Published: June 21, 2012
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Meet SBF Member Anja Diefenbach, with a degree in Theatre Design and experience in Couture Tailoring. She was in charge of costumes and make-up at Friedrichstadt-Palast.
In this interview, Anja will take you through the whole processing of making the costumes for Yma and much more. Read on to find out about her career...
Anja Diefenbach

  • Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Qi Eine Palast Phantasie
Anita Hartshorn & Frank Sweiding wearing costumes by Anja Diefenbach
Photo by Stephan Gustavus, xix
2008 How did you get into the business and what is your background and training?
    Quote ...You always think that your present show is your most powerful one and then along comes the next one, with new hurdles to overcome...

    Anja Diefenbach: When I was twenty one, I was a trainee in a theatre in Germany, which had a mixture of opera, ballet and drama and it was where I gained experience in costume design. I also studied directing, set designing, art history and theatre history. I am also trained in couture tailoring. After my experience as a Costume Assistant, I took up a 3½ year course in Theatre Design at the Wimbledon College of Art in London.

  • Do you need different training to make/design costumes rather than regular clothes?
    AD: There is a big difference between the fashion industry and costumes for the theatre and I have experience in designing both. With theatre costumes, it's like show couture. If you work in the costume department at the Friedrichstadt Palast, you have to be able to design an evening gown that you can do a triathlon in.

  • What was your role at Friedrichstadt Palast and what does your job involve?
    AD: I was the head of costumes and makeup. I was responsible of managing the full budget for the department, the fabric sourcing and sometimes I also designed the costumes. Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Glanzlichter der Revue
Sabine Hettlich wearing a costume by Anja
2008 I also supported the designers with their mission. They would come to me with their designs and I interpreted them, which involved suggesting materials and calculating the working hours to keep within my budget. When you start working on a new show there are no designs, but I had to set up a budget for the whole show. I had two trainees, so I was involved in giving them the right education. My assistants were involved with delivery of fabrics, invoicing and they arranged the fittings. My Assistants and I were employed full-time and we hired the costume designer for each show.

  • Have you designed any of the costumes for Yma or for any other show?
    AD: The costumes for Yma have been designed by Michael Michalsky, but I've designed some of the costumes for other Friedrichstadt-Palast shows, like Die Schneekönigin in 2011 and Träume Brauchen Anlauf in 2010 and many other shows that we have had since I started working here in 2004.

  • Do the artists have an input in the costume designing?
    AD: It depends, because costume design is about negotiation. If the performer doesn't feel comfortable, then the costume designer is a bad costume designer. So it's always about communication. On the other hand they don't have any say in things like the colour of the fabric.

  • Which show has been your most challenging?
    Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Träume Brauchen Anlauf (Let Dreams Start)
Particular of the custom jewellery made of chicken bones, designed by Anja
2010 AD: Every show is challenging, because they are new and this brings about different challenges. You always think that your present show is your most powerful one and then along comes the next one, with new hurdles to overcome.

  • What is the most glamorous, elaborate or challenging costume you have had to work with?
    Quote ...our trademark is the kick line and for this number we have a costume which we put a lot of emphasis on, because it's our trademark and it goes through several design procedures...

    AD: This would be the orange soloist's costume in the present show Yma. It's very Hollywood looking and it reminds me of oranges. There are about 300 metres of fabric and it's like a costume sculpture.
    In Träume Brauchen Anlauf, I worked with chicken bones. We made jewellery from them, which were my designs. I had to collect the bones and then clean them with a special solution to gain a cleansed texture.

  • Did you have to deal with any of quick changes in the show?
    AD: No, I was mainly in the theatre in the daytime and I would be like a headless chicken in a situation like that! However, I did have to calculate the running time of the show in terms of how many backstage people we needed for the costume changes. At the moment there are nine dressers.

  • How important do you think costumes are in a show?
    Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Yma - Zu Schön, Um Wahr Zu Sein - Ouvertüre
Jörn Felix Alt as Yma, wearing the glamurous 'orange costume'
Photo by Ralph Larmann
2011 AD: Extremely important. At the moment we have the revival of glamour, like you can see in Kylie Minogue and Beyonce concerts. I think this urge for glamour is a development from the burlesque style of a few years ago. The audience wants to see this and therefore the costumes are very important. In the theatre we have new technologies with lighting, with changing the atmosphere, we work with water and all these elements have an influence on the texture of a fabric. We work a lot with Swarovski crystals and they have a different aura to say working with leather or Lycra, as in the 1980s. At one time rhinestones were only round, now they are also in rock crystal shapes. We also work a lot with holographic sequins. Things have changed, we are very influenced with the fashion industry and we try to keep up with the fashion.
    Quote ...There is a big difference between the fashion industry and costumes for the theatre and I have experience in designing both...

  • There are two water numbers in the show, in which the costumes get completely wet. How do you deal with this?
    AD: We produce two sets of costumes. Sometimes we have double shows on a Saturday, with only 1½ hours in between for costume refreshing, so we need the double set.

  • Where do you source your fabric from?
    AD: My favourite fabric shop for really high quality fabric is Joel & Sons in London, but I also visit La Première Vision fair, in Paris to have a look at what's new in the market and what's happening in the lingerie business. We have to work with fabrics that have a certain kind of elasticity, because of the high action in the costume construction. For example we don't buy a high quantity of woollen fabrics, we are more interested in elastic, satin, rhinestone fabrics. We use a lot of technical fibres and fabrics from adventure sports manufactures.

  • Could you tell us about the process of getting the costumes ready for a new production? Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Yma - Zu Schön, Um Wahr Zu Sein
Watercatch - Shake Your Body For Me
Katharina Diedrich, Annekatrin Heinrich, Natascha Cannata and Mariya Kovacheva
Photo by Stephan Gustavus
    AD: It all starts from the Producer's ideas about the show. These ideas are discussed with the Director and then the Director talks to his/her designers. We obviously have a schedule and a deadline and within that time we must work with the designer and decide on the designs, work on the budget and source the fabrics. These designs are shown to us either by a drawing or a photography collage. The way the costumes are designed now has changed. If we think back, they were hand drawn figures in oil, pencil or watercolour and now they are Photoshop collages. However each designer is different and if, for instance, we have a Photoshop collage, we have to do a technical drawing for the workshop and to show the back view of the costume. After this we do a first costume test. We see how the fabric reacts to movement, to water, if it's to be used in a water scene, or floor action if they have a lot of artistic movements on the floor, like in a break-dance, then we have to test the fabric for friction. After this, if you are happy with the costume and it goes along with the choreography, the lighting, with the ideas of the Designer and the Director, it then goes into production. Sometimes we have a series of costumes. For example our trademark is the kick line and for this number we have a costume which we put a lot of emphasis on, because it's our trademark and it goes through several design procedures.

  • In Yma you worked together with the famous fashion designer Michael Michalsky. What experience did you gain from it?
    Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Yma - Zu Schön, Um Wahr Zu Sein
Anja poses in the materials room, at Friedrichstadt Palast
2010 AD: Designers from the fashion industry have a different approach when designing a costume for the stage. It was really refreshing in terms of manufacturing - it has different aspects of seam lines, of volumes and of proportions. In some costumes in Yma, we changed the proportions of the female body. In the costumes in the tango number, we have a lot of padding on the hips. I think when you work with a fashion designer, the finish product is more like a collection. It's not just design 1 and design 2, it a complete collection. I think this is very beneficial for Yma.

  • What method do you use when you are designing?
    AD: It really depends on the story. I was trained at Wimbledon, so I have a more artistic approach. I start by doing mood boards, before doing the designs. I try to catch the mood of the scene, the show and the music - this is the first visual that I give to the production teams, so that they can be equally inspired. After this, they might ask me to develop certain aspects of the mood boards and then I start doing little scribbles, I work with fabrics and textures and I work with smells. If I think of cinnamon, I look for brown velvet or copper colour sequins. Working this way, makes it more sensual. People design differently and I think that depends on how they were trained and how they burn for what they are doing.

  • How do you take care of the costumes?
    Quote ...If the performer doesn't feel comfortable, then the costume designer is a bad costume designer...

    AD: We have a team of nine people backstage and they are very good and have been trained in costume care. If something is broken and they can't repair it, it goes into our house workshop - the wardrobe. In that department we have six ladies and one costume interpreter, in the ladies department and then five ladies and one other lady for the men's costume interpretation, in the men's department. I also have two costume assistants, two people in the millinery department, one person in the shoe department and a lady who does the cleaning and costume caring.
    We have ten people in the make-up department and one trainee. The cast do their own base and the make-up people do the full make-up, so that they have one look and it's like a quality assurance.

  • If during a production there is a cast member change, how do you resize the costumes to fit the new artist?
    AD: We often replace costume. In Yma we have worked a lot with silk and that tends to fade and tear at the seams, so many of those costumes have been replaced.

  • What happens to the costumes when a show comes to an end? Berlin, Friedrichstadt-Palast
Yma - Zu Schön, Um Wahr Zu Sein
German Fashion Designer, Michael Michalsky and Anja look at dancers trying on one of Michalsky's creations for Yma
    AD: We have a costume stock here, which is more like a costume reference library. We wouldn't use the costumes again, but they serve as a reference. So if a new designer is coming into the theatre, they can have an idea of what costume design has been like in Friedrichstadt Palast.

  • Have you also worked in the Film/TV Industry? If so, how does Costume Directing differ from theatre to a film?
    AD: Yes, I have. I've tried out several different aspects of costuming. I worked for a video clip and for a German TV series. The work is completely different. In a theatre, there is a great distance from the performer to the audience, but in a film when you zoom in you can see every seam line, stitching or little details on a button. If you know that they are just going to show a close up of the neck, you put a lot of emphasis on the neck line and you don't care as much about the skirt, trousers or shoes. So you are budgeting differently. Also in the film/TV industry after it has been shot, the costume isn't used again like it would be every night in a show.

  • What do you like most about your job?
    AD: So many things! I have a passion for visual story telling. I love working with such wonderful fabric and different textures. It so exciting when you have a plain material and you see how it sculpts into as three-dimensional object in the manufacturing process.

    Thank you Anja for this revealing interview!

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