Backstage with costume designer Suz Pisano | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Backstage with costume designer Suz Pisano

“The costume enhances the movement; it doesn’t create it.”

Backstage with costume designer Suz Pisano
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Suz Pisano

Name: Suz Pisano, North Side
Title: Costume designer. “I make magic happen.”
For whom: Individual performers and choreographers working in movement-oriented performance

So you essentially do everything? Pretty much. If someone can wear it, I’ve made it. I’ve worked very hard to build up my shop, so that we can literally sew anything.

How did you get started? My mom had bridal shops, and I grew up working there. My grandmother was a seamstress; my aunt was a seamstress. My Barbies had mink stoles and brocade gowns that they made out of scraps that were on the ground. Then I went to college to do something else, and it was great, and then I didn’t want to do it anymore.

What are some of the things you’ve been working on recently? I just made a leather He-Man chest piece for Michael Nolan of Venus in Furs. I’ve styled a few looks for his on-stage persona. Tons of costumes for dance schools. I also do things for non-performers; a few months ago, I put together a family Halloween costume for a parent/child quartet going as ABBA, and today I’m working on a family heirloom, an antique bassinet now on its third child that the grandmother thought could be spruced up. I work with burlesque dancers a lot, and that’s always fun; recently, I did a cape that has to turn into an owl for a boy-lesque dancer.

Do burlesque dancers tell you what they need, or do you tell them what’s possible? Oh, I follow them, absolutely 100 percent. The costume enhances the movement; it doesn’t create it.

I would imagine there’s a lot to consider with function, since pieces have to be not only worked in but removed? That’s the challenge, figuring out how it stays on until it comes off. With burlesque, it’s not just what you put into it; it’s how they get out of it. You also are looking at the aesthetics from two ways, not just the outside of a garment but its inside as well; you can reveal the inside of a dress, as well as who’s inside the dress. But function is going to be specific with anything, whether it’s skirts for ballerinas or spandex for wrestlers.

Wait, what? Wrestlers? Yep, I costume wrestlers. Duke Davis and Ganon Jones, Jr. work together as The Mane Event, a male tag-team that would be terrifying. I’m working with an up-and-coming girl, Regina Menold, aka The Honey Badger. She’s a tough, fierce character but also very feminine, so that’s a lot of fun.

How does what you’ve done in dance translate to wrestling? It’s similar because everything has to stay in place — no wardrobe malfunctions! As with dance, knowledge of fabrics is key, because the floor of the ring can be quite abrasive, and it would suck to spend hundreds on a costume for one-time wear. Durability under duress is a thing. Straps and elastics are triple-checked before they go out the door. How costumes represent body type is also important. If someone is short and stocky, design becomes key in physical appearance. Not everyone gets that, and I’ve seen a lot of bad gear in the ring.

Do you go to their events? I’m a fan of wrestling and have gone to several bouts. I go to everything I can, but it’s hard because working with burlesque, bands, salsa dancers, belly dancers, I get invited to like 400 things. Plus, I get in my studio, and I can never leave.

Do you ever end up at a bout rooting for two opponents? Not yet, I always say if you’re gonna refer somebody to me, they can’t be a jagoff; I’m really selective. But my clients are very tight-lipped about me because they don’t want me making gear for their competition.

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