Tony Award-nominated costume designer Jeff Mahshie talks to WWD about how he went from Chaiken creative director to Broadway.
WWD: How did you get involved with “She Loves Me?”
Jeff Mahshie: I first was aware of “She Loves Me” through Scott Ellis. We did this one night benefit for The Roundabout theater and I offhandedly turned to Scott and said, “If you ever do a bigger production of this, I would love to do it.” Little did I realize, so did every other designer on Broadway. But to his credit, he said, “I trust that you’ll be able to bring something different to the table.”
WWD: You also previously worked on “Next to Normal” in 2009. Did you always know you wanted to transition from fashion designer to Broadway costume designer?
J.M.: I was creative director [for Chaiken] and I have a friend who is an actress, Julianna Margulies. She walked into my office one day and was like, “I’m doing this play and I need help with the clothes.” I gave her some of this wardrobe and they very kindly put a credit in there. Cut to, I was doing a dress for Cynthia Nixon for the Emmys, her manager comes in for the fitting and says, “I saw this play where you did the clothes. Would you let me introduce you to a couple directors?” and one of those directors happened to be Scott Ellis. But it’s really all Julianna Margulies’ fault.
WWD: What was your inspiration for “She Loves Me?”
J.M.: I always go to fashion first. The designers who really, really rule that period are Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet. I started with researching them and that period, even though the Thirties is very specific. Then one of my best friend’s family is from Budapest in the Thirties. I was like, “Do you have any family albums by chance?” That was the starting point, the high-fashion reference and then the real-people reference.
WWD How much of the wardrobe was made-to-order versus vintage?
J.M.: Ninety percent of it was made and ten percent was vintage. The jewelry, the bags are all vintage. The hats I had remade based off of Thirties hats in different colors and I used some deadstock shoes.
WWD: What’s the difference between designing for Broadway versus fashion?
J.M.: I always, always, always want these things to look like clothes. I hate when anything is too custom-made and there’s that tendency in musical theater to make things really costume-y. I try to keep it as close to the way apparel is constructed in that period as possible. Sometimes you have to bump up a pattern so that it reads from the stage, but my goal is for you to go, “That was so beautiful. How perfectly that evokes a period.”
WWD: What was it like working with the actors? Was it collaborative in any way?
J.M.: I’ve known Laura [Benanti] since she was 19. I’ve known Jane [Krakowski] for about 15 years as well. I walked into it with a love of them because I’ve known them. In my fashion incarnations, I’ve dressed them both for events. I also read the script, I know who I think these girls are and the stories that they need to tell with their clothes, but I also needed to hear the actress’ take on it.