Inside costume designer Emma Kingsbury’s personal wardrobe

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Emma Kingsbury has worked extensively in the worlds of film, television, theater and opera, but was drawn to the world of ballet from an early age. Her first fashion memory dates back to the age of 4, dressing her little brother in a powder blue tutu.

Now based in California, USA, the Australian designer got her start after training at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, and her career has since taken her to the USA, Europe, Australia and in the UK.

More recently, this includes costume design for the action thriller Blacklight starring Liam Neeson, the HBO series Finding Magic Mike, Wooden Dimes for San Francisco Ballet, The Firebird for Texas Ballet and the award-winning The Crucible for Scottish Ballet. .

In his first commission for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Kingsbury applied his avant-garde approach to costume and set design for their modern retelling of a classic fairy tale, Cinderella. Choreographed by Loughlan Prior and composed by Claire Cowan, the sparkling new ballet opens in Wellington on August 3, before traveling to Auckland, Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin.

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I try to buy clothes that I love but also that I will wear forever. I read Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas when it came out in 2019 and found it informative. Fast (furious) fashion is pretty scary and the consequences are global.

Durability is key and it’s more important to me now to dress with intention. I work all over the world, but I like to learn about local traditions, local agriculture and local designers when I can.

When I travel for work, my wardrobe oscillates between functional and minimalist. I want my look to let people know that I’m creative — my glasses and jewelry probably say it best — and also cohesive.

I like to look plain and simple when I’m around so many colors and textures all the time.

Some of Kingsbury's costume designs.

Provided

Some of Kingsbury’s costume designs.

What first attracted me to design was the love for reading plays. And I’ve always loved cinema, any film! I’ve always appreciated the different approaches costume designers have to telling a story.

I’ve loved being an assistant designer for some of the greats, but over the course of my career my focus has shifted to appreciating how many incredible, skilled artisans it takes to create something magical. It’s all about collaboration and respect.

I created The Crucible for the Scottish Ballet in Edinburgh in 2019. I think this is one of my best costume work to date. We used 90% natural fibers so all fabrics are dyed so beautifully. I was true to the era, so there wasn’t much stretch, but with clever cuts we were able to make the costumes suitable for ballet.

Kingsbury's most precious and sentimental object, given to her by her mother's friend when she was 18.

Provided

Kingsbury’s most precious and sentimental object, given to her by her mother’s friend when she was 18.

My most sentimental item is a very long gold snake chain that I tie again and again in different configurations. The end of the chain looks like two coffee beans and I like that it doesn’t have a clasp. My mother’s friend Annalies gave it to me when I was 18 and I treasure it. I don’t know exactly why, but for me it represents a kind of zen independence.

My Akubra hat brings me the most comfort. It reminds me of my father who lives in Melbourne.

For Cinderella from RNZB I worked closely with the choreographer, Loughlan Prior and the composer Claire Cowan, we were always looking to do our own fantasy collage, sometimes camp, sometimes gothic, eclectic.

I took recognizable vintage silhouettes and introduced pop culture through patterns, colors and textures. I embraced the almost cartoon style of Japanese Harajuku, which included a specific style known as Gothic Lolita; dark but playful. We sometimes imitate fast fashion ideas in stepsisters and stepmother characters. Be careful, this is not minimalism!

On the ballet side, I always try to imagine how something will move when I draw it. I try to adapt to all the choreographic ideas and we adapt through a series of fittings with the dancers. I like to make fitting videos to show the choreographer how the movement of the costume is progressing. It’s a treat to see a dancer evolve into a character in a ballet of stories.

Emma’s Wish List

Vintage Hamilton watch (1929), $1225

Charming and close to 100!

James Perse recycled Lotus Jersey knit t-shirt, $290

James Perse’s t-shirts are made from recycled cotton and fit so well.

Portland Oregon Kasuri-Ori Scarf, $154

Kiriko Made is a Portland-based Japanese textile and apparel brand forged in the spirit of mottainai; a Japanese value of not wasting anything and recycling everything.

Nudie Jeans Lofty Lo Jeans in Dark Vintage, $290

Nudie Jeans works with Stony Creek Colors, which is an amazing textile dye house in Nashville that uses 100% vegetable-based indigo.

Vintage Stella McCartney jacket, $1661

Stella McCartney has a great upcycling philosophy and it’s classic – and vintage!


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