Back in October, I was invited to join the producers of Awakening—the new $120 million production show presented by Wynn Las Vegas, that would open on Monday, November 07—to view the extended trailer for the show, followed by brunch, on the patio of Jardin. And while each facet of Awakening is newsworthy, in and of itself (whether the trio of producers, Bernie Yuman, Baz Halpin, and Michael Curry; the Awakening Theater, itself [I’m looking at you, Rick Gray!]; the lighting, the choreography, the creatures, the illusions, the musical score, the technology, etc.), it was the couture-inspired costumes by Soyon An with which I was most taken.
Further, as someone who’d begun subscribing to WWD in his early teens, I was enjoying picking up the haute couture and elevated prêt-à-porter allusions she was throwing down. To wit, it was immediately apparent to me when seeing the poster for the show, that An’s costume for the heroine, “IO,” was a nod to the costume designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for Milla Jovovich’s character, 'Leeloo,' in Luc Besson’s 1997 film, The Fifth Element. Likewise, upon seeing the 'Darkness' character covered in raven-esque plumage, I smiled, remembering Alexander McQueen’s black feather dress with the exaggerated 1950’s silhouette that he used to close his penultimate collection, The Horn of Plenty (AW2009/10).
So, when the opportunity arose to pick the brain of this accomplished and acclaimed costume designer—a three-time Emmy Award-winner, An has received two Primetime Emmys in the category of ‘Outstanding Costumes for a Variety/Music Program or Special’ for So You Think You Can Dance (in 2009 and 2010), and a Daytime Emmy in the category of ‘Outstanding Costume Design/Styling for a Drama or Daytime Fiction Program’ for Julie and the Phantoms (in 2020)—I jumped through the proverbial hoops to make it happen.
SHULMANSAYS: In the “Behind the Spectacle” video, you say that you drew inspiration for your designs from couture. Which designs were inspired by which couturiers/collections? [Based on the short teaser videos and artwork that I've seen, I was able to glean allusions to collections by Thierry Mugler, Paco Rabanne, Iris van Herpin, Alexander McQueen, and Jean Paul Gaultier; but that's just a vibe.]
SOYON AN: I love that you picked up on those! Yes, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, and Paco Rabanne were certainly designers I drew from; and definitely Alexander McQueen. Dior was a big inspiration, as well.
I was inspired by all of the fashion icons I’ve followed throughout my life. It’s not just one. It’s the iconic timeless fashions that I have, in one way or another, connected with. And the list goes on and on! I’ll start by going through each realm that’s in Awakening because each uniquely draws inspiration from some high fashion or creative reference.
The 'Black-and-White Realm' was inspired by the runways of New York and Paris; more specifically, the collections shown at New York Fashion Week from 1996 (when I was in fashion design school) all the way up to 2021. So many collections from so many seasons, that it’s impossible to list them all! I was also inspired by underwater creatures, silhouettes of animals, and the amazing prints on sea life. If you watch the show, there is a UV segment that is inspired by deep diving. *
The 'Air Realm' is a modern twist on Rococo. I wanted to celebrate the human body as well as the beauty of simplicity. As fashion can be gender fluid, this realm is an expression, not an identity, of sensuality.
As for the 'Earth Realm,' I was inspired by fine artists and contemporary art. The tree people needed to look like walking and breathing three-dimensional works of art. So, the nuance of the lines was very important in creating this realm; with every single detail on the bodysuits—from the strokes and linework to the contour and shadowing—intentional and specific.
And the 'Fire Realm' was inspired by all the fashion we see at these major music festivals, today. Specifically, the Burning Man and Coachella festivals. I approached it through the prism of ‘What would I design..?’ for a group of people going to one of these festivals, then applied a couture sensibility.
SS: Which costume in Awakening do you find the most exciting, and why?
SA: Each of those costumes is my favorite: They’re all my babies. It’s like asking me to choose a favorite child! So, there’s no way I can say only one costume, but I can narrow it down to one realm – even that is hard to do!
My favorite realm of costumes in Awakening is 'The Heist' [aka the 'Black and White Realm'] which features the black and white costumes that I designed. I find these the most exciting because it’s inspired by high fashion, and I wanted to design something iconic. I went to school for fashion design and ended up finding my way to becoming a costume designer.
This show gave me the opportunity to really showcase what my collection would be if I decided to go down that path. I got to put on my fashion designer hat and design a collection for the runway; for Wynn Fashion Week, if you will!
If I had my own collection, I would create wearable art. Awakening has allowed me to really push my own artistry and create something that has been living so deep inside my soul. I was able to create this extravagant collection of 28 different designs for this realm: It’s my 28-piece collection for Awakening and I’m bringing the audience to the front rows of these global fashion shows through my costume design.
The Heist realm was also the most exciting to build because I really pushed my imagination and my capabilities as a designer, so the challenge was very fulfilling. I had to come up with silhouettes in my designs and figure out how to put that to paper; then, I had to be able to really push the costume houses that built these costumes to bring what was on paper to life in three dimensions. The collaborations were extensive and because a lot of this was built during the pandemic, it was quite the experience. When the cast is wearing these costumes, they really look like they’ve stepped off the page, right out of the illustrations. It’s so incredible to experience!
SS: Which costume was the most time-consuming to construct? How long did it take to construct?
SA: They were all very time-consuming! Everything, from the structural pieces (in the Black and White Realm) to the coral cages and backpacks (that I got to collaborate on with Michael Curry), took a lot of time and love!
The gill dancers took months, as did the structural pieces, which were actually flown to Vegas in pieces because they were too big to ship in boxes, and had to be put together on-site. And the headpieces and body sculptures, in the 'Fire Realm' also took so much time to build. And the string pieces are all hand-braided macrame, which took many, many hands to knot. I could go on and on!
Every costume in this show was a labor of love and let me tell you, each piece took a lot of love. And you can see that love in the detail, the care, the attention in every stitch and braid, and in every single piece that we hand-dyed, hand-sewed, hand-crystal-ed, and hand-painted. You can see this on stage when you're watching the show. The devil is in the details, you know!
And I really want to thank all the costume shops that collaborated with me on Awakening: Limelight, Jerard Studio, Parsons-Meares, LTD, Asher Levine, Marco Marco, Spectral Design Studios, Michael Curry Design, Costume Armour, LaDuca Shoes, Pincushion, and The Wynn Costume Shop.
SS: Is there a common theme that links all of the costumes in AWAKENING (beyond the show's narrative, of course)?
SA: The common theme is avant-garde, couture, one-of-a-kind, high fashion. I wanted to bring an elevated level of artistry to each of my designs and every piece that I built. From the headpiece to the body and all the way down to the shoes, it was extremely important to me that each of these pieces really felt like wearable art.
I also wanted each piece to feel unique and special, so they were each individually tailored. Baz Halpin, the director of Awakening, even said that I was crazy for trying to make every costume so individualized because doing that, especially in a show of this size, is a great challenge. **
But I feel that, when you watch the show, you can see how each piece was custom-made for that character and cast member. So, it was definitely worth individualizing each and every single piece and costume, because that attention really shows on stage.
Awakening Theater | Wynn Las Vegas
7pm and 9:30pm | Tuesday through Saturday
Click HERE for info and tickets
Get into it!
[EDITOR’S NOTE: * An is an alumna of both the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (aka FIDM) and Otis College of Art and Design (both in Los Angeles). // ** In addition to being the director of Awakening, and—alongside Bernie Yuman and Michael Curry—one of the show’s producers, Baz Halpin is also Soyon An’s husband.]