costume designers that work on these productions. According to the Costume Industry Coalition, specialty artisans include “pattern makers, cutters, stitchers, hand finishers, tailors, painters, sculptors, crafters and more.”

Camilla Chuvarsky is a theatrical milliner. Her expertise is in the headpiece aspect of the costume. As Chuvarsky explains, the most important thing for someone in her role is to have exceptional hand stitching skills and to be able to treat the material in a sculptural way to ensure that the headpiece aligns with all other parts of the costume.

Not only do designers have their hands full when it comes to prepping for the opening of a show, but they are expected to be on deck for eight shows every week in case of a costume malfunction.

On a hectic day, Chuvarsky has up to 10 hats to complete that must be practically perfect. It takes one week to three months to get those costumes to sparkle and shine. When asked about what a typical day in her life looks like, Chuvarsky let out a slight laugh and said, “It gets busy.”

She goes on to explain the different methods from hand stitching, using straw machines, and working with antiques. While patrons pay a small fee to see such a fascinating and interactive exhibit, their donations go towards an even more significant cause. All proceeds will go to the Costume Industry Coalition, which was created in the early stages of the pandemic to help save the custom costume industry after such a challenging year for entertainment. At first, it was designed to raise awareness, but it became an organization that could financially assist the costume industry shortly after.

Chuvarsky was out of work for nine months, and like many others, the rent bills did not stop coming. “It was a long shutdown period that is going to take a lot of time to recover from,” she said. However, the costume industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as restrictions begin to ease and Broadway shows resume, fans have a whole lot of sparkle and shine to look forward to.

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