‘Head Over Heels’ Brings Gucci-fied Costumes and Go-Go's Tunes to Broadway

Joan Marcus
'Head Over Heels' Production Still

Costume designer Arianne Phillips talks about the inspiration for her latest project, the Gwyneth Paltrow-produced musical.

Longtime Madonna and Tom Ford collaborator on both concert stage and movie screen, Arianne Phillips has brought her talents back to Broadway in the new production of Head Over Heels, the tons-of-fun, Gwyneth Paltrow-produced musical resplendent with gold leaf-painted corset gowns, musical note prints, glittery shoes and even an actual Gucci handbag.

Now open at New York's Hudson Theatre, the production is a colorful mash-up of ancient Greece and the Tudor era, with contemporary girl-power and gender-fluid themes woven through a plot involving star-crossed lovers Philoclea (Alexandra Socha), youngest daughter of King Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) and Queen Gynecia (Rachel York), Musidorus (Andrew Durand), a common shepherd, much to her father's displeasure. 

Eighties-era Go-Go's hits including “We Got The Beat,” "Vacation" and “Our Lips are Sealed,” help propel the stylish show, which includes the debut of the wonderful Bonnie Milligan as Pamela, who embarks on a relationship with her cross-dressing handmaiden, and a star turn from Peppermint (Agnes Moore) of RuPaul’s Drag Queen Race fame, as The Oracle. 

Phillips was brought on by director Michael Mayer, with whom she worked on Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “The Go-Go's had me at hello,” she says. “They were the soundtrack of empowerment for me, finding my voice as an adolescent in the midst of all the boy bands.”

She worked on the project over two years. “The most exciting thing was that there were no rules, and it didn’t have to be correct,” says Phillips. “It’s written in Tudor prose, set in ancient Greece with 1980s music. It’s our own world.”

  

The costumes mash up colors, prints and influences, and look like they could have come down a fashion runway in 2018.

“I wanted to create costumes that looked contemporarily relevant, and when you look at typical Shakespeare, Tudor-esque costumes, they don't; they feel very heavy with all the jacquards and brocades. Instead, I was inspired by what’s been in the zeitgeist, to reinvent historical periods and reference them in contemporary clothing, with everyone from Vivienne Westwood to Alessandro Michele, from Gucci to Pierpaolo Piccioli from Valentino in mind," she says.

But Phillips designed everything herself, with the help of textile artist Jeff Fenzer. “I decided first that the costumes needed to stand out and be graphic, so I went with a Tudor silhouette rather than a wet and drippy Greek silhouette.”

She did, however, use a lot of Greek and Roman imagery when handpainting on the costumes. And, to create an overall print for the dancers, she used the sheet music of the Go-Go's song, “We Got the Beat.”

Thanks to a sponsorship from Swarovski, she had 200,000 crystals to bedazzle looks, including Peppermint's green mesh finale dress, which Phillips co-designed with the L.A.-based costume guru Michael Schmidt.

She tapped some other sources, too. A friend to the costume designer since she worked with Gucci on creating costumes for Madonna’s "Rebel Heart" tour, the fashion house gave Phillips a handbag to slip onstage for a fashion cameo, alongside colorful glitter Gucci shoes worn by the female principals. “It was a bit of a wink, inspired by the 1986 film Caravaggio which is set in the Renaissance, but yet you still see a telephone."

“I like to tell stories in different layers,” says Phillips, rattling off influences ranging from soul star Nona Hendryx to fashion designer Kaisik Wong for the men’s and women’s costumes. 

 

New York’s hottest club is @HOHMusical. (Photo: Gregory Liles)

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Next up for the multi-talented designer is a very different project: Quentin Tarantino’s 1960s-set Once Upon A Time in Hollywood about Sharon Tate and the Manson family murders. It's sure to be a visual stunner.