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Olivier-nominated set and costume designer Gabriella Slade: ‘Six was an amazing brief’

Six costume designer Gabriella Slade Six costume designer Gabriella Slade

Designer Gabriella Slade has received her first Olivier award nomination for the design of pop musical Six, which imagines the six wives of Henry VIII as a girl band. Slade tells Giverny Masso which pop stars inspired each of the musical’s queens…

Tell me about the musical Six…
Six is a retelling of Henry VIII’s wives, giving them a voice and telling the story from their point of view. It’s projected as a pop concert and it’s Tudor merged with contemporary pop.

How did you go about designing the costumes?
It was an amazing brief. There needed to be an echo of Tudor fashion, but obviously the contemporary influence of the pop industry. It’s an amazing thing to be able to infuse period costume with contemporary style. Lucy [Moss, writer] had ideas about which pop stars related to which queens. Catherine of Aragon is Beyoncé, Jane Seymour is Adele, Catherine Parr is Alicia Keys, Catherine Howard is Ariana Grande, Anne Boleyn is Lily Allen and Anne of Cleves is
Nicki Minaj meets Rihanna.

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss: ‘Writing our Tudor musical Six was just us having bants’

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Olivier award for best costume design?
When I found out [about the nomination] I was in my studio working on another project and the phone went. It was a real shock, I wasn’t expecting it at all. For me, my favourite thing about the show was the design challenge. It’s an amazing brief, it taps into what I love the most, which is fusing different styles.

How did you get into theatre design?
When I was little, I would always draw. I loved drawing dresses and wedding dresses in particular. I did a foundation degree at Wimbledon College of Art, and then decided to focus on theatre, so I went on to do a degree in theatre design at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Do you have a process for designing shows?
It depends on the kind of show, you have to be versatile and work with the director. You might be presented with a script and the director wants the design to be close to what’s been done before or it can be a completely different version. For costume, I come to fashion a lot for inspiration. I love creating costumes [from scratch] rather than getting them from the hire rails – that’s what I love the most.

What has been the biggest career challenge for you?
Being a designer is hard work. It’s a real craft. You work as hard as you physically can, but it’s doing something you love and you get to work with great people. To those starting out, I would say don’t take on too much work. When you’re freelance, you want to take on everything, but you learn from that. It’s really important not to burn out.

Six is booking at the Arts Theatre in London until January 5, 2020. More information is available at: sixthemusical.com

Olivier Awards 2019: the nominations in full

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