On a recent flight home from Tampa, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Timothy Blacker, the purchasing manager for a couture New York City-based costume shop, Barbara Matera, Ltd.

Barbara Matera and her husband founded the shop in 1968. She was a legendary costume designer for over 100 Broadway shows, the New York City Ballet and the Met Opera, in addition to numerous film credits (such as The Great Gatsby and The Addams Family). Tim worked with her from the 1980s until her passing in 2001.

{via the New York Times}
"Long considered an exemplar of her craft, Ms. Matera took the sketches of designers and breathed life into them, creating costumes the legendary showman David Merrick once called the best he had ever seen on Broadway.... [Her shop] produced the costumes seen in the current Broadway productions of ''Beauty and the Beast,'' ''Aida,'' ''The Lion King,'' ''Kiss Me, Kate,'' ''42nd Street'' and the forthcoming ''Mamma Mia.''

Today, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to peek behind the Broadway curtain into the life of couture costume creation at the historic Barbara Matera, Ltd. This exclusive tour is not available to the public, but Tim graciously offered to show us the complicated art of costume-making.

 

Start your virtual tour of the shop...

 

Welcome to the entryway of Barbara Matera, Ltd.....Through this doorway, dozens of employees are working diligently to finish select costumes for the upcoming Broadway national tour of Beauty and the Beast. On the walls, autographed theatrical production posters hang alongside photographs of Barbara Matera with legendary figures like the Duchess of York, Barbra Streisand, Angela Lansbury and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Meet Timothy Blacker, purchasing manager and tour guide extraordinaire. Tim is truly a jack of all trades: a skilled designer, an articulate host, an intelligent businessman. He is knowledgeable on everything about Barbara Matera, Ltd and the innovation and execution of couture costumes. Below, Tim & I at the shop.

The employees at Barbara Matera, Ltd are excellent recordkeepers. These binders are archives of past projects. Each design sketch, fabric, accessory and inspiration is recorded on the pages. Receipts and prices are attached. Tim and his team utilize these binders to study and locate fabrics used on previous shows.

Below is a sample of the ostrich feathers used to make the boa worn by Madame Morrible in Wicked.

On this mannequin form is an original Barbara Matera creation worn by Ann Reinking in the film Annie. She played the character of Grace Farrell, Daddy Warbucks' assistant and love interest. Perhaps this dress looks familiar?
 

The Barbara Matera, Ltd. shop made many of the intricate costumes for Broadway's current production of The Lion King. Below, check out part of a giraffe costume.

Notice the detail in each piece. Each costume is made by multiple individuals over a period of several months. If a play hires a new actor that does not fit the costume, an entire new one must be constructed. Elaborate costumes can cost productions many thousands of dollars, depending on the fabric and detailing.

On this rack are current costumes for the New York Ballet Company... Many of them await final fittings and adjustments.

Barbara Matera, Ltd receives international recognition for are their high-quality, handmade tutus....

This photograph is a glimpse of a Barbara Matera-made gown worn by Hillary Clinton at Bill Clinton's inauguration. This dress is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
 

Here is the workroom, an organized chaos of beautiful fabrics, ribbons and beads. Employees often specialize in areas (such as beading or embroidery).

These are the sketches for the "Beauty and the Beast" national tour production (with project samples). While we flipped through these sketches, Tim told us a story from his trip down to Tampa for work on the Ringling Brothers circus costumes. He noted that the final approval on the circus costumes are actually the tigers and lions in the show, not the designers and production leads. The trainers show the costumes to the animals and determine from their behavior if the costumes will distract or provoke them. If the tigers or lions display aggressive or irritated behavior, elements of the costume must be altered.

Below, from sketch to creation, wearable art...

At Barbara Matera, Ltd, the attention to detail is awe-inspiring. Each garment is made in New York City with couture-quality craftsmanship inside and out.

Below, the structural costume of Cogsworth the Clock is executed with skill...

Additional costumes for Beauty and the Beast and views of the shop...

I look forward to seeing the artful creations of Barbara Matera, Ltd. on Broadway and beyond. A big thank you to Timothy Blacker for taking the time out of his busy day to give us this special tour. 
NOTE: ALL OF THESE IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT: JODI KENDALL. 
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