Image: Fay Fullerton, portrait by Alun Callender
The Royal Opera House is streaming opera and ballet content online free ‘from our house to yours’ while its stages are closed, with The Cellist online now and Il Trittico and The Magic Flute upcoming in June and July. We look back at an interview with Fay Fullerton, Head of Costume at The Royal Opera House by Liz Hoggard; where Fay took us inside the ROH’s wardrobe.
The Royal Opera House is home to the largest collection of theatre costumes in the UK. Each year it lays on over fifty productions on its main stage alone. No wonder head of costume Fay Fullerton presides over a one hundred strong team (plus around sixty freelancers), with a department that extends over four floors of the building. With nearly everything – from props to dresses to wigs – made on site, the process involves long hours spent handcrafting each bespoke garment.
Image: The Nose at Royal Opera House, Bill London.
Costumes are made to last (some are still being used by the Royal Ballet forty years later). For each revival they are brought out of storage and fitted to the new cast in the workshops at the Opera House. Faded colours are re-dyed, worn darning is repaired. Working on five to six opera and ballet productions at a time, carrying out around 6,000 fittings per season, it pays to plan ahead.
Designing for live performance is different from designing for film because costumes have to be larger than life, “Everything has to be more defined. with more depth to it. The colours also have to be stronger otherwise they just disappear on that stage,” explains Fay. “Costume tells the story,” she continues. “It develops the character, it plays a big part in the whole picture. But when performers go on stage they shouldn’t be thinking about the costume. As it should become part of their body.”
In a video for Creative Choices, Fay describes how she got into the industry, what the costume department at the ROH consists of, and offers advice for people wanting to get into the field:
Fay studied fashion design and period costume at the London College of Fashion, then did a one year tailoring course. She joined the ROH as “the most junior costumier” in 1977 and worked her way up to her current post (she was appointed in 2013.) “I’ve worked in most areas of the Costume department, so I know how fabrics work, how they should be cut, what will work best for the dancers and singers – as soon as I look at a costume I know how much it will cost.” Fay is the queen of historic period costume, but she and her team also get to work on radical new ballets.
In her spare time she goes to the National and the Old Vic, attends London Fashion Week and exhibitions at the V&A. “It is very important to know what’s happening outside. I’m not sitting in a bubble at Covent Garden. International designers come in and work with us all the time, and I need to know all the techniques and ensure I am one step ahead, not one step behind.”
For more information visit www.roh.org.uk