At Sunday’s Oscars celebration, Emmy-winning costume designer Paul Tazewell had a lovely smile on his face as his name was called out as one of the nominees for his spectacular costumes for “West Side Story.” “When it comes to designing costumes,” explained Mr. Tazewell, an African-American designer, “it’s about developing a character for the story.” As for her feelings about her nomination, “It’s top notch, and it’s the ultimate wink and endorsement.” Paul Tazewell is also nominated for the upcoming Critics Choice and Tony Awards 2022.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Tazewell graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He studied fashion design at Pratt Institute. During his school years, he loved the theater. He recalled his high school class trips to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, and how that was when he really noticed costume design. He loves Broadway shows and musicals.
Her fashion career began with her fantastic costume designs for “Bring In ‘Da Noise and Bring in ‘Da Funk” in 1992, which also earned Tazewell a Tony Award nomination. He has received several nominations over the years, including an Emmy for “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”, NBC (2018); an Emmy for “The Wiz Live!” (2015). For “Hamilton”, Paul Tazewell won the Lucille Lortel Award, Tony Award in 2015. There were Tony Award nominations for “The Color Purple” and “In the Heights”, 2008, and many other prestigious nominations.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg, from a screenplay by Tony Kushner, “West Side Story” tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York. From 20th Century Studios, The Walt Disney Company released “West Side Story” in the United States on December 10, 2021.
In an interview last Saturday afternoon, before the Oscars ceremony on Sunday evening, Paul Tazewell shared some thoughts:
RMW: When did you realize you wanted to be a costume designer?
PT: I knew very early in high school that I wanted to design costumes. It put me in another category all to myself. My mother and my grandmother were artists. I was excited to design clothes for character development and storytelling.
RMW: When did you discover the connection between the clothes and the character?
PT: In college, I remember all my friends would hang out at the mall and at the store. I just sat on a bench and watched people. I loved watching people interact with each other. I noticed how people behaved, dressed. I will try to read them. I wanted to better understand who they were and what they were doing too. A costume designer is basically a psychologist and loves clothes.
RMW: What do you think of the costume design for “West Side Story?”
PT: When Stephen Spielberg approached me, I thought of the original film “West Side Story” in 1961, and I wondered how I was going to attract the public? There was a lot of research into clothes worn in the 1950s. I wanted the looks to reflect the culture and the community, and I chose a bright yellow dress that looked modern, but beautiful on the star who has starred as Rita Moreno in the film. Ariana DeBose won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in ‘West Side Story’.
RMW: When designing the costumes for “Hamilton”, what was it like working with Lin-Manuel Miranda?
PT: Working with Lin-Manuel was amazing! He’s such a wonderful man. Collaborating with him on “Hamilton” and “In The Heights” was an experience that is dear to me.
RMW: What advice would you give to young up-and-coming costume designers?
PT: Go to a school that has a program. You must love your job. Find out how to communicate your ideas. The authenticity of the characters is important.
RMW: How long does it take you to create a costume from start to finish?
PT: Depending on the garment, it can take up to 3 months. Beaded garments take longer. Many adjustments are made during production.