What was your inspiration for the costumes created for the international production The West, and how did they help to convey the production’s narrative?
Narrative dictates costume, so there are defined guidelines to steer the design elements. According to [director and choreographer] Constanza Macras, “The West sketches out an anthropological, performative study of Western civilisation and takes a humorous look at Western societies as a dream factory of artificial authenticity.” Colour, proportion, and texture can reveal a great deal of information about a character to the audience and I aim to create work that plays a part in the storytelling.
How do you strike a balance between working with the vision of an artist and staying true to the Roman Handt aesthetic?
Transparent communication is key, as is defining the general goal. We achieve the end result through experimentation and innovation. I’m currently blessed to be able to select projects that align with my desired aesthetic, whereas it was difficult to do so when I was starting out.
What are the challenges in designing costumes for big stage productions, and what are the highlights?
The big productions are always in foreign locations, in my case, so travelling and working on location in an unfamiliar atelier can be demanding. Foreign languages can also contribute to the challenges but, fortunately, the nature of the work is primarily visual, so communication of an idea can take on any form. Lastly, managing the workload and time management can be tricky. The Berlin Volksbühne’s costume department is inspirational in every way. The level of technical expertise and execution of work blew me away. Its departments elevated my design style, so I’m very lucky. A fair budget to produce a body of work is always a positive. We were a theatre-going family growing up and I myself dabbled in amateur theatre (acting) in my free time when I lived abroad. Being part of a theatre production makes me really happy and it’s a great escape from the fashion industry.
How does your creative process differ when designing costumes for the stage from when you are designing garments for the runway?
The audience to whom the final product is revealed is my main consideration, and the two markets are completely different. The one mainly observes garments for entertainment value while the other invests money to own a garment.
When designing the garments in collaboration with Kieron Jina for Pause, why did you choose layering Basotho blankets as the main fabrication?
As [gender activist and creative] Kgosi Motsoane says, “The piece interrogates — by way of choreography, imagery, and pointed text — the relationship between work, practice, identity, capitalistic labour, and innate ritual.” In order to minimise my carbon footprint, I try to use only resources around and close to the atelier in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. There is a blanket wholesaler within walking distance that stocks traditional and ritualistic blankets. Kieron decided on the order of the layering of the blanket garments in order to aid the storyline.
How does collaborating with other artists and creatives such as Carel Combrinck and Kieron Jina fuel your own creative spirit and even influence your own design style? Every creative personality brings their own signature to a collaboration. There is a definite transfer of skills, which results in experimentation, and the end result is always a surprise to me.
What’s next for Roman Handt?
I’m working with photographer Justin Dingwall and exploring more storytelling, this time considering fashion and not costume as a point of reference.
• From the September edition of Wanted, 2021.