Costuming Les Mis

Costuming Les Mis

Costume Designer Jennifer McKenzie loves working on period pieces and her latest challenge is Les Misérables.

The Young Australian Broadway Chorus production of Les Misérables in January 2019 at the National Theatre in St Kilda required period-correct costumes for a cast of around one hundred. My favourite was Cosette’s costume when she is a young adult, because her dress, gloves and bonnet needed to be spot on in terms of period correctness and so it was be a joy to design and create.

The challenge was to find the right balance of creating period-correct costumes using modern textiles and trims, all within the production’s budget and timeline.

The bicorn hats I created are a good example. I could source them, because they are still a part of some military uniforms internationally, but they are quite expensive. I couldn't justify spending too much because the hats the characters in Les Misérables wear need to look lived in. So, I decided to make them using my millinery training. 

Historically these hats came to be the shape they are to channel rainwater away from the face by folding and pinning the hat brims up. They can be worn either way, with the point facing the front, or sideways, which was the fashion preference of both Napoleon Bonaparte and Horatio Nelson. 

Originally bicorn hats were either made out of plush cotton velour or felted beaver pelts. Mine wasn't  made out of real felted fur. I’ve chose quality felt instead. I started with a sourced hat as a base so I didn’t have to block out the head piece, then added the brims and detailing. I’ve even made the French rosettes, which I aged so they looked like they had been through a battle.

If your school or theatre company is planning to present Les Misérables, the costumes and any sets created for the show will be available to rent through The Costume Dept from February 2019.

Photographer: Kit Haselden.